A Gears 5 COG Soldier duels a Locust drone in chainsaw combat
Gears 5 Versus B Screenshot

Game: Gears 5
Developer: The Coalition
Publisher: Microsoft
Available On: PC
(Steam & Windows Store), Xbox One [Reviewed]
MSRP: $59.99 USD (Or Xbox Game Pass Subscription)
Review Code Provided By: Xbox Game Pass

The Premise

Gears 5 is… a lot of game to cover. As such, we’re covering its multiplayer modes in this separate review. For our campaign review, click here. In addition to Kait and Del’s journey into the heart of the Swarm, you’ve got Escape, Versus, and Horde to keep you occupied. That’s not to mention a few additional surprises hidden within each mode.

Escape – 3.5 out of 5

Going Spelunky

Escape is the latest series addition, tapping into a hybrid of Campaign and Horde mode gameplay. You play in a team of up to three players, rushing to escape a Locust hive ahead of a poison gas bomb. Thematically, it’s completely Gears, with its own light story elements, and even a full level editor so intuitive that I wish it was available for other modes. The pitch is that every week or so, The Coalition can pop out new variant maps, such as highlighting specific enemy types or weapons. It’s great in concept, and can be fun when you get a good team together. That last point is the snag that’s dragging Escape down.

To put it bluntly, as much fun as Escape may be, players don’t understand its rules in any regard. The choice to have story elements means redundant characters can’t be present, but of course people won’t realize that and pick the same character. Instead of swapping one of them to another character of the same class, Gears 5 just kicks them both from the match. The countdown timer to start never ends, meaning you might jump into a hive at any difficulty by yourself.

Left 4 Ragequit

This is a recurring problem with Escape – people tend to either be dropped from matchmaking or ragequit at the drop of a hat when the game doesn’t go precisely the way they want. Instead of treating it like Left 4 Dead, people are acting as if it were singleplayer; which it’s not. In fact, I’d go so far as to say trying to solo Escape, without it being a custom map where you ensure no Sires are present, is damn near impossible given how little ammo players receive.

It’s a shame, because the mode is great fun. You suddenly view enemies no longer as score multipliers but a risk/reward. Taking out that Locust grunt means you get a Hammerburst, but you might lose all your pistol ammo in the process. Minibosses can be like Jason Vorheez and send you fleeing in a panic. That’s wonderful design; it just shouldn’t be this hard to experience it.

For real though, that level editor needs to become a mainstream feature in future titles, and applied to all modes. If Halo can have Forge Mode, Gears can have a map editor of its own. Come on Rod Ferguson, you know you wanna.

Versus – 4 out of 5

Friendly Competition

Versus fares far better in Gears 5‘s content line-up, boasting modes for both casual and competitive fans alike. You’ve got a healthy assortment of playlists, from Players Versus AI for beginniners to a Classic Playlist for the nostalgic and a casual Arcade with hero shooter elements like