Gears Tactics Review | Changing genre without losing identity

Jason Faulkner
Gears Tactics Info

genre

  • Tactical RPG

players

  • 1

Publisher

  • Xbox Game Studios

Developer

  • Splash Damage
  • The Coalition

Release Date

  • 04/28/2020
  • Out Now

Platform

  • PC

rating

Gears of War is a series known for its fast-paced and frenetic cover-based shooting. You’re always on the move, bouncing from one low-wall to the next trying to take down the Locust (and later the Swarm). It doesn’t seem like the Gears games would translate well to turn-based tactical gameplay, but Gears Tactics manages to distill the franchise’s essentials into a totally new form of gameplay.

Gears Tactics really breaks down the multiple components of the series and reforms them into a turn-based, squad-centric, strategy game. This title offers everything the third-person shooter Gears games do: an engaging story, extensive use of cover mechanics, and a unique and brutal weapons set. There are plenty of tactical role-playing conventions here as well. Action points, unit-specific abilities, unit classes, and a leveling system are added to the various gameplay elements from Gears to make an extremely competent turn-based tactics game.

Review PC Specs

CPU:AMD Ryzen 7 3800X
Motherboard:ASUS ROG Strix X570-E Gaming ATX Motherboard
RAM:32GB G.Skill Trident Z Neo Series DDR4 3600MHz
GPU:Gigabyte RTX 3090 Gaming OC
Install Drive:Sabrent 1TB Rocket PCIe 4.0 M.2 SSD

Gears Tactics Review | Back to the beginning.

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The campaign in Gears Tactics is a prequel to the main games in the series. It begins during the first year of the Locust War, placing it roughly 13 years before Gears of War. It centers around Gabriel Diaz (father of Kait Diaz) and his mission to take down the Locust geneticist Ukkon.

When the game begins, Gabe is chilling in a motor pool squad. He was previously a Lieutenant Colonel, but after a battle in which he had to make a difficult personal decision, he busted himself down to Sergeant so he wouldn’t have to be put in that situation again. He’s jaded and doesn’t have much respect for the politicians that dictated the lives and deaths of COG soldiers.

Gabe is forced into action on the day the Hammer of Dawn satellites were set to fire on the planet’s surface to deny the Locust access to human weapons, technology, and resources. When taking shelter with his motor pool squad in the base’s bunker, Private Sid Redburn brings a message that Gabe is being reassigned to obtain information that could turn the tide of the war. Gabe and Sid fight their way to the local military HQ, and there they find classified information on Ukkon, the Locust geneticist that is responsible for experimentation on humans and the creation of colossal Locust beasts like the Brumak and Corpser.

As taking out Ukkon would deal a mighty blow to the Locust’s war effort, Gabe and Sid are assigned to assassinating the scientist. However, because of the disarray of the COG’s forces after the Hammer of Dawn strike, the two soldiers are left to fend for themselves and must seek out recruits and equipment for the fight against Ukkon.

Gears Tactics Review | Not just a side game.

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Gears Tactics‘ campaign is great to play through for long-time fans of the series as Gabe and Ukkon have appeared in Gears lore, but we never really got a chance to see them in action. It’s also a good starting point for those who have never played a Gears game before because it’s chronologically the first title in the series now. You don’t need to have played any of the main series Gears titles to enjoy Gears Tactics, but if you have, you’ll pick up on references to characters and events mentioned throughout the series.

You can expect to find cutscenes with production value as high as any main series game here. Many missions have these before, during, and after, and there’s a lot more story content here than in similar games like XCOM. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of filler battles. Act One is strong the whole way through, with only a couple of non-story side missions. However, the rest of the game isn’t balanced as well, and Act Two, in particular, began with a stint of tasks that gave no further insight into the story.

Despite the presence of filler, Gears Tactics is better at moving the story along than many of its tactical brethren. I really enjoy the XCOM series, for example, but it has a bad habit of throwing you into virtually the same mission multiple times before you’re given a chance to progress the plot. Gears Tactics a more linear experience, and progressions via main missions and side missions which comprise acts. There’s no base-building or world map to worry about here, which is fitting. Otherwise, the game might seem bloated and lack a sense of urgency.

Gears Tactics Review | Be aggressive.

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Gears Tactics succeeds as a Gears game because it encourages you to be aggressive. Missions in this game are packed with enemies, and they’re often stronger than your own units. You have to balance your disadvantages by continually blitzing before you’re overwhelmed. You only have access to a max of four soldiers per mission, so the emphasis is on squad-based tactics and not the platoon-sized fights that many turn-based games allow.

