You wake up to the sound of klaxons, the world is ending, the enemy is swarming on you. In just a few hours the world will burn, and so the enemy with it. You’re given one last assignment before the lasers fall. And when they do fall, the major cities and towns are struck with an almighty force, bringing them all to rubble. When the flames faded, our world was left in ash. But the worst part? It barely made a dent in the enemy’s forces.
This is the kind of world event that kick starts the story in Gears Tactics, it’s literally the first mission, the tutorial, and this is what happens. It’s big, loud and gets to the action quickly, which really sums up Gears Tactics in its entirety to be honest.
If you don’t know, Gears Tactics is the latest entry in the Gears of War saga; a prequel to the first game, but also takes one that takes on a whole new genre for the series: the tactical strategy style of the recent XCOM games.
Going from a third person shooter to that is no simple task I might imagine, but Gears Tactics pulls it off almost flawlessly. Rather than being a jumbled mess of systems and features, I was surprised as to how comfortable the whole experience felt, and how much everything just seemed to fit. I have a few problems with Gears Tactics, but those problems are few and far between all the good juicy bits that make this game truly great. It’s better than I thought it would be, and much better than it deserved to be.
First of all though, I’m not a massive Gears of War fan. I think I played Gears of War 3 back in the day, but other than that I haven’t touched a single installment in the franchise. So I apologize if I get some lore wrong, or misinterpret certain events/characters. I am, however, a big fan of the recent XCOM games, so I feel as if I know that strategy style pretty well.
Since the game is tackling a new genre for the series, it’s bound to attract new players, which Gears Tactics lends itself quite well to being a prequel to the first Gears of War game, since it means there isn’t a whole franchise of story to catch up on, just to know what’s actually happening.
So now onto the good stuff, how does it play? Surprisingly very well actually, there’s lots here to unpack so I’ll do my best to highlight the best features I think are worth focusing on. Obviously since this is inspired by the mechanics and gameplay of the XCOM games, comparisons between the two are likely, so I’ll first start out with this: Gears Tactics is much more frantic, bloody, and fast-paced. You get in the action quick and stay in it for longer. There are more enemies (it seems), and no base building back at HQ after completing missions.
All of this truly makes Gears Tactics a much more frenetic XCOM, whereas that game absolutely indulges in the downtime between missions, Gears Tactics just wants you to jump back in straight away. Missions are simple in objective, but complex in strategy, which suits perfectly to the way it presents itself.
And Gears Tactics is hard, in some ways it's easier than XCOM, in other ways it’s downright brutal. I initially thought I was doing pretty well at the start, flexing my XCOM muscles again, and then it throws you into your first boss fight against a Brumak, and I got my ass beat hard. It took 3 tries until I finally brought the creature down and the amount of satisfaction I got was pure ecstasy. And the best part was that it didn’t peak there, in fact Gears Tactics just keeps you hooked the further and further you go.
In terms of actual gameplay, there’s not much different here than your usual XCOM mechanics apart from the more obvious ones like 3 actions per turn instead of 2, or taking 4 characters on missions rather than 6. But Gears Tactics further bolsters that frantic action feel with more diverse character and weapon abilities. Skill trees are much more extensive here and absolutely must be exploited to their best abilities if you want to survive in later levels. Certain passive and active abilities can net you extra actions per round, sometimes bringing a single character up to 10 or more actions they can take in a single turn which is undeniably vital.
The sheer variety of enemies will always keep you on your toes too, some of them will require completely new strategies that you’ll have to adapt to on the fly. And once you feel like you’ve got the hang of it finally, another enemy type will come along to mess it all up again. This keeps the combat fresh and exciting as you’ll constantly have to rethink your tactics.
As I mentioned with the Brumak boss earlier, these enemy encounters are hard but great fun, they will require new strategies to understand and implement, which will result in much more tense but rewarding battles.
And customization is really detailed too, from changing certain equipment attachments and types of armor, to completely customizing the colors and patterns of weapons and/or armor. And Every mission includes multiple crates of gear and equipment items to further customize your soldiers after battle. Though, after a while your inventory will fill up drastically, and you’ll have a huge selection to choose from, which can make organization hard when you’re sifting through hundreds of armor options and weapon attachments before starting a new mission or customizing a new character.
If you’ve come here for the story, don’t exactly get your hopes up. I haven’t played many other Gears games so I don’t know how it holds up to the series overall, but it kind of falls a bit flat in Gears Tactics. The story is there, it’s a simple objective: stop the big bad guy. Consequently all the main characters don’t have much motivation other than “I hate this guy so let’s kill him”, there’s not a lot of depth to each character. The main character especially, Diaz, lacks a lot of emotions in his speech, constantly speaking in the same deep and gravelly voice without much range. I wouldn’t call this a huge problem though when you’re instantly back in the fight and couldn’t care less about it anymore.
There’s a lot to love here about Gears Tactics, and it somehow manages to almost flawlessly blend the genre of one game with another one’s universe and characters with great execution. Yes, there are some issues, and they can be quite annoying, but in the end these won’t detract you from the sheer amount of enjoyment you will experience. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn good, surprisingly good. Now give me more, please.