Review – Gears Tactics

With the recent success of Gears 5 things are starting to look up for the Gears of War franchise. It never once occurred to me before how well an XCOM style Gears of War game would work, but when it was announced I immediately knew it was the right choice. The squad-based cover-shooting gameplay was always primed for this sort of game and the long wait has paid off. Gears Tactics is definitely not a fluke.

Set 12 years before the events of the original Gears of War, the Locust-Human war is in full swing and Chairman Prescott has authorized the use of the Hammer of Dawn in a desperate attempt to wipe out the Locust population, albeit with a great cost. Gabe Diaz is caught up in the middle of this on his mission to recover Intel about Ukkon, a Locust Sire who has been experimenting with imulsion and creating new breeds of Locust monsters. It’s nice to go back to the early days of E-Day, and surrounding the story around the use of the Hammers was a great idea. It puts the war back into the Gears of WAR franchise, something that has been missing from the recent games.

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Tactics retains the Gears cinematic style.

What we have hear is your standard Gears of War story experience. As a former COG soldier, Gabe Diaz is living with his past mistakes before being called back into action. Whilst not a bad character at all, his backstory is very similar to something we’ve seen before with Marcus Fenix, and to lesser extent, JD Fenix in Gears 5. Gabe is joined by COG loyalists and the outcasts who disagree with their methods. Those facts alone should have led to some great moments but the game never takes that opportunity. The story here isn’t exactly interesting and I wouldn’t blame you for skipping through the dialogue or just tuning it out. You’re here for the gameplay.

Where Gears Tactics does shine though is the excellent turn based combat. Anyone that has previously played an XCOM game will feel right at home. It’s impossible not to see the similarities in gameplay and structure. You command your troops from an isometric point of view, moving them for the best positioning against the enemy forces. Getting into advantageous positions will increase your chances of hitting your enemies. There are five classes: vanguard, support, heavy, sniper and scout, each with their own purpose and extensive skill trees you will unlock as you progress through the game. Combining their strengths is when Gears Tactics is at its best.

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The Brumak is the first major boss you will encounter and he is tough.

Tactics puts some interesting twists on both the Gears and XCOM formula. You only ever control a squad of four soldiers (a standard squad in Gears) but you have more action points, giving each soldier much more flexibility in their range of actions. Each character starts the mission with 3 AP per turn and it’s up to you how to use them. You can shoot, move, use abilities or provide support in any order. There’s also no grid style movement system, giving you full control over where you want your soldiers to go. It’s this level of flexibility where Tactics really starts to distance itself and form its own identity.

“Down But Not Out” is a classic Gears mechanic that is put into good use here. Instead of teammates going straight to the grave, they will be put into a state that still allows to revive them. The same goes for enemies if you don’t deal enough damage, and this is where executions come into play. They are no longer just a spectacle that gets old, as they actually serve a gameplay purpose now. A squadmate that performs a execution on a downed enemy will replenish a action point for other soldiers on the squad. This makes the overwhelming number of enemies you can be in combat with a bit more manageable. It’s a smart mechanic that forces the balance between defensive and offensive play and can also turn the tide of the battle.

I’ve had a lot of fun with Gears Tactics. The smart turn-based action is up there with the almost perfect XCOM 2 (and by extension War of the Chosen). It’s can also be super difficult but not too stressful as the perma-death is less impactful in here. It’s more relaxed than XCOM but is still a challenging experience. Hero soldiers like Gabe obviously can’t die in battle, otherwise it’s an automatic fail and you will go back to the last checkpoint. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any dire consequence for failing. If a character does die, it’s not like you will ever run out of soldiers. New recruits are brought in regularly and they come matched up with your current level. 

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Gears made the transition to strategy seamlessly.

Unfortunately Gears Tactics does overstay its welcome due to a few nagging points that do bring the whole experience down. A lengthy 25-30 hour campaign is stretched out a little thin thanks to mandatory “side” missions you will need to complete to actually progress the story. It’s a weird approach that, while still enjoyable thanks to some modifiers that force you to adapt, I wish all of this was integrated in a much more interesting way. There is also a lootbox-style progression system that isn’t superb at all, and customising your soldiers can get tiresome through its clunky and downright ugly user-interface.

What surprised me most about Gears Tactics is just how good it looks. Gears games have always looked great, but considering this is a tactical spinoff, I was surprised nonetheless. The environments are packed with detail and it’s a nice throwback to the original trilogy whilst character models look stunning with some impressive cinematics. It’s not as awe-inspiring as Gears 5 was, and the rampant texture pop-in will definitely annoy you, but for the most part it still looks really good. As a side note, there are a ton of graphics options allowing you to fine tune the performance and visual fidelity. Sound design is also excellent. The voice acting does a good enough job and nobody really does a bad job here. But where it does excel is in its environmental sounds.

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Gabe Diaz is a forgettable protagonist.

Gears Tactics has managed to capture the essence of the Gears franchise and move it into an entirely new genre. The fun and fast-paced tactics-based gameplay is perfectly mixed with all the hallmarks of the Gears series with very few downsides. Hopefully this isn’t just a one-off experience and we will see more of Gears Tactics in the future, maybe with deeper customisation and progression system.


Graphics: 8.5

Gears Tactics pushes the boundaries of what a tactical game could look like. The problem lies in its underwhelming user interface.

Gameplay: 9.0

The turn-based combat is familiar yet has a Gears twist that makes it feel completely unique.

Sound: 8.0

Gears Tactics sounds like a Gears game which is a good thing. Voice acting is competent and the soundtrack is pretty good

Fun Factor: 8.5

Gears Tactics is a superb entry to the franchise, and a perfect fit considering its setting. Though it does overstay its welcome due to a handful of small issues.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Gears Tactics is available now on PC.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of Gears Tactics was provided by the publisher.