Gears 5 put to the test - the definition of an action blockbuster
Marcus Fenix has grown old. The exertions of the last few years are evident in his face. The fight against the Locust. The losses. But retirement is out of the question: the Locust was followed by the swarm. The humans are once again at war against an opponent with an almost infinite number of larvae, scions and other monster-like creatures.
The developers of the latest series part have probably asked themselves this question and tried to bring some major innovations to the series. Sometimes it works great, sometimes only to a limited extent.
It does not get boring!
The plot of Gears 5 can be quickly summarized: The swarm, a people of partly humanoid, partly insect-like creatures, wages a war against humans. As in the previous campaign, the focus of the campaign is on JD, Kait and Del and Marcus, who hold their own against the brood with big guns and thick armor.
And this is where Gears 5 plays out the well-known strengths of the series. Gears 5 is a game that, despite its rather rigid gameplay corset of running and shooting, never feels one-dimensional. You can already see this in the first chapters of the campaign, which is divided into four acts and can be played completely in co-op: Sometimes we play a classic cover shooter in which we knock down one opponent after the other with a good dose of bullets and then send them with a chainsaw into the pixel beyond .
Then we find ourselves in a kind of horror scenario: dozens of small swarming creatures, so-called larvae, jump towards us in a narrow tunnel and force us back. If we survived that, we sneak past infected robots and snatch their drive cores from them in the best stealth manner - alternatively, we could shoot them down at any time.
The environment is not just a backdrop, but an extension of our arsenal: We activate a tank and burn enemies with hot steam. In a storm, the wind blows our grenades away, lightning flashes from the sky and creates new cover a few meters in front of us. In snowy areas we shoot up the ice from frozen lakes and let the swarm drown. And at turrets we get rid of entire armies of enemies. The ingenuity of the developers is impressive.
Creative opponent design
Opponent design and diversity are also impressive. In addition to the henchmen of the swarm known from Part 4, there are also some new creatures that are somewhere between "disgusting", "grotesque" and "terrifying".
Our favorite: A flying swarm of monstrous leeches that chase through the air in wild formations, fall down on its victims and either tear them apart or turn them into "swarm zombies". Individual leeches crawl across the ground towards us and explode if we don't let them burst with a few bullets beforehand.
The huge swarm creatures are no less impressive: In the fight against intermediate and end bosses like a giant as high as a house and armored by rock crystals, some tactics are always required. If we had to keep moving against the leeches and escape dive flights with evasive rolls, it would be fatal against the crystal giant to leave cover.
Because the colossus puts us under continuous fire with two guns. But since the environment is also partially destructible, we can never really feel safe, which keeps the voltage level in the shootings at a significantly higher level than in the previous series parts.
The diversity of opponents also ensures that we can never commit ourselves to a single tactic and should instead use the wide arsenal of Gears 5 to the full. In addition to the classic chainsaw lancer, the game offers us shotguns, revolvers, sniper rifles, submachine guns, chainsaw and grenade launchers, miniguns, cryo weapons, melee clubs and more.
The action is presented in a bombastic graphic splendor, which we can freely adapt on the PC using numerous options. The FPS are limited to 60 on the Xbox One X, there is no frame rate limit on the PC. Aiming is easy thanks to the mouse control, we can also freely assign the control. If you like, you can also play with a gamepad.
A tinny RPG sidekick
Gears 5 also plays with its action blockbuster charm outside of the fighting: the cutscenes and scripted events are fantastically staged and in places even make Hollywood green with envy. The main characters let off one humorous saying after the other and thus ensure a pleasant portion of comic relief in addition to the actually quite gloomy setting.
Also a little comic relief, but above all an important new game mechanic, is the flying robot Jack. He accompanies us throughout the entire campaign and supports us with his skills, which we gradually unlock like in a role-playing game Light.
This includes, for example, a scanner that detects and marks nearby opponents or a flash of light that stuns an opponent and drives them out of cover. In the game world, in addition to collectibles that enrich the background story, we also find components with which we can further develop Jack's skills and, for example, improve their length.
The bot also brings us ammunition and weapons when we point at them, so we don't have to leave our safe cover even in tricky situations. We also regularly send him through ventilation shafts so that he can operate switches and open entrances and use his skills to solve shallow puzzles - for example, we camouflage ourselves so that we don't get caught by lasers.
