Also available on Xbox One and Windows
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 12/15/2020 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Gears Tactics is what I always wanted Gears of War to be – over the top violence against aliens in a turn-based strategy format. Honestly, it’s what I wish Halo Wars had been. I got this game with my Series X, and I couldn’t wait to dig into it. At first, I was afraid that this would feel like an afterthought spin-off, and in some ways, it does, but by an large, the production quality here is a lot better than I had expected.
Gears Tactics takes place during the Locust War, falling after Judgement but before the original game in the timeline. Despite that, it’s still relevant to recent Gears games as one of the main characters is Gabe Diaz, so we get some backstory on Kait’s father. The game follows him and Sid Redburn on a mission from Chairman Prescott to kill a Locust scientist named Ukkon. Along the way, you meet up with a band of civilian survivors led by Mikayla Dorn, the most badass character in the entire Gears universe (other than Cole, of course). You convince/conscript these folks to join you on your mission. Gears Tactics doesn’t include a multiplayer mode, and while I think that’s a bit of a missed opportunity, the campaign is so much fun and tells such a solid story with such good character development that it really isn’t hindered by the lack of multiplayer.
Another aspect helping Tactics feel right at home in the Gears series is that the game’s genre really isn’t a huge departure despite initial appearances. The developers, Splash Damage, pointed out that there were already a lot of similarities between turn-based tactics games and the third-person squad-based gameplay of the previous six Gears games. Both include squads of two to four characters, both are played from a third-person perspective, and both involve controlling different characters at certain points in the game. According to the game’s executive producer, they “just took existing Gears and just moved the camera up” and made it turn-based. It’s a total genre shift for sure, but it doesn’t feel quite as radically different as, say, Halo 4 to Halo Wars 2 with the jump from a first-person shooter to a real-time strategy game (another fantastic game, by the way).
Gears Tactics makes a point of being extremely approachable by offering a variety of difficulty settings. A lot of big Gears fans I know do great with cover-based shooters and first-person shooters but flounder when it comes to tactics games; for those folks, the lower difficulty settings allow you to experience the story told in Gears Tactics, get some practice and hone your skills, and then up the difficulty when you feel ready. Likewise, if you’re confident but find out that the game puts up a bit more of a fight than you expected halfway through, you can just lower the difficulty down a peg to have the game meet you at your skill level instead of wasting time trying to “git gud.” After all, most of us are adults; we don’t all have time to waste trying to hack away mindlessly at a level repeatedly trying to “git gud.”
As I’ve mentioned, the character development here is rock solid, and a big part of that is the writing and the delivery of the dialogue lines. The sound design overall, really, is great. The chainsaw sounds as meaty as ever, and the explosion sound effects have the same impact to them that you’d expect from games in the series developed by Epic or The Coalition. The only aspect that I really found lacking was the visuals, and even that was only somewhat disappointing. The cutscenes look fantastic. The detail on the character models is every bit as good as I would expect from a game optimized for Series X (although I’ll never stop being pissed about the lack of dedicated Series X releases in favor of this “Smart Delivery” garbage). What I feel could have looked better is the actual gameplay. The map details, the enemy designs, and the in-game character models all look good, but they don’t really look a whole lot better than Halo Wars 2. Granted, part of that is going to be attributable to how zoomed out the game is when compared to other Gears titles, but even playing on Series X, it felt like I was looking at a game running Xbox One. There are some nice physics touches; when a character runs into a random crate on the map, for example, it goes flying and bouncing for a bit. It doesn’t really feel “next-gen” to me, though. That makes sense given that it’s a last-gen game that’s just been polished, but with the emphasis they put on “Series X” for the console release, I was just a little bit let down.
Gears Tactics is a fantastic entry for the Gears series and a welcome foray into a new genre. Even on Series X, it doesn’t feel all that “next-gen” as it runs at the same resolution as One X, the only real difference being 2160p60 vs 2160p30, but the textures don’t look any more detailed on Series X. Obviously the loading times are SIGNIFICANTLY improved on Series X thanks to the SSD, but that and the frame rate boost are really the only benefits over the One X; the games look identical. Regardless of platform, though, Gears Tactics is a fantastic game. It’s not only a great strategy game, but it’s a great Gears game. I strongly recommend fans of either of those things to give this one a shot; it may well be what turns a Gears fan into a tactics fan or what turns a tactics fan into a Gears fan. For folks like me who are already fans of both strategy games and Gears, it’s basically a perfect concept, and while the execution may not be totally perfect, it’s pretty damn close.