Game Reviews

Gears Tactics Review

Chess with chainsaws.

by Diego Perez

When Gears Tactics was announced at E3 2018, I was skeptical. Because it was shown immediately after the reveal trailer for Gears POP, a free-to-play mobile game that crosses Gears with Funko Pop figures, I immediately wrote Gears Tactics off as an unnecessary spinoff. It seemed like a throwaway Gears game, one meant to bide time between tentpole releases or to pad out the ever-expanding Xbox Game Pass library. Despite its initial showing, Gears Tactics is an essential entry in the series. Even though it might not have a number in the title, Gears Tactics may as well be a mainline Gears game.

When you think about it, Gears of War is already sort of a turn-based strategy game. Although traditional Gears games let you directly control the shooting and movement of a character in real time, you’re still moving from cover to cover, stopping to kill a few enemies before moving to a more advantageous position. As a result, the Gears series makes the transition to the strategy genre beautifully. It doesn’t just copy what other genre leaders like XCOM are doing, either. While it may just seem like a run of the mill turn-based strategy game at first, Gears Tactics has much more to offer than just a fresh coat of paint.

Gears-Tactics-Overwatch

The most noticeable difference between Gears Tactics and other strategy games is how aggressive it is. After reviewing XCOM: Chimera Squad, Gears Tactics feels like it’s traveling at a million miles a minute. Even though it’s turn-based, there’s nothing slow about Gears Tactics. Your squad can perform multiple actions in a row, and shooting does not end your turn. Each unit isn’t restricted to one weapon, either. They’re able to freely switch between their primary weapon, their pistol, and grenades at will. Also, activating overwatch will expend any action points left over at the end of a turn, meaning a unit can fire several times while on overwatch instead of just once like in other games. This means you’ll regularly be putting down multiple enemies in a single turn instead of whittling away at a few powerful foes. To compensate for your increased firepower, the game isn’t afraid to throw insane amounts of enemies at you at once. Locust drones make frequent use of overwatch, snipers will often pin your units down, and wretches chase your soldiers down relentlessly. Throw in a few emergence holes for good measure and you’ll find that you’re almost always outnumbered in Gears Tactics.

Raw strength won’t deal with the locust horde alone, however. Gears Tactics is still a strategy game after all, and smart maneuvers and coordination are what ultimately get you through encounters. Flanking and positioning are crucial to success, and as such, you’re constantly moving forward. Even classes like snipers that traditionally hang back in other games have to be constantly on the move in order to maintain a positional advantage. Movement can be paired with deadly melee attacks from a chainsaw bayonet to make the most efficient use of your action points. Also, downed enemies can be executed, which awards the rest of your squad with additional action points. This is not only encouraged, but necessary for peak performance. Brutality is a gameplay mechanic in Gears Tactics, and it will allow you to command your squad with much more efficiency. This focus on aggression and action gives Gears Tactics a sense of momentum that is rare in the strategy genre, and it gives the game its own unique feel.

Other, smaller tweaks and changes make Gears Tactics feel more like an action game than a traditional strategy game. Unlike other games of the genre, the movement in Gears Tactics is not grid-based. Instead, units can move a certain distance rather than a set number of tiles. Gears fans will also appreciate the minor detail that sliding into cover will allow you to move just a little bit further without spending an additional action point. The animation quality is also excellent, matching what you’d expect from a more traditional Gears game. Running, mantling, and taking cover all look great, executions are brutal, and there’s considerably less jank with the animations in Gears Tactics than in some other contemporary strategy games. These additions make Gears Tactics feel fluid and provide a sense of physicality to the environments, treating them more as actual places than boards for game pieces to move around on.

Gears-Tactics-Bayonet

The story isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s still an interesting enough prequel that remains engaging until the end. There are more cutscenes and character moments than you’d expect for a strategy game. The presentation and graphics are excellent, and the detailed character models and great performances do a lot to carry the experience. There’s as much story here as a mainline Gears game, and seeing the world through the eyes of Kait’s father provides much-appreciated context for events that take place later in the timeline. Regardless, it’s not the major story beats of Gears Tactics that I remember fondly. Like always, the epic boss battles and gigantic firefights take center stage, and those end up as the most memorable moments of Gears Tactics.

It wouldn’t be a strategy game without customization, and Gears Tactics allow you to get very in-depth with your squad. Each unit gets access to an absolutely massive skill tree, and somehow each available skill is just as useful as the last. Leveling up and spending skill points is never a chore, and you can double down on specializations for each unit as they progress through their skill trees. Weapons and armor can also be customized, with new armor pieces and weapon attachments not only providing stat bonuses and new abilities, but also changing the look of your character and their weapon. You can also change the material of armor and the color of just about anything, allowing you to give each of your soldiers their own unique identity. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to customize your units’ faces, but you can change just about every other aspect of them from their clothing to their facial hair. Your options start out limited, but as you progress through the game and collect loot out in the field, you’ll soon have more armor and weapon customization items than you know what to do with.

Gears-Tactics-Gabe

When it comes to performance, Gears Tactics runs beautifully. Much like Gears 5, the settings menu allows you to customize nearly every aspect of the game’s visuals. Framerates remained steady throughout the experience, even on the highest settings. It’s not the most important thing for a strategy game, but Gears Tactics runs so well and is so incredibly polished that any PC gamer will be able to appreciate the work that went into it. The only technical issue I ran into was a nasty bug that prevented me from switching between units during the game’s first boss fight with a Brumak. It wouldn’t have been that big of an issue if I didn’t need to constantly switch units to hit the weak spot on the Brumak’s back and it didn’t turn around every time it takes damage. Thankfully, the bug went away after finishing the fight, but having to constantly quit to the main menu and reload the fight to temporarily fix the bug was not a fun experience.

Overall, though, Gears Tactics is a top tier strategy game. Despite a change in genre, the game still feels uniquely Gears. The more linear nature of the campaign might not give it as much replay value as some other strategy giants, but the core experience is fantastic and the surprisingly compelling endgame is sure to keep people playing well after the main story wraps up. While it might not be on Xbox One just yet, there is controller support on PC, so if you have a setup powerful enough to run it, it’s worth jumping into Gears Tactics right now. Gears Tactics perfectly translates the aggressive, bloody action of the series to a turn-based format, and series veterans will feel right at home battling the locust horde from a top-down view.

- This article was updated on:April 27th, 2020

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Gears Tactics

  • Available On: PC
  • Published By: Xbox Game Studios
  • Developed By: The Coalition
  • Genre: Strategy
  • US Release Date: April 28th, 2020
  • Reviewed On: PC
  • Quote: "Gears Tactics perfectly translates the aggressive, bloody action of the series to a turn-based format."
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