Despite all his talents: the tin can has no real added value. The puzzles feel forced and rather annoying. The fights get an additional component through him, but function perfectly even without him. From this follows: If you don't feel like Jack, you can ignore the search for components and enjoy the well-timed pace of the campaign. This also applies to the second major innovation.
A gears with open world?
After the first act, the plot takes on a slightly more personal tone. Kait is plagued by headaches and worsening visions from the swarm. To find answers, she moves to the cold north with Del and Jack. But instead of further staged hose levels, a novelty awaits us for the Gears series: an open world! Or at least the approach of it.
We explore the world on a skiff, a kind of snow sledge that is pulled by a stunt kite like kitesurfing. Whereby: There isn't really much to explore. The hub levels are quite small and empty and primarily serve as a collection point for optional and short side tasks. In these we usually clear an area of enemies, such as a water tower or a train tunnel. As a reward, particularly powerful upgrades await Jack.
In other parts of the snowy and later desert world, there are weapon relics, more or less improved versions of the standard guns. The Hammerburst relic, for example, increases its volley length with each additional trigger.
As positive as open world is connoted, the hub worlds polarize in Gears 5. On the one hand, they give the player the pace, leaving him free to decide how straight he wants to go through the campaign. On the other hand, the thoughtful pace and staged action are the core strengths of the Gears series - this can also make these open sections feel like an unnecessary stretch of playtime for some players.
The good news: As with Jack, whether you want to explore the world or not is largely optional. The game doesn't force you to do side quests and the next main quest only takes a few minutes.
As usual, extensive multiplayer
The campaign lasts around nine to twelve hours, depending on the style of play, and is therefore somewhat more extensive than its predecessors. Too bad: Similar to the fourth part, the end culminates in a cliffhanger, which is only dissolved in the sixth gear. Until then, the extensive multiplayer offers plenty of long-term motivation.
The multiplayer is divided into Versus, Horde and Escape. Versus is a classic PvP mode in which you compete in different modes in 5-on-5 matches. In addition to classics like Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill, you can also choose from more experimental modes like Dodgeball, in which we revive fellow players by eliminating an opponent.
Exemplary: We can also customize our matches, switch on AI opponents and determine details such as length and map.
The co-op classic Horde includes all new weapons and opponents from Gears 5 and otherwise works according to the usual fun principle: You have to protect your manufacturer with up to four friends from approaching waves of opponents, which get stronger with each round. For eliminating opponents, we get energy, which we use to create new weapons, barriers and turrets at the factory.
The playable characters are divided into different classes such as tank, scout and attacker and have their own loadout in addition to unique skills. After a match, you will receive experience points that we use to unlock new skins and level up the characters. So we get additional perks such as higher energy drops or more shotgun damage. The progression system motivates, the different classes invite you to experiment.
The multiplayer highlight: On the run in co-op
Our highlight from the multiplayer area is a completely new game mode called Escape. The scenario: We descend into a swarm building and detonate a bomb there, which detonates after 60 seconds and slowly floods the corridors with poison. We flee through several so-called acts from the building, which is made up of numerous corridors and turns.
Escape mode feels very refreshing because it forces us out of our usual comfort zone: we have to keep moving on the run from poison, fight for weapons and cartridges and even storm groups of opponents unprepared when time is running out.
This contradicts the classic gears design and presents us with new challenges, because we cannot comfortably walk from cover to cover and take apart hordes of opponents with a comfortable supply of ammunition. Instead, we actually feel like an intruder who is pressed for time to make do with what little he finds.
As in the Horde mode, the characters are divided into different classes with their own skills. There are three figures to choose from, specially created for the escape mode: the support team supplies its teammates with ammunition, the scout goes into close combat with her electric blade and the tank creates a barrier that intercepts bullets. With a progression system, we also activate new talents here after a game.
Gears 5 tries to reinvent itself in a few places, but does not forget its core strengths. The fifth part is also an action blockbuster, which is perfectly scripted in its missions and gets the most out of its gameplay corset. And those who are only through with the campaign will find enough content in multiplayer for dozens more hours of (co-op) action.