Review

Gears Tactics Review - Plan The Work, Work The Plan

  • First Released Apr 28, 2020
    released
  • PC

Gears Tactics carefully recreates the chaotic excitement of a Gears of War firefight in turn-based strategy form.

Gears of War, as a series, has always required tactical planning. Understanding how to read a battlefield to find ideal cover and a path to outflanking your opponent is just as essential as your trusty Lancer assault rifle. Still, it's surprising just how well the series translates to a turn-based strategy RPG. Gears Tactics captures the chaotic, gory roller coaster energy generated by the shooters, even as your focus turns from playing a cog to maintaining the machine.

Technically, Tactics is a prequel, as it takes place before the events of the original series, but it really feels like a throwaway story from the expanded canon. Though connections to the overarching Gears saga, particularly Gears 5, abound--your unit is led by Gabe Diaz, Kait's dad--Gears Tactics' story is simple and mostly detached from the larger franchise.

So while the plot takes a back seat, Gears Tactics cleverly twists the formula of the modern strategy RPG, creating scenarios that fit the Gears mold. All the XCOM-inspired mechanics are there: action points that can be used to move or attack, half- and full-cover, defensive "overwatch" positioning. If you've ever so much as thought the word "tactics game," the flow will feel comfortable.

It will also feel incredibly familiar to Gears fans. Nearly every single mechanic and system from the core series appears in a turn-based form, and most of them fit remarkably well. Downing enemies (then executing them) becomes vital, as it awards your squaddies extra actions. Rushing in with the Lancer chainsaw is an aggressive way to clear a path through an enemy, but only if you can reach them without taking overwatch fire. Not only do the mechanics and stylistic flourishes of the Gears series make sense in a turn-based environment, but you can build strategies around them.

Likewise, almost every enemy type is imported from the shooter series, with stats and traits that transpose their real-time action identities into a more stats-driven turn-based form. Wretches still get in your face, creating dangerous distractions. Some of the more advanced enemies, like Boomers, will drop their powerful explosive weapons, creating an opportunity for you to turn the enemy's heavy firepower back on them.

However, in a few cases, the Gears-like systems clash with the tried-and-true XCOM-like ideas, making them feel unnecessary. For example, you're able to build up a squad of over 20 Gears through the story missions, but since many missions require that you use the small set of core story characters--Gabe Diaz and his crew--you rarely use more than a few alternates, and only when your go-to characters are restricted.

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When the two identities merge, you get scenarios that mimic the flow and intensity of the combat arenas in Gears shooters, even as they play out in a more controlled, formulaic way. On paper, your standard squad of four Gears are always outnumbered and outgunned. Each wave of enemies carries a certain momentum, which evokes a moment of doubt as to whether or not you even have a chance to survive. Scouring derelict cities and abandoned factories of varying shapes and sizes, you'll move from cover to cover, trying to put your team in the best possible position to take on whatever's just around the corner. In true Gears fashion, even if you can handle what you find off the bat, there's always another wave of reinforcements or a new emergence hole popping up, spawning enemies behind your back.

Though the situation never adds up in your favor, there's almost always a solution to the threat you're facing. Whether you choose to dig in and brace from a defensive position or clear through the Locust horde, you have to employ your strategic acumen reactively, combining your squad's moves and attacks in the most efficient, sustainable way possible. Each character can "act"--move, shoot, or use a class-specific ability--three times per turn. On top of that, specialized perks and gear often give you plenty of opportunities to earn extra health or moves. Even when you feel like you've been backed into a corner, there's always a move that will give you a small chance of doing something to turn the tide, crack the mission wide-open, and shift the momentum back your way. When it works, and that one cautious shot turns into a 20-move assault, it feels like you cobbled together one of those reactionary hail-mary schemes Marcus Fenix seems to pull off in every Gears set-piece.

When it works, and that one cautious shot turns into a 20-move assault, it feels like you cobbled together one of those reactionary hail-mary schemes Marcus Fenix seems to pull off in every Gears set-piece.

The beauty of Gears Tactics is that those maneuvers are entirely contingent on how you develop your characters. Each Gear falls into one of five classes corresponding to a specific weapon: Support fighters get the Lancer, the more aggressive Vanguard gets the Retro Lancer, Scouts get a Gnasher shotgun, and so on. As each one gains experiences and levels up, you're able to augment them with skills and passive perks from a large four-sided skill tree. Each corner of the tree, which is actually square and not very tree-like, gives you different abilities and grants bonuses to a character's unique skill-set that encourage you to use them in specific ways. The Support is the healer, and you can enhance those abilities, but you can also build around finding ways to give the other three characters extra moves every turn. Customizing each character, both through leveling them up and furnishing them with weapon mods and armor, not only makes them more powerful, but more specifically useful. Creating a team that complements each other and how you approach situations tactically not only feels like "progress," but growth. As you come into your own as a commander, your Gears find their footing as soldiers.

