'Gears of War' is one of Xbox's few legacy titles to survive this long, but one thing that it's finally grasped is that in order to survive, you've got to adapt and change - and that's something that 'Gears 5' embraces fully.
The core gameplay works very similarly to previous entries, but with the inclusion of support robot Jack and his abilities, firefights have become much more tactical. In a way, 'Gears 5' has become less of the traditional bro cover-shooter with these new mechanics, morphing into something more akin to that of 'Mass Effect'. Nevertheless, cover is still paramount to the player’s survival. Having a quick snap fluid movement cover system makes this easy, yet at times in the stealthier parts of the game, you lose the element of surprise due to some heavier feeling controls in a game where stealth isn’t a core mechanic.
Series weapon mainstays are still as enjoyable to use as ever - chainsawing an enemy has never felt or looked so good - with a welcome seven new weapons and returning ones from 'Gears of War 4'. Granting its five-year-old status, the Unreal Engine 4 is utilised to its full extent here with immersive landscapes and impressive cutscenes that have never looked as well realised in the series. Player environments are dynamic, diverse, and each area is distinctively unique with everything from the familiar war-torn ruins fans are accustomed to breathtaking arctic tundra vistas creating memorable appearances.
'Gears 5' goes more open-world in the mid-sections of the game for the first time. It’s refreshing to see it move away from a linear narrative and into more expansive areas with side quests. Then again, you do encounter some things which were thought long gone from this console generation - loading screens. The screen shudders to a stop with a spinning wheel of death for a couple of seconds before spluttering back to high speeds, which can break up the flow of the game.
Where the game truly shines, however, is in its cast of characters. They are well fleshed out, they have heart, and the player will become deeply invested in the happenings of the crew - especially in the new lead protagonist. Voice acting is top-notch for the vast majority of the game, with the exclusion of some shaky, clichéd dialogue.
Narratively, there will be moments in 'Gears 5' that will throw long-time fans for a loop, and the ending cliffhanger isn’t as rewarding as the previous 15 hours of build-up. That said, it will make for an interesting direction for the foreseeable sequel.
From what was available to play with multiplayer - which was limited due to the Xbox Live and server issues over the weekend – it is more of the same, but in a good way. If you’re a fan of multiplayer in 'Gears of War' already, be it versus, horde, or any other mode, then you’re going to love it as much as ever. Some of the mechanics from the campaign - such as Jack, the support robot - feature in a support role in multiplayer, and it works.
Overall, 'Gears 5' is a laudable exclusive title for Xbox, and an example for the future of the exclusives Xbox players have been longing for forever.
Words: Ciarán Busby