When I think of Gears of War of I think of heads exploding like meat pinatas.
I think of liver surgery performed with chainsaws.
I think of giant bastards with necks as wide as their heads.
I do not think of musical theatre - unless it’s Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rarely performed
Phantom of the Chopera.
Which is why it surprised me to find an extended sequence in Gears 5 based on hit box office
Here named Embry, after Nassar Embry, the guy who founded the Coalition of Ordered Governments.
This isn’t just some poster easter egg, but a whole committed bit with dressing rooms
full of historic wigs, collectible lyrics - if this video gets 5 thousand likes I will
rap this myself - and a fight with a meat beast around rotating stage scenery while
Embry’s soundtrack drowns out the gunfire.
Squint and it’s just another room of waist-high cover - as Gears of War as it comes - but
man, if you don’t feel The Coalition having some real fun with this one.
Your broadway jazz hands soon return to more traditionally manly pursuits like thumping
or clenching into a fist because you can’t express your emotions to your distant father - "It wasn't necessary, and you know it"
but Gears 5 never loses the playfulness of that theatre shootout.
You fight on frozen lakes, shooting the ice to dunk enemies into the cold.
You sneak round platoons of slumbering murder bots, synchronising battery tugs with a co-op
pal to avoid a mass activation.
There’s an extended siege in a flight training facility where a malfunctioning centrifuge
beheads friend and foe.
Housten we have a problem - I can’t get enough of this stuff.
Or there’s my favourite of all: a push across stormy sand with lightning strikes causing
pillars of fulgurite to bloom to life, providing fresh cover or just a pile of pointy rocks
to push onto a monster’s head.
Come on: that is glorious.
At this point I should probably say you’re watching Rock Paper Shotgun.
I tried to draw our initials in the snow, but it came out as Rock Rock Sort of Squiggle
So here’s the proper thing on screen now as I ask you to like and subscribe, people
who do subscribe get a thumbs up from Linda Hamilton of all people, and people who don’t
have to eat horrible Levithan Egg flavour crisps.
As I chuckled my way through more ice dunking escapades I wondered to myself, where was
this playfulness in Gears of War 4?
That game marked The Coalition as nothing more than caretakers, producing an accurate,
but safe, copy of Epic’s earlier work.
It was The Force Awakens approach: familiar beats, younger cast, a few grizzled oldsters
for the fans.
Does that make Gears 5 the Last Jedi?
Marcus Feenix doesn’t sup from a marine cow at any point - more's the pity - but there’s
a sense of humour and visual invention to this endless parade of battles that reminds
me of that oddball entry.
Superficially, there’s also a desert planet where shifting the top soil reveals darker
Conveninet for this metaphor, but *probably* a coincidence.
That desert planet is one of two locations where Gears 5 does depart the template more
After an opening act of linear streets and Broadway bust-ups, the action shifts to semi-open
You get a fun wind-propelled skiff that primarily exists to let glorious ice fields go whizzing
by at a silky frame rate or turn the game into a weird snow plough simulator.
It’s like scraping ice from a car windscreen, but the windscreen is the entire world.
The skiff also lets you tackle certain story tasks out of order, or sniff out a couple
of side missions.
If you opt to play in co-op, as I did for about half the campaign, the non-driver is
forced to man a radar turret with such flimsy range you may as well treat it like a baby
seat and just enjoy the ride.
These open areas are a hefty roadie run from Gears’ usual corridors, but baby steps by
open world standards; more Half-Life 2: Episode 2’s vehicle sections than a Metro Exodus
sandbox to lose yourself in.
Aside from a few well signposted caches - look across sand and ice for bits that aren’t
sand and ice - there’s not much to discover by accident.
Although I do love the designs of the Relic Weapon variants you find in these locations
- I just wish we could store more than two on the damn sled.
Is it unfair to ask more of exploration, given that it’s The Coalition’s first expedition?
At its heart Gears 5 remains a cover shooter, so really the skiff can only serve the purpose
of transporting you between that cover.
And while it feels like a lot of developmental effort for little explorative return, the
structure does allow us to visit pockets of action that wouldn’t find a home elsewhere.
The main benefit of not mainlining the central story is collecting parts for your combat
Previously operating as a glorified key, Jack now has abilities that liven up the combat
Handy, as it has to stay fresh for a campaign much longer than any that came before.
What starts with a simple radar ping and the power to stun enemies out of cover soon makes
way for invisibility cloaks and this shield that Jack nicked from Overwatch’s Reinhardt.
I also love hijacking bastions to borrow their shields as you chew up their former client.
These powers don’t radically alter the way you play, but it gives you more say over how
you want to kick the carnage off.
Stringing together cloaked backstabs and hiding away for a recharge doesn’t feel like COG-endorsed
tactics - these are the guys who thought a simple bayonet to the stomach was too subtle
- but it’s a welcome change of pace from endless mulchings.
Jack becomes more useful higher difficulties, especially his power to place shock traps
during siege waves, or beef up lead just as a boss opens a gooey crevice.
It’s a fun layer of strategy in co-op too as knowing when to drop a damage boosting
radar or revive makes all the difference.