You’re not just mindlessly charging forward. The tactical element comes in with the cover system and abilities. Sometimes you have no choice but to barrel ahead and leave your units exposed or behind shoddy or partial cover. Other times, you can deploy your units defensively and activate Overwatch (an ability that allows your units to fire on foes during the enemy’s turn if they enter a cone of space) to take out your opponents as they come to you.

All the above is further balanced by Action Points. Each unit, by default, gets 3 AP per turn. Movement costs varying amounts of AP depending on how far you march. Using a standard attack costs 1 AP, as does reloading. Finally, abilities can cost a single or multiple AP. This means you have very little headroom for making mistakes as there’s no undo function available.

You’re not stuck with 3 AP per turn, though. The game rewards you for aggression by giving you the ability to perform executions on downed enemies. Under certain conditions, enemies will go into a downed state instead of dying outright. You can then spend 1 AP to perform an execution on a downed enemy, which gives every character besides the one that did the execution 1 AP. This allows you to potentially set up multiple executions in a turn and absolutely stomp on the Locusts.

Unfortunately, some of the game’s challenge begins to unravel when you master your abilities and downing enemies. Gears Tactics is already much more accessible than genre staples like XCOM because of its forgiving revival system. Each unit can resurrect itself when downed once per mission with the Second Wind ability. The only downside to this is that you’re stuck with 1 AP on the turn you revive on. Even if you use up your Second Wind, you can have another unit revive any other one for only 1 AP. This game has permadeath on non-main characters, but you’ll likely never run into it because of how easy it is to revive soldiers.

On the flip side, I wish there was a way to complete a mission while leaving other soldiers behind. As brutal as it sounds, a came close to losing more than one mission because a straggler was in downed status and couldn’t make it to the exfiltration point. Luckily, I was able to have a soldier leave the exfil mark and revive them. However, it nearly cost me 20-30 minutes of progress because I didn’t have the choice to cut my losses and bailout with three out of four squad members.

Gears Tactics Review | Get classy.

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Equipping your soldiers correctly is paramount to victory in Gears Tactics. Luckily, you have a ton of options when it comes to customizing each member of your unit. Armor, boots, helmets, and weapon parts are all available as rewards for completing missions and can also be found in crates in-game. Each of these pieces of equipment bestows stat boosts or abilities to your troopers.

The equipment system works reasonably well and gives you cosmetic options in addition to the stat and ability boosts. However, When you’re equipping soldiers in the Barracks screen, you don’t get an indicator of what character has which item equipped. You want to keep your best gear on your active squad, and it’s a bit frustrating because you’re only told if a piece of equipment is currently equipped, not who actually has it equipped.

Each character also has a class that focuses on a particular range of abilities. Vanguards are your standard infantry soldier, and their skills center around rallying other characters and increasing damage per attack, while support troops help buff your soldiers and heal them. You only get a max of four characters per mission, so the class composition of your squad can be the difference between success and failure. Gears Tactics encourages you to diversify your squad composition, and a group that does well in one mission may not be well suited to the next.

I would have liked to have seen a bigger weapon set for each class. As it is, your soldiers are stuck with the same gun from the beginning until the end. Being able to upgrade the weapons makes up for this a bit, but it would have been cool to switch out a Heavy’s Mulcher with a Mortar or a Vanguard’s Retro Lancer with a Lancer GL.

Gears Tactics Review | A bold new step for the franchise.

The Gears series translated to a turn-based tactics game surprisingly well. Gears Tactics is visceral and action-packed enough to appeal to long-time Gears fans and contains enough tactical depth to appease strategy lovers. It’s incredibly accessible for a tactical game and forgiving enough to keep those new to the genre from getting scared off.

Gears Tactics makes a wonderful addition to the franchise, and I hope that it spins off as its own series. It avoids many of the pitfalls of the genre and provides a streamlined experience that was a breath of fresh air. Hardcore fans of tactical games may find it to be a bit too easy, but most will find it very enjoyable.


GameRevolution reviewed the Gears Tactics on PC with a copy provided by the publisher.

REVOLUTION REPORT CARD

4
Rating
Box art - Gears Tactics
Gears aesthetic translates to turn-based tactics well.
Prequel setting welcoming to long-time fans or newcomers.
Fillers missions are very noticeable due to linear plot structure.
Equipment system can be frustrating.