The actors’ performances are all vital to Gears 5, because this campaign is packed full of story. You’ll have plenty of welcome controller-down time between the action to follow along with what’s happening in this world of destroyed beauty. Gears 5 plumbs the depths of not only the lead characters themselves, but also the larger Gears universe’s history of war. We see them struggle to justify terrible acts in the face of even worse choices, and we’re forced to wonder if the ends really do justify the means.
Gears 5’s Jack of All Trades
Gears’s third-person action has evolved slowly but steadily from one entry to the next, and in Gears 5 the bulk of what’s new flows through Jack, your handy floating robot companion. He can now snag weapons from the battlefield for you and unlock safes, among other actions, and you’ll earn new abilities for him to use in combat, such as flash-blinding your foes, reviving you and your allies when you’re down, cloaking you, and more. Upgrade components are littered across the world, so you can decide to hyper-specialize in a few areas or have a little bit of every ability. I appreciated the extra tactical layers he offered, and while I did vary my selected Jack ability depending on the situation, I was particularly thankful for the healing power of Stim in the latter part of the campaign, which saved me from dying more than once.
But Jack aside, boy oh boy does Gears’ combat still feel good. This may be the only series where I’m always happy to have the default weapon – the trusty Lancer – in my loadout at all times, just in case I get a chance to chainsaw a bad guy in half. The Overkill shotgun returns from Gears of War 4 and packs a potent punch, while classics like the Sniper Rifle, Boomshot, and Mulcher are still around to satisfyingly chew your foes into little fleshy chunks. New weapons like the Claw manage to feel unique but fit right in, too; Gears 5 does a tremendous job of balancing the old toys with new ones.
Also new is Gears 5’s open structure of its middle two acts. You’ll roam the area on your wind-powered Skiff, free to tackle optional secondary objectives that vary in duration and challenge. Usually your reward is Jack upgrades, so they’re very worth doing. This is a nice change of pace for Gears, just like it was for God of War last year — who’s to say whether that was by intention or coincidence, but the fact that the first of these sections is set in a frozen tundra only makes it harder to ignore the similarity). Multiple varied boss fights also help Gears 5 feel fresh throughout.
Waiting for Kait
Though Gears 5’s campaign has plenty of meat on the bone, clocking in at around 10-12 hours, it ends somewhat abruptly. Perhaps that’s because it’s the first mainline Gears that doesn’t follow a linear five-act structure, but it’s mostly because it doesn’t offer any gameplay resolution after answering Kait’s questions about her past. No, that’s saved for the jumping-off point for the inevitable Gears 6. I can’t help but compare it to the end of Halo 2, though the cutoff is not nearly as egregious here.
Meanwhile, the graphics of Gears 5 may no longer be a jaw-dropping showpiece unrivaled in the rest of gaming, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t pretty. For starters, the jump to 4K and 60fps for the campaign on Xbox One X feels really good, aside from a few minor hitches here and there. And the use of atmospheric lighting – both in the world and on our heroes’ armor – once again gives Gears a unique and gorgeous visual signature.