And even within those sub-classes, there are interesting thematic variations. I specced out Gabe Diaz, a support unit, as a healer, but I also made sure to grab all the abilities that enhanced his Chainsaw attack. By the end of the game, using the chainsaw gave every character an extra move, sped up the cooldowns on all of his abilities, and healed the entire party.

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At the same time, though, that specificity intensifies how repetitive the game starts to feel. Though the campaign took over 35 hours to complete, there are only a handful of mission types, including a King of the Hill-style point control, a turn-limited character rescue, and myriad excuses to kill every Locust in sight. While many are engaging, challenging, and exciting the first couple times, they start to wear thin as you repeat them over and over again. Over time, the game will throw in modifiers and optional objectives to spice things up, and those variations plus little tweaks to enemy groupings are enough to make each mission feel fresh in the moment. However, there's no replacement for actual objective and level variety over the long haul.

The only truly novel missions are a trio of boss battles where you square off against some of the series' biggest, baddest enemies. These fights are demanding, long-winded endurance runs. In addition to the boss monsters, who have large sweeping attacks that force you out of cover, you'll have to fight waves of standard enemies, who aren't exactly easy to handle. At a glance, you could argue that these fights are the epitome of the Gears Tactics format: Every turn requires you to react to new, potentially game-ending circumstances while also moving towards your objective and planning for what your opponents will do next. Really, they're too much of a "good" thing. The big attacks feel more restrictive than awe-inspiring, and the drawn-out spectacle minimizes the momentum that pushes you through the standard missions.

Though Gears Tactics wears itself a little thin by the end of its protracted campaign, the rush of pulling together a victory from the jaws of defeat carries an exciting, chaotic energy. Unlike most strategy games, playing well doesn't necessarily make you feel like a mastermind, so much as though you've cheated death. Every successful plan, even a last-ditch effort, feels like a small stroke of genius. That's no small feat.

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The Good

  • Successfully translates the aesthetic, mechanics, and feelings of the Gears franchise into a strategy game
  • Meaningful progression leads to strong character customization
  • Interesting, innovative tweaks to the modern strategy RPG formula

The Bad

  • Story feels like filler
  • Lack of mission diversity over a very long campaign

About the Author

Mike Epstein has outflanked, outgunned, and out-chainsawed the Locust Horde of Gears Tactics for over 40 hours. If he were a Gear, he'd probably be a heavy. His review code was provided by the publisher.
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DeadManRollin

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Sad, almost makes me regret not having a good gaming PC :(

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jenovaschilld

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Edited By jenovaschilld

@DeadManRollin: Prob wont need a high $ GCPU for this game, but you could buy a $150 renewed desktop low profile core i5 quad core with 8gbs of ram, https://www.amazon.com/HP-8300-Elite-Computer-Quad-Core here and add a $50-65 dollar 2gb quadro video card like this one here https://www.newegg.com/p/1FT-0004-005T7 or even cheaper ones on ebay. This will allow you to play the game at 1080p on medium to medium low settings and it will look really nice at 30-45 fps. So for just over $200 this will get you by.

And later when you do get yourself a great gaming pc, this will make an awesome HTPC, and or gift for someone else. And consoles cannot go unmentioned here. If you got yourself a cheap $200 xbox or ps slim, this game may very well cross over giving you the option to play on those 8th gen platforms and of course look and play much better then a $200 computer. For instanced, I was amazed when I saw FF7 remake on a ps4 slim in HDR at 1080p, yes a pro 4k looked better, but the slim was still amazing for such a low price on tech nearly 7rs old.

happy gaming.

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DeadManRollin

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@jenovaschilld: Thanks for the heads up man. I don't have enough space at my small apartment to set up a desktop PC anymore, but I am keen on getting a gaming laptop someday. The deals you mentioned are great, I will definitely look in to them.

I own a PS4 fat version, and I am hoping that more turn based strategy/tactics games will be released on that platform. I am a big fan of XCOM2.

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jenovaschilld

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@DeadManRollin: Yeah, that is my favorite genre. SRPG, TRPG. Valkyrie Chronicles been one of the best games ever.

If you have a 4k TV or a really killer monitor in your apartment you may want to try some of the streaming cloud based services. They work great for games that do not require low latency., like tight FPS. There is steam, ps now for both console and pc. , and google, amazon, streaming services.

I actually saw it in action some years back and hated it, but not long ago seen it at work playing Tales of Berseria or Zestria and it worked perfectly over a mini-pc connected to a TV. The combat was silky smooth.

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DeadManRollin

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@jenovaschilld:Yes, I have averted all kinds of cloud/streaming based gaming services so far, but my interest in growing day by day, and I also no longer wish to invest more money towards a gaming PC, so I might actually try out one of these services.

I don't have a 4K TV, but I gotta 50 inch HD TV which is not that bad.