Playing as Jack - an option for two- or three-person co-op - yes, with local splitscreen for both
- is less fun; firing his zapper lacks the sledgehammer-on-watermelon impact of bullets,
and fetching weapons for friends isn’t half as fun as sending him to yoink rifles from
sniper perches when you are playing by yourself.
Side note: this is such a great idea.
Normally when you kill a sniper in gears you don’t get to play with their toy until after
the fight - here you can grab it and use it to finish their friends.
Playing as Jack does let you briefly inhabit swarm troops with his mind-control, however,
which is a fun nod to Gears of War 3’s beast mode.
However you choose to apply your vicious robo-bud, there’s no denying he grows the action vocabulary
of Gears 5, in the same way that ice water takedowns and fulgurite toppling does.
And that lethal lexicon only expands with every hour: here, let’s swap the lancer’s
chainsaw for a mortar; yep, Jack can open those steam vents onto the goons using them
as cover; ouch, that crystal-tipped mace really did just turn a pouncer into goop.
It’s only when you’re in the final stretch that you realise you haven’t thrown a frag
grenade into an emergence hole for a good ten hours.
You were too busy with new ideas, or fresh combinations of old ones, to notice.
There’s also a chance you were blinded by the razzle-dazzle of the thing.
It seems a lifetime ago that Gears was heralded as the graphical benchmark.
Remember Epic showing new Unreal updates with GoW tech demos of wibbling meat tech?
After a few years away, Gears 5 rediscovers that wow
Partly through art direction whisking us to places where the play of light can impress
- glistening ice caves, buried rooms gradually exposed under windy assault - and with explosives
and electric beams that fill them flashy particle effects.
An RTX 2080 made swift work of the game at max settings at 4K and 60 frames, looking
tasty on split-screen, too.
I should note that I did experience some visual bug-outs: cutscenes would stutter and temporarily
freeze, and at one point all the sand in the desert flew into the sky, which was odd.
The game has a day-one patch and AMD and Nvidia drivers are still on the way, so I’m hoping
they’ve worked out how to anchor the sand to the floor.
I’ve also only had limited time to test multiplayer elements; the campaign is but
one flavour of a ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach to cover shooting.
Other varieties include Horde (the returning wave-based mode that I’ve only been able
to test with AI helpers) and Escape, which is a new mode that sees you outrunning a wave
of poison gas with just a pistol to begin with.
It’s pitched as a 20 minute alternative to Horde’s hour-long requirement.
I like its more careful pacing and having to make every bullet count - finally finding
a sniper bullet or two feels like a tangible turning of the tables - but only time will
tell if collecting and upgrading skill cards will evolve the feel of the runs enough to
make high-score chasing worthwhile.
Two hours of traditional Gears multiplayer proved harder to decipher.
Mainly because there’s a Terminator cross-promotion, which meant I spent those hours chuckling
at Linda Hamilton repeatedly bellowing ‘Terminated!’ as she sawed through monsters’ faces.
Like, we get it Linda: you are from Terminator.
Although playing Bodyguard mode and protecting your leader-bot from an army of T-800s as
Sarah Connor adds a weird pop culture frisson.
There’s definitely a dose of campaign’s more playful energy in the maps; I’ve got
a lot of time for the king of the hill arena that has a runaway train plough through the
I guess the takeaway from this is that however you want to couch behind cover and shoot monsters,
Gears 5 has you catered for.
Whether it’s crouching with friends and shooting waves of enemies; crouching through
furious set pieces in campaign; crouching and getting killed by teens who are better
at the game than you; or crouching with pals and worrying that you should really be running
from the poison gas and not crouching at all.
It even has you covered if you want to crouch and shoot Linda Hamilton.
Which is a frankly sinister desire.
All this can be enjoyed as part of Xbox Game Pass - and sampled for a £2 trial price.
It’s the campaign crouching that impressed me the most, the way it dips its toe it a
‘light RPG’ direction.
I’m enjoying this new trend of RPGs-but-not-RPGs; action games that borrow the language of the
more complex genre - side quests, character levelling, exploration - but in such a way
that there’s never any doubt you’ll miss a pixel of it.
I’m thinking of things like Metro Exodus or Control; games which put you on a longish
leash, but take you for a walk around a world that is so hand-crafted that it feels rude
not to gobble the whole thing up.
Gears 5 left my belly nice and fat, and keen for the next course.
I hope you enjoyed this look at Gears 5 on PC - if you have any questions about the game,
just pop them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them.
You could also watch the replay of our stream - it covers the first hour of the game in
And a bit of the open world fun.
As always, if you enjoyed this video, could you maybe give it a like and write something
kind under it.
If you really enjoyed it, you could subscribe to Rock Paper Shotgun - we try and cover as
much as we can on PC, whether it’s preview fun, analysis pieces or our continued adventures
in Let’s Play Divinity Original Sin 2.
Very different to Gears that, but you might like it.
Thanks for watching Rock Paper Shotgun and hopefully see you soon.
Now, back to the head-sawing for me.