Just when we thought the Gears franchise was locked into a single genre and style, it breaks the mold. Microsoft announced both Gears Pop! (a Clash of Clans-styled mobile game) and Gears Tactics, a top-down turn-based strategy game, beside Gears 5. Now, two years later, we’ve got our hands on the spin-off of arguably Microsoft’s strongest exclusive franchise. Is this a rip-roarin’ good time or should it crawl in an emergence hole and die?
Spiritual Content: The Gears franchise is known for having grubs with some strange, otherworldly powers. They’re often explained away using some sort of pseudo-scientific rationale. Gears Tactics is no different, with powers like healing and immortality being credited to scientific experimentation.
Violence: This is a Gears game. The franchise revels in gore and Tactics is no different. Expect to see characters shot, stabs, sawed in half, and blown to pieces in gruesome detail.
Sexual Content: There is no sexual content to be concerned about.
Drugs and Alcohol: There is no classic use of narcotics or alcohol to be concerned with.
Language/Crude Humor: There is plenty of strong language to keep in mind. It’s not out of place to hear S***, F***, or any of the other words an R-rated film may bring with it.
With the downfall of Master Chief since the flat-to-negative response to Halo 5, Microsoft has seemingly pivoted its focus on the Gears franchise. Known for their signature hypermasculine men, well executed narrative, and cover-based shooting, it was the perfect candidate for a strategy game.
Taking many of its cues from contemporaries in the same genre, Gears Tactics delivers a fun, patient, thoughtful gameplay experience with plenty of options for customization along the way and, of course, the possibility of emergent narrative with the permanent loss of non-heroic squadmates.
If you’re familiar with other games in the genre, Gears Tactics will feel familiar. You enter missions with a squad of up to four soldiers. Each soldier will be one of five classes with their own skill tree, and gear loadout, and more. You can even customize their clothing if you really want the team’s look to synergize like they do.
In missions, each character will take turns moving, positioning behind cover, firing, tossing grenades, and more as they fight to complete their objectives. After your team has taken its turn, Locust forces will take theirs. This cadence proceeds until you either complete your objective(s) or your squad is eliminated.
I have to give the devs credit here. While its undeniably a fun tactical game with plenty of facets to dig into, they’ve successfully managed to make it a distinctly Gears game too. This isn’t just human versus humanoid combat. Every classic Gears enemy is here. You’ll have to figure out how to tactically conquer Tickers, Boomers, and yes, even Brumak as you close emergence holes. Despite the change in genre, the game makes each unit’s unique characteristics fit beautifully.
Speaking of keeping things feeling like a Gears game, what would it be without the trademark storytelling and characterization the series has grown to display so wonderfully? Gears Tactics has us following Gabe Diaz (father of second-generation protagonist Kait Diaz) as he and his squadmate, Major Redburn, work to stop a notorious Locust, Ukkon, who’s responsible for the creation of some of the Locust’s biggest baddies. The storytelling is well done with fantastic voice acting and scenario design to match, as well as some great twists in the story. Along the way, we get to see a couple additional familiar faces. It’s a campaign worthy of the name Gears.
Aesthetically, Gears Tactics is a wonderful looking game. Characters are rendered with striking detail and the particle effects are beautiful. While many of the environments follow the bombed-out-city vibe, they keep each arena fresh by shaking up the elements within. The game’s music and voice acting are also top shelf, showing that the team believed this to be worthy of as much effort as they’d put into a mainline Gears game.
While the Xbox One version of the game isn’t out as of the time of this review, the PC version is great. The visuals are sharp and the voice acting and music are well done. More importantly, though, the gameplay is fun and the storytelling is on-point, making it worthy of the Gears name. Anyone with an appreciation for the Gears franchise, a hankering for a well-done strategy game, or both, would be well-served to spend some time with Gears Tactics.
The Bottom Line
Gears Tactics is a fun strategy game with a solid story and elements that make it worthy of the Gears name.