Also available on Windows
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 11/24/2020 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Gears 5 is the infuriatingly named sixth game in the Gears of War series (don’t forget the Xbox 360 prequel, Judgement), and it’s a game that I had eagerly awaited despite then waiting a year to actually buy and play. I really came to dig Kait’s character in Gears of War 4, so having her feature prominently in the promotional material really excited me even if I do hate that they randomly dropped the “of War” from the title making it look awkward on my shelf (bastards). A note before we get into the meat of this review, though; I absolutely do not count this as an Xbox Series X game. They can offer all the patches they want, if I don’t see a box that says “Xbox Series X” that contains a disc that my Xbox One X won’t play, it’s just backward-compatible, not an Xbox Series X game. I will die on this hill.
Gears 5’s campaign offers gameplay variety in a way that a lot of cover shooters’ don’t. A lot of the missions are the kinds of battles I love – run-in with my guns blazing and my chainsaw roaring and try to send as much blood everywhere as humanly possible. Other missions have you take a stealthier approach, giving you an enormous amount of enemies that you need to thin out via stealth executions before risking an open engagement. Some missions have you exploring on foot whereas others have you traversing large distances on a skiff. The story will run you through a pretty wide array of emotions, too. There are a lot of the funny “best bro” situations that the series is known for, but there are also a few points where your heart will ache for the characters, too. The Coalition definitely knew what they were doing here from both a character development and a game design perspective. That’s not to say that it’s perfect – I have some issues with JD’s character development over the course of the game – but all things considered, this is another excellent narrative-driven shooter.
As is usually the case with this series, multiplayer offers a plethora of options. You’ve got your traditional shooter multiplayer, the always welcome horde mode, and my personal favorite, the co-op campaign. The campaign’s co-op allows for three players. You can choose between the two “main” characters for that given mission and Jack, the support robot. The two main characters are usually Kait and Del, but there are a couple of missions for which that varies. I played through about half of the campaign with Grant and the other half solo. I can confirm that this isn’t like Destiny where it’s boring and stupid to play by yourself; the Gears 5 campaign is equally enjoyable solo as it is co-op.
I played half of the game on my Xbox One X and half on my Xbox Series X. My TV doesn’t support 120 Hz, but it supports 2160p60, and while Gears 5 uses a variable resolution to maintain a higher frame rate even on Series X, it does hit a native 4K in less busy scenes, and it looks absolutely beautiful especially when coupled with a solid 60 fps frame rate. As I said in my review of the new Call of Duty on PS5, I never realized just how much ray tracing adds to a game, and it’s used to great effect in Gear 5. Water ripples, lighting effects, reflections, and character models all look fantastic on the Series X. If you haven’t upgraded to 9th gen hardware, yet, though, don’t fret; it’s still an Xbox One game, and it still looks amazing on Xbox One X. Honestly, as good as it looks at native 2160p and with the new visual effects, the biggest difference you’d notice moving from One X to Series X like I did isn’t even with the gameplay; it’s the load times. When I died and had to reload a previous checkpoint, it literally only took a couple of seconds. I’ve said many times to various friends that I look at the faster load times the new SSDs bring as a “nice-to-have” more than a true game-changer, but man, I have to admit, it’s a VERY-nice-to-have.
Gears 5 is another solid narrative experience for the series and a definite must-play exclusive for the Xbox line. The multiplayer is the same top tier experience that fans of the series have come to expect, and the integration of co-op into the campaign is done with the same smoothness that usually accompanies games produced by an Xbox studio. The enhancements on new hardware definitely aren’t enough to justify dropping $500 on a Series X on their own, but if you went ahead and upgraded to future-proof (or because you’re an idiot like me), it’s a definite plus and absolutely the preferred way to play Gears 5. However you play, though, be it on a steroid-fueled Series X or an oversized 2013 Xbox One, Gears 5 is a truly fantastic game that all Xbox gamers need to check out.