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jenovaschilld

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@DeadManRollin: Some of the prices are just amazing, for streaming. Though it is like a book club in that you really should research who has what games, and what limitations if any there are. For instance PS now is just $10 a month, that was the cost of my lunch at work today. No limit on hours played, or games played in their library. Or $60 for a year.

but ... the library may not have your games, and some games are just not as fun if you encounter poor latency and or internet throttling that is going on with this pandemic. Can also was unsubscribe.

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x_hedon

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I can't wait for this to hit Xbox later this year!

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R4gn4r0k

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Unlike Sony *ahem TLOU 2* Microsoft still releases games

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sladakrobot

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@R4gn4r0k: the pc market is 99% digital while Sony has contracts with retail store chains

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R4gn4r0k

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@sladakrobot: Yes, money is always more important to Sony than their playerbase.

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sladakrobot

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Edited By sladakrobot

@R4gn4r0k: uh no(of course Sony is business but...),just imagine all the players who bought the game digitally and those who wait for a physical release...it is/was the right decision to wait and to deliver to both player bases equally

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Jarrkha

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@sladakrobot: then don't wait for physical, or god forbid we gamers develop some patience and anti-FOMO and DO wait until physical copies become viable (safe) again; avoiding spoilers and letting others have their fun. The solution on the consumer end was quite simple.

Sony could have sold the digital at $5 CAD less to entice converts to that format, or, throw in some early adopter perks, since a delayed disc copy would be viewed as late-adoption purchasing (which often get "discounted" with less perks or bundled with season passes / some DLC for attractive prices, but a year or more down the line). However, silly retail contracts were what really bound their hands, here.

Even w/o COVID-19, physical retail for movies and games is experiencing a slow death -- and tbh, as a logistician, I grow tired at computing how much gasoline and magnetite is still put aside for a holdout industry.

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R4gn4r0k

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@sladakrobot: Alright, I can live with a month delay. I thought it would've been delayed for far longer :)

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Jarrkha

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@R4gn4r0k: So did I.

No offense, but we should be willing to wait much longer. It's important for our generation to re-develop admirable levels of delayed gratification "skill", and prioritize our lives again so that we aren't getting our underwear twisted over hobbies and past times. (Indeed I've seen people say they work only to fund their entertainment; entire groups justify wanton escapism and predicate themselves on commercial art; art isn't even JUST for escapism, to boot).

Even if none of that were important to the arbitrary person, it's still important to understand that 2020 is a timeframe where we'd start experiencing major societal paradigm shifts -- COVID-19 or no. Just so happens that a viral pandemic was the first thing to hit, when it could have been an independent global recession, or war, or worldwide famine induced by disrupted supply chains from trade disputes, etc. (Many secondary effects are actually now accelerated bc of the pandemic; even eradicated diseases are returning in places, due to the decreased manufacturing capability for vaccines).

Basically, even if we beat this first wave so soundly as to regain some normalcy, it's still just a first wave. Every previous civilization and stages of history in this one had major shifts which evolved us. So, some patience for life's luxuries is the least of the vital life lessons to learn.

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sladakrobot

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@R4gn4r0k: me too 😅

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aross2004

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Edited By aross2004

@R4gn4r0k: WTF are you talking about? TLoU2 comes out in June, only 2 weeks later than expected.

Try harder.

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sladakrobot

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@aross2004: Tlous2 is pushed back indefinetly

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aross2004

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Edited By aross2004

@sladakrobot: Mid June =/= indefinitely.

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sladakrobot

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@aross2004: my bad,i missed the news

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aross2004

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@sladakrobot: No worries then. ;)

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Mogan

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Mogan  Moderator

@sladakrobot: The top story on the front page is actually TLoU2's release date. June 19.

3 • 
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sladakrobot

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@mogan: oh,missed that...thx

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R4gn4r0k

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@sladakrobot: Same here, that's actually not that bad.

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lionheartssj1

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Looking forward to playing this one.

4 • 
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aross2004

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Sweet! Looking forward to it.

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santinegrete

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This and Chimera squad. You can call it second rate compared to Xcom all you want, i'd be grateful to get to play games in times where staying in house is "mandatory".

3 • 
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metin3191

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@santinegrete: Are they very similar or just same type games ? I want to try this because I like turn based games

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santinegrete

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Edited By santinegrete

@metin3191: very similar combat wise. I don't know if they have any base building mechanics, but I'm ok with that, I liked reinforcement pack on XCOM 2.

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Mogan

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Mogan  Moderator

*Use of Game Pass intensifies*

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Daidochus

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Pre-loaded!!

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doodoflife

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A good score from GS for a MS exclusive? The world truly has gone mad.

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x_hedon

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@doodoflife: I thought the same thing! I see it's doing well on Metacritic too.

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Mogan

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@doodoflife: Well, Gears of War is no stranger to Mad World. : p

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doodoflife

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@mogan: hey this guy got it.

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Gears Tactics

First Released Apr 28, 2020
released
  • PC
  • Xbox One
  • Xbox Series X

8
Great

Average Rating

30 Rating(s)

6.5
Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
Mature
Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language