Between numerous cancellations and several disappointing releases, the last few years have been rough for Microsoft fans. So it’s no surprise that there’s been little buzz around Gears Tactics, the turn-based tactical spin-off of the Gears of War series.
But this is not a title to be ignored. Splash Damage and The Coalition have crafted not just one of the best games to come out of Microsoft in years, but a faster, more exciting take on the tactics genre that actually moves it forward and should attract players who are usually turned off by these types of games.
As a prequel set 10 years before the first game, you don’t need to know much about Gears of War to enjoy Tactics, although there is plenty of fan service for long-time players. The story follows Gabe Diaz, the father of Gears 5’s Kait Diaz, as he leads a mobile unit of COGs on a secret mission to assassinate Ukkon, the Locust scientist who is responsible for creating some of the series’ most memorable enemies, like the Brumak and Corpser.
The story pretty typical Gears of War fare, though there are some interesting new pieces of lore thrown in. Ukkon is also easily the best, most intimidating bad guy the series has introduced since General RAAM in the original game.
Gameplay takes many cues from the XCOM series, but the movement isn’t grid-based, allowing for all sorts of fun when it comes to positioning your COGs for the perfect ambush. Tactics also takes full advantage of its source material in developing new ways to approach this genre. The series’ trademark grisly executions of downed enemies are always readily available, but now executions gain you bonus action points for additional moves before the end of each turn. Once you get the hang of the game’s systems, it’s possible to continually stack executions to move around the map and take out a dozen Locusts before they even get one move in.
Relishing the gruesome executions, the camera constantly swoops in to show Locusts exploding in bloody chunks with each shot or rev of the chainsaw. It’s terrific fun that actually makes the game feel more like a slightly slowed-down Gears of War title than a methodical tactics game.
Release Date: April 28
Developer: Splash Damage & The Coalition
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Genre: Turn-based Tactics
Gears’ enemies and weapons translate surprisingly well to the tactics genre, too. It’s extremely satisfying to toss a frag grenade into a group of wretches and then fire off a round at a ticker to blow up other nearby Locusts. And then there are the boss battles. There’s not many of them, but they’re just as fun and creative as anything in the main Gears of War series.
While you’ll have to use campaign characters like Gabe Diaz and the eyepatch-wearing Sid Redburn on specific missions, there are plenty of procedurally generated COGs to recruit as well. These are divided into five classes: support, heavy, sniper, scout, and vanguard. Exactly how you want to balance these classes on missions is generally up to you. I usually found success as long as I was cautious in my approach and didn’t make any rash decisions.
The amount of customization at your disposal with each character is intimidating at first. You can equip several mods to each weapon and change out multiple pieces of equipment on each COG with items you find in the field. Each troop also has a sizable, completely customizable skill tree. You could easily lose hours getting each character just right before the next mission. The equipment menus were a bit confusing at first, but I got the hang of them pretty quickly.
The three-act campaign is divided into main missions and four types of side missions: sabotage, control, scavenger, and rescue. While these missions are generally a blast to play through, they do start to feel repetitive after a while. Still, with so much customization and procedurally generated content, plus an endless veteran mode that unlocks after completing the campaign, there’s a lot of replay value here.
Curiously, Gears Tactics is only releasing on PC initially, with an Xbox One version expected later this year. Even with my gaming laptop getting up there in years, the game looked and ran beautifully on medium/high settings, though the procedurally generated COGs do look noticeably less detailed than the main characters and Locusts, and there was some minor texture pop-in during cutscenes. These are minor issues though. Don’t take the lack of pre-release hype as a bad sign. Gears Tactics is a triumphant spin-off that will please long-time fans of the series and strategy fans alike.