Gears Tactics review: a fantastic strategy game that breathes new life into the Gears IP

By Sean Carey,
Although each Gears title has brought slight innovations and new features, they have all followed the same third-person cover-based shooter formula (except for Gears POP, of course). The latest entry into the franchise, Gears Tactics, offers up something unique and is somewhat a breath of fresh air for the ageing IP. It's a shockingly good strategy game that features the iconic Gears chainsaw executions and more of that cover-based shooting but from a different perspective.

Gears Tactics

Gears Tactics is an isometric turn-based strategy game similar to that of an XCOM title. The plot is set 14 years before the events of the first Gears of War and takes place not long after Emergence Day — the day the Locust Horde sprung from the ground. The story follows Gabe Diaz, a once elite COG soldier who has become disillusioned with the government and has demoted himself to work in the motor pool as a mechanic. Diaz is forced to undertake one final mission: track down and kill the Locust scientist, Ukkon, who is responsible for the creation of hulking beasts such as Brumaks and Corpsers. Diaz and a grizzled veteran Gear, Major Sid Redburn, set out on a journey to find the scientific mastermind and recruit new members to their team along the way.

Battles play out as you'd expect from a strategy game. Straight from the first mission, you are bombarded with statistics, different attacks and aggressive enemies. It can be a lot to get your head around at first, especially if you're new to the genre. You'll need to learn the various mechanics quickly; otherwise, you'll find yourself overrun in no time.

Up to four units can be deployed on a mission, and each one is categorised into one of five classes. You have the usuals such as the Sniper, Heavy and Support, but there's also the Vanguard, an all-rounder, and the Scout that carries a Gnasher Shotgun and has the ability to turn invisible. Each class brings with it a unique set of abilities, and its own progression tree filled with 30 passive and active skills that can be unlocked and upgraded over time. These huge progression trees allow you to customise a character to how you want to play.

Gears Tactics Review

Each unit has three actions per turn. Actions can be used to either move, attack or use an ability. These three actions can be spent however you wish, offering up a flexible array of strategic possibilities. Do you move further up the field and sacrifice an attack, or leave yourself open to being flanked? There is always something to consider when planning how to use a turn. Specific attacks and the more powerful abilities are set on a cooldown, along with the use of grenades, so you always need to be mindful of when to use a specific action. Gears Tactics wouldn't be a proper Gears game if one of those special abilities wasn't a chainsaw execution. The gory melee attack is a powerful move that boosts squad morale and gives each unit an extra action for their turn. It's iconic, brutal and satisfying, but also a great strategic option.

Interestingly, Gears Tactics eschews the grid system used in similar games, such as XCOM. You are free to move wherever you see fit as determined by the number of action points a unit has left on its turn. This makes the action faster and more fluid compared to other games in the genre, and combined with the deep level of strategy on offer; it makes Gears Tactics a joy to play — you can easily lose hours taking the fight to the enemy.

Speaking of the enemy, there's variety here, too. If you've played any of the Gears games before, you'll be familiar with Locust Drones, Wretches, Boomers and many more fearsome faces. They fill the usual archetypes you'd find in a standard Gears game, albeit slightly tweaked to fit the tactics genre. Wretches are designed to flush you out of cover and overwhelm, Sniper Drones force you to stay put, and Locust Drones will try to flank your position to deal substantial damage. The AI in Tactics is superb. Playing on Intermediate difficulty, I never felt as if the AI was purposefully leaving gaps in its defence for me to exploit. I'd often find myself pinned down by a sniper or other units in Overwatch and resorting to desperate measures to get out of a tricky situation. Tactics forces you to move forward and play aggressively, but not without care. If you make a mistake, you will be punished severely. However, when you do execute a carefully considered plan, it's nothing short of satisfying to watch a full squad of Locusts be reduced to nothing but piles of bloodied flesh.

Gears Tactics Review

Much like Gears 5, the visuals are superb. The maps are detailed and vibrant, while character models pop and are gorgeously rendered. Some of the character animations can feel a little off at times, however. Enemies often ragdoll in bizarre ways when killed - sometimes shooting up into the air, for example - but this was minor and didn't really detract from the experience.

After each mission, you are awarded not just weapon and armour upgrades that offer stats boosts, but also new randomly generated recruits that can be added to your squad. These recruits can permanently die but don't offer much in terms of personality so aren't really missed. There is a deep level of customisation on offer here. Nearly everything on recruits and characters can be customised, from their armour types and colours to tattoos and scars. It's quite astonishing that a game with this many cosmetics doesn't include microtransactions. Even after the story's conclusion, the game offers up Veteran side missions that are harder than the usual missions; these award you with more exclusive and legendary items.

Gears Tactics Review

It's worth mentioning that Gears Tactics contains no multiplayer. It's a single-player experience with a roughly 35-hour campaign, comprising main missions and side quests. The story missions are varied, but the side missions let Gears Tactics down. Side missions come in four different types: Sabotage, Scavenger, Rescue and Control. Sabotage is the basic, destroy an objective on the map mission. Scavenger is a little more exciting, requiring you to collect supplies on the map while a bombardment slowly moves up behind you, pushing you forward. Control has you holding points on the map for a length of time, and in Rescue, you need to save two soldiers from enemy torture pods in a certain number of turns. These are great, to begin with, and add a little variety to the mix. However, they soon become stale.

After every couple of story missions, you are forced to complete two to three side missions from a list of four. They are each very similar, but with different modifiers that either buff yours or the enemy units. These side missions often feel like they are used to pad out the main storyline and get quite tedious. Sure, they allow you to level up your units and collect more powerful gear, but when each mission is almost a copy-paste, it soon gets boring. It also leaves the plot feeling disjointed since it's hard to get invested into the story when you're pushed off it into side missions for an hour or two. Only around the 20-hour mark did the story start to get interesting. In addition, Gabe Diaz is a disappointing lead. He is neither memorable nor engaging and is undoubtedly no Marcus Fenix. Most of the main cast is forgettable, with the exception of Sid who has an interesting backstory — and although gruff and stoic — can be quite endearing at times.

Gears Tactics Review

Gears Tactics' real highlights, however, are its boss fights. There aren't many of them, but when they do come up, they radically change up the gameplay. Taking on a giant Brumak equipped with its rocket launchers in a tactics format is outrageously fun. The pressure is cranked up when you come up against one of the bosses, and the game doesn't hold back. You'll find yourself being attacked from all angles. Locusts emerge from the ground and enter the fray to really disrupt your plan of attack on the boss. This forces you to be more dynamic in your strategic choices. You may have found a combination of different abilities that works well for normal gameplay, but during one of these fights, you have to be prepared to think on your feet and try to anticipate what could come next. It's great fun, and I wish there were at least one more of these big boss battles. I won't talk too much about it too much for fear of spoilers, but the final boss, in particular, had me gripped and on the edge of my seat.

Summary

Gears Tactics is a fantastic strategy game. The character classes, with their unique abilities and complex progression trees, offer up a deep strategic meta. Complex and different enemy types add to this along with tremendous boss battles that radically shake up the gameplay. However, tedious side missions get in the way of the fun and slow the story to a crawl, while Gabe Diaz and the crew are somewhat uninspiring and lack the charisma of other characters from the Gears franchise. Still, if you're after a well-constructed and deeply thought out strategy title that can keep you busy for hours on end, Gears Tactics should definitely not be missed.
4 / 5
Gears Tactics
Ethics
The reviewer spent around 36 hours taking the fight to the Locust Horde, earning 22 of the game's 50 achievements. The game was played on PC via Steam. A code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Sean Carey
Written by Sean Carey
Hey, I’m Sean! I joined both TrueAchievements and TrueTrophies as a staff writer in 2019. I’m a big fan of the Metal Gear Solid series and love a good narrative adventure. Most evenings you’ll find me failing to get a win in Call of Duty: Warzone.