Gears Tactics is a turn-based strategy game based on the Gears of War universe. The Coalition and Splash Damage follow the path dictated years ago by Halo: narrating events in the past of the saga completely changing genre. More precisely, the title takes us twelve years before the original Gears, in the early stages of the war against the Locusts, after President Prescott decided to use the Hammer Dell'Alba massively to stop the advance of the enemies.
The protagonist of Gears Tactics is Gabe Diaz, a COG with a surname known to those who have played the recent Gears. His mission was vital in the early part of the war, as it concerned the hunt for Ukkon, a key element of the horde of locusts, responsible for creating most of the horde's monsters. On a narrative level the game explores interesting background of this phase of the war, with all the sensitivity acquired over the years by the series. It's an excellent complement in the context of the current narrative of the saga: if you are a fan of Gears of War you will appreciate it.
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The most interesting point, however, is all about gameplay. Gears has been a purely third-person shooter franchise to date, so The Coalition and Spash Damage have had to work hard to get a tactical gameplay that was unique, pleasant and that offered depth, while keeping intact the style of the main chapters. In my opinion, they have succeeded. The game is an IGOUGO turn-based strategy, meaning where all the characters controlled by the player act first and then all those controlled by the AI. A system widely used and popular in board games like Warhammer 40.000 or Chess to give some examples. However, this is a system very prone to the "imbalance of the first round". That is, the team that acts first, if it manages to kill its opponents, receives less fire if not zero, moving into a scenario with a positive feedback loop from which it is difficult to escape. So here the various game developers of this type implement a series of challenges to put pressure on the player and re-balance the mechanism.
With Gears Tactics it was decided to accentuate a lot aggression of enemies and dizzyingly increase their numbers. On the other hand, the player has to manage an extremely fluid system. Movement is without grid, and resembles that of board games with free movement with the "inchometer". I loved how they managed to integrate the slip into the roof Gears of War classic in this title: if the movement of the character brings him near a cover, his maximum range is extended by the slip.
The player has three action points per character to spend in any way, and there are no arbitrary restrictions that force you to move and then shoot or with actions that cause the unit's turn to end early. This ability to take long distances to reposition yourself, attack three times in a row or even perform reaction fire three times, in case you are on guard with three action points to spend, makes potential lethality extremely high. Added to this is an important mechanic: the executions. Just like in traditional Gears, not all enemies die instantly, but some enter into a state of knockdown, during which enjoyable executions can be performed. In Gears Tactics, doing this guarantees one action point to all other team members. Hence the tactical game of Gears Tactics focuses on how to maximize your offensive potential. There are yes ways to mitigate the enemy actions and perch on their own positions, but the game pushes for a brutal, fast, fluid and always aimed at moving forward style.
A class for every historical weapon
The first important choice occurs when the team is deployed. You have four slots available, but thereand possible classes are fivetherefore you can never have all the toys available: you must always work with something less and this allows you to make tactical choices according to the mission you are about to face. Gears Tactics has one progression with a lot of emphasis on the skills of your soldiers and the equipment is seen as a secondary element. The weapons you use from start to finish are always the same, the changes that can be made on them do not drastically change their effectiveness and damage, but make them more efficient. Many of these weapon and armor upgrades are then reflected on the character, as they offer numerous passive abilities. As you fight, your men go up a level and at each level you earn two points, which can be awarded in a skill tree. Each class has four branches from which to draw and the choice is free, leading to the creation of very interesting hybrids.
The classes are as follows: Vanguard, Scout, Support, Sniper and Machine-gunner. The Vanguard is the handyman soldier: he is armed with a bayonet lancer and his role on the battlefield is to be flexible. Excellent damage, long range melee attack, ability to debuff, self-care and buff the team. Scouts are armed with shotguns and at the start of the game they are the most difficult to use, but once taken to high levels they are able to become invisible, shoot next to enemies, smash them and beat them away invisible. Indispensable to inflict maximum damage, but require mastery of the system to shine. Support is armed with a chainsaw Lancer and his role is to heal the team. The Sniper is the marksman chosen for long distances, but he is also the class with the greatest possibility of manipulating the available actions during his turn. If you play your cards right, it becomes really strong, maybe even "broken". Finally, the machine gunner is the class used for the use of the heavy machine gun, very useful for mowing everything.
The enemies are all those typical of Gears and they are the ones to dictate the advancement and tactical adaptation of the player, introducing types with different attack methods and reactions, which lead during the campaign to having to readjust their proven formulas. The system set up by The Coalition and Splash Damage it convinced me, it amused me and made the various clashes interesting and never banal. At normal difficulty level the challenge has always been balanced without ever becoming overwhelming, if not in a couple of points that have forced me to load a checkpoint to change the approach to the clash.
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Where the title goes is in the structure of the campaign. Here we are not faced with a title like XCOM, where the player is the weaver of the rhythm of the narrative plot, but everything is decided upstream. Which could lead to enormous potential from the point of view of the missions: being all "scripted", there is the possibility of offering particular challenges, something that a procedural system like Xcom finds it more difficult to do. Instead I found myself in front of a little brave and too much structure formulaic. The first main missions introduce the types of challenges to the player: in some you have to recover objects along the map avoiding carpet bombing, in others clean up the map, in still others freeing fugitives or maintaining some positions. So far nothing bad, they are addressed with a narrative explanation behind, you have a good variety.
The game then decides to offer the player some mandatory secondary missions to deal with before you can progress to the main one. We tried to break the monotony in two ways: these missions have modifiers that alter the battle conditions even drastically, leading to a different approach, also they put a limit on the deployment of their troops because they all happen simultaneously. So the units sent in the first, cannot participate in the second. Unfortunately, the practical effect they get is to dilute the rhythm of the narrative with unnecessary moments of emptiness, also leading to a recycling of the maps. The slow progression in the second half of the game also leads to many dead moments. When new story missions then appear, they work most of the time as the secondary ones just passed, with in addition only dialogues between the protagonists. You could have dared more and only focused on unique main missions in my opinion.
Even the much-advertised giant monsters are friction rather than brain boss battles, given their nature of sponges surrounded by infinite subordinates, but they recognize that they are very intense to play on the spot, where the slightest mistake can cost you dearly.
Unreal Engine with such a low texture pop-up, only they can
From a technical point of view, the game is extraordinary. Without a doubt, the best strategic game on the market. The animations, the quality, the attention to detail and the pure audiovisual mathematical power is the same as in Gears 5, which means excellent. Seeing your soldier chainsaw an enemy, with the same verse, the same sound as all the other Gears, helps to connect this game to the rest of the franchise. The title has been tested on a computer equipped with Xeon 1650, 16GB of Ram and an RTX 2060 6GB. Setting everything to ultra, excluding dynamic shadows, the game remains nailed to 60 FPS in any situation in full HD. The 4k is manageable thanks to the dynamic resolution and variable rate shading integrated in the game and for a tactician even going down to 30fps is not a problem. It has proven very flexible in terms of scalability. As in Gears 5, HDR implementation is masterful.
The visual rendering of the battlefields is excellent. There are several objects that react to physics, a realistic shooting line with friendly fire is implemented, which took me by surprise the first one a lot, I must admit, and the bugs are completely absent. The animations combine perfectly with each other: the smears are very minimal.
So after all this, Gears Tactics, is it worth playing? Yes, the product is valid and the base is unique and able to support future sequels very well. But I have a reservation from recommending it with my eyes closed. I'll explain. If technically and in the tactical layer the product is extremely valid and entertaining, if narratively it is a nice spin-off for fans in the saga, its too repetitive structure does not match a full price linear game. Seen from a gamepass perspective it is definitely not to be missed, but at full prices, it becomes a little more difficult to digest.