Gears of War brought me back to Console gaming in 2006 for the first time since Sega Dreamcast. Really, I skipped a whole gen of consoles (I actually really liked Frequency on the PS2 but that was it, and Halo got a well deserved shot years after it’s OG Xbox release post purchasing a 360 in college). I can’t really say why, not because it’s embarrassing or personal or super depressing or something like that but because I have literally no idea why I stopped gaming almost entirely except for occasional PC jaunts from 2001ish until I went to college in 2005.
Even now, 13 years (!) later I play the original Gears regularly. It’s become a beloved tradition for my middle brother and I (and a hated side effect of being in our lives for his wife and my partners over the years) – work week rough? Guess we’re getting rekt and playing Gears all weekend. One of our Birthdays? Better get a whole fifth on hand, we’re doing this shit on Insane mode, or explosives and chainsaws only. New Game?
New Games are a whole different ballgame in the tradition. A new release merits sacred ritual. A replay of Gears of War comes first, the weekend before if it’s doable. Skipped classed and PTO from work. Turning off one’s cell phone. A healthy stock of alcohol, soda, juice/mixers, snacks, and frozen meals that have zero prep. No, when a new Gears game is released, it’s not a mere tradition, we are straight up insufferable.
And this hasn’t always been a rewarding ritual to partake in. Gears of War 3 sucked. I don’t give a shit about online multiplayer (which was solid, I’ll mess with some Horde mode any day and play a ticker 100% of my spawns until a 12 year old messages me to fuck off and die I’m reported for griefing), the campaign was garbage. Nothing was resolved, the emotional punch points were contrived, the changes to the actual gameplay felt like a step back, it just fell so flat. I’ve replayed 2 more than 3 and nothing really happens in 2. When Marcus cuts off his long lost father trying to explain the locust with a “we’ll talk about this later,” I knew no, he wouldn’t.
Unexplained villains aren’t always bad (Mass Effect‘s biggest flaw other than *hand waiving everywhere at ME3* was feeling the need to explain the Reapers after the first game. Wasn’t necessary at all and actively took away from the awesomeness of Sovereign’s “I am the Vanguard of your Destruction” speech). But that lab setup in 2 made it so abundantly clear an explanation was coming, up until the moment it didn’t and the story was over in 3. How disappointing.
UNTIL NOW. I could go on about how the main POV for the story shifting away from a Fenix to a woman is super cool but it’s coolness wouldn’t matter at all if the story and gameplay didn’t deliver (and holy shit, did it deliver).
- The locust’s creation, and Niles’ lab in 2? EXPLAINED.
- Retired fat Baird in a lab coat, doing retired fat Baird things? PRESENT.
- Shifting 2P or 3P co-op with a robot character option? BLEEP-BLOOP.
- A sniper rifle as good as the OG Gears? SHIT YES.
- Cole in Liberty Prime? IT’S JUST A LARGE MECH CALM DOWN NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT FALLOUT.
- Shifting narrative storytelling that was massively underrated in Gears of War: Judgement? ONLY SLIGHTLY, AND IT’S SUPER WELL DONE
- Inclusion of women, PoC, elderly, and disabled characters in an organic way that lets them flourish in the story naturally? SHIT YEAH BUDDY, WE ARE DONE WITH CARICATURES IN TYOOL 2019.
I mean, my only real complaint is moving the chainsaw to R2 really fucking blows (and is not revertible to B in the controller settings) and that the network connectivity on the early launch night was a Bethesdian level disaster, but The Coalition was pretty on the ball with patching and responsiveness on complaints. Once my bro and I connected we played from Thursday after work until 7:30 AM Friday, and started back up around 10:30 AM after a nap.
I don’t want to get into the plot too much, because it is a good journey to experience unspoiled even if you know what’s coming (IMHO, the significance of Kait’s necklace seems pretty obvious to me but even knowing going in what you think it is, getting there with her is great), but for as much as Gears of War 4 felt like a filler episode to introduce the new characters (it totes was), Gears 5 brings so, so much to the table as far as providing a fulfilling story with good gameplay. It’s the first sequel I feel really does justice to the original game. There’s so much I want to say about cleanup from the original trilogy but it gives away too much of how the story unfolds in your hands. It’s not just plot hole resolution, it’s world building resolution. And it’s so good.
So, if you’re holding back on giving this game a shot because you loved Gears of War (and maybe even 2), but didn’t like 4 (or Judgement, which you’re wrong about but that’s for another day), Gears 5 deserves a chance to redeem the franchise for you. For all of it’s launch day flaws, it completely reaffirmed my love of the series.