Tactics, strategy and planning. These are all things one wouldn’t associate with a series like Gears of War. Yet, here I sit, pondering how that very concept ever came up in a meeting. A series well known for being fast-paced and action-orientated turning into a tactics game – definitely something I never thought I would see.
To ask the fanbase, who supported the series throughout the years, to slow things down was going to be a tall task. Yet, this is precisely what Gears Tactics asks them to do. The real question is whether this spinoff impresses both fans of the series and fans of the tactical games alike.
Gears Tactics takes place twelve years before the first Gears of War game. It follows Kiat Diaz’s (protagonist from the fifth game) father, Gabe Diaz, on his quest to assassinate Locust scientist, Ukkon.
One year after Emergence Day, General Prescott delivers the final message in preparation for humanity’s last hope. The Hammer of Dan strikes – to finally annihilate the Locust horde, once and for all. Just before this happens, though, Major Sid comes to Gabe with a mission. The idea is to retrieve some documents while everything’s not yet destroyed. In these top-secret files, Gabe finds out about a Locust scientist, Ukkon, and the experiments he’s been conducting.
The next task is then to assassinate Ukkon, with no support from Prescott, either. Gabe and Sid now have the fun task of building up an army and finishing Ukkon off for good. Even though the gameplay is different – the story is still fairly traditional for the series.
Like X-COM, Gears Tactics is a tactical turn-based strategy. The two games even play very similarly. At the start of a mission, players can choose up to four members for their squad. These can then be strategically placed on the map. Each character can do three actions per turn. Whether they attack three times, move further, use some of their special moves or go overwatch – it all depends on what’ll be the most tactically advantageous, given the situation.
In other words, X-COM players will feel more at home playing this than most Gears players. Gears games are known for having multiplayer versus co-op for the campaign. Gears Tactics has none of that stuff and is purely for the solo players of the series who enjoy the lore. As someone who plays Gears games just for their campaigns and action stories, I was happy to see a game in the series focus on solo gameplay. Add in the fact that I also loved the X-COM games, and I was pretty much in heaven.
Acts and Missions
In Gears Tactics, missions are more linear, compared to X-COM. They follow a similar structure to the Gears of War games in that they consist of three acts. Each act has six or more chapters to complete. Chapters themselves are more-or-less straightforward. There’s just one main objective and one bonus objective that unlocks extra perks, like weapon enhancements.
Along with the main missions, Gears Tactics includes side missions. These must be completed in between the primary ones. Regrettably, the game doesn’t allow the players to skip these. At first, I actually enjoyed playing the side missions. They gave me a much-needed change from the main game. However, some of these expected me to act without thinking, or else fail – turning the tactical aspect on its head.
For example, there’s this one type of side missions, known as scavenger missions. I know Gears Tactics is sold as a fast-paced tactical sort of game. The scavenger missions threw everything out the window. Instead of planning and picking off enemies, I used my three turns to run like crazy, trying to collect the three chests in my closest proximity. Attacking was completely pointless. The bombardment zone grew each turn, and if any characters were in its radius, they were immediately incapacitated.
The other side missions fared better and were more enjoyable. However, they didn’t play much into the main story. Some of them allowed me to recruit more soldiers. Yet, unlike in other tactical games where I’d want to be using all the characters available, here they felt useless. I was far better off just levelling up the main heroes. I mean, why would I recruit anyone if I was limited to just four team members – who also couldn’t die, or I’d fail the mission. And I also had Cole Train, by the way.
Down But Not Out
One feature from Gears Tactics I’d like to see more often in turn-based tactical games is the “down but not out” mechanic. Here, squad members have a chance to be revived when they lose all their health. The character has up to three turns to be saved by a team member, or else they die. They can’t do anything in this state, and once revived they can only perform one action instead of three.
Being down doesn’t mean that the squad member is safe. On the contrary, it made them a target for executions – another staple from the series. Executions are gruesome finishing moves characters can perform on downed foes. As a fan of the series, I loved doing these, and not just because of the visuals. It allowed my team to perform an extra action for every execution I made. The more of these – the more extra actions I’d get.
In Gears Tactics, there are two campaigns to go through. The first is the original campaign and the second is the Jack Campaign. Both are mostly the same, story wise. They differ only in that the latter is a DLC expansion that changes the way the game is played. Unlike the original mode, where I could only have a team of four, Jack Campaign gives me an extra slot. It’s used exclusively by the robot companion Jack. The character does offer a lot of gameplay changes. There are plenty of new abilities. Among these – controlling the enemies for a few turns, doing debuffs or enhancements.
However, Jack Campaign doesn’t just add Jack. There’s also a new enemy type, known as Lambents or Glowies. I wouldn’t say these were any stronger than the standard enemies. However, I did have to change my strategy as they would explode upon death. This made executing them a rather challenging task. I really had to consider whether it was worth losing some life or a few turns to do so. In most cases, it was; only to give me that extra advantage.
In general, the advantages and the game mechanics added in the expansion far outweighed those of the original. If you only have time to play one, I would recommend playing Jack Campaign. It is the definitive version of the game, and the one the developers themselves recommend – to get the full experience.
Gears Tactics does offer some endgame content for those interested in extending their time with the title. I don’t usually care about this, especially after a long campaign, so I didn’t bother with it too much. For those interested, after finishing the main campaign, players unlock access to veteran missions. The game says that you get better equipment and play harder scenarios. Sadly, the legendary class equipment can’t be taken into a new campaign or the ironman mode. As such, it’s, for the most part, useless, except for achievements.
This might be due to my love for both series, but I really loved this title – as it combined the gameplay of X-COM with all the things I enjoy from the Gears games, like executions or being downed, in a way I never thought could work. Yes, Gears Tactics is a fast-paced X-COM that not all fans will enjoy – from either side. Yet, for those of us who appreciated both these series, we will be over the moon, killing Locust the way it should be – in the most gory fashion.