Gears Tactics review – Gears Of War’s strategy turn

Gears Of War is transformed into an XCOM style turn-based strategy game but does that really make sense for such a fast-paced franchise?

It is amazing how in a year where release schedules have been torn asunder by the coronavirus the video games industry can still manage to release two very similar games at exactly the same time and on exactly the same format. XCOM: Chimera Squad came almost literally out of nowhere last week and yet has a great deal in common with Gears Tactics, which is also trying to create a faster-paced, story-heavy take on the traditional XCOM games. And it’s arguable which achieves its goals more successfully.

If you don’t know what XCOM is then the comparison is just another way of saying that Gears Tactics is a turn-based strategy game, which is certainly not the sort of spin-off you would’ve expected when Gears Of War revolutionised third person action games back in 2006. But times have changed and while Halo has successfully experimented with real-time strategy, turn-based strategy is now popular enough to justify this PC-only spin-off.

An Xbox One version is apparently in development, but for whatever reason the PC version has been released first and… it’s pretty good. It’s pretty unoriginal too, by the standards of the genre, and as a prequel it’s not clear it really adds much to the overall mythos, but if we’re honest we enjoyed it more than Gears 5.

Although Gears Tactics is set before the events of the first game it does tie in somewhat with Gears 5, as one of the main characters is Kait Diaz’s dad Gabe. He’s sent off on a secret mission to kill a Locust scientist, which might have some relevance to Gears 6 but otherwise feels very much like a forgettable side story. Despite a relatively long time being spent on storytelling none of it is very interesting and the characters fail to inspire much empathy.

If you’ve played any kind of squad-based strategy game before then Gears Tactics is extremely easy to get into, which seems to have been largely the point in trying to expand the franchise’s repartee. The major difference between Gears Tactics and other games like XCOM is that each character can perform three actions per turn instead of the traditional two, which makes more of a difference than you might think.

Despite what you might imagine it helps to speed up the pace of the game, since a single soldier can take out multiple enemies at one time or move, shoot, and go into overwatch – where you automatically take a shot if an enemy moves into your line of sight – on the same turn.

That means you can get a lot of work done in just a couple of turns, especially as the game is always keen to give you extra actions on top, such as a squad-wide bonus when performing a finishing move or from various perks and extra equipment you can unlock.

Unfortunately, there’s no proper strategic level meta game between battles but there is still a fair amount to do in terms of levelling up and managing your troops. Unlike Chimera Squad, permadeath is still part of the equation and so maintaining a good spread of characters in each of the five character classes is important, with customisation available through a wide range of new skills, equipment, and mods.

There are also side quests to perform during a mission, which reward you for keeping your eyes open, but Gears Of War being such an established universe means there are few surprises in terms of enemies and weapons. No doubt more people will be attracted by the Gears name than will be repelled by its overfamiliarity, but we would’ve much preferred this was a brand new IP where every new enemy appearance wasn’t quite so predictable. Especially given how little variety there is between the main story missions, which makes an already lengthy game seem even longer.

Surprisingly, especially given Gears Of Wars’ history, there is a no multiplayer and since that’s become less of a focus for XCOM over the years you might have thought this was a chance for Gears Tactics to become the modern day equivalent of Laser Squad. Especially as King of the Hill is already used as a standard mission type.

By the end of the 30+ hour campaign you begin to realise that the worst thing about Gears Tactics is that it’s a Gears Of War game. The gameplay and controls work very well but the repetition and lack of strategic control becomes more of a problem the longer the game goes on. As an introduction to the genre it works very well, and we hope it’ll get more people interested in turn-based action, but we doubt it’ll do the same for Gears Of War itself.

Gears Tactics review summary

In Short: A fast-paced and accessible turn-based action game that if anything feels constrained by the predictable nature of the Gears Of War universe.

Pros: Having three action points instead of two is a neat twist and there’s an impressive amount of depth to the character classes and customisation options. Good graphics.

Cons: Gears Of War aesthetic and mythos is getting increasingly overfamiliar and limits the variety in enemies and missions. Dull story. Lack of multiplayer is a missed opportunity.

Score: 8/10

Formats: PC
Price: £49.99
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: Splash Damage and The Coalition
Release Date: 28th April 2020
Age Rating: 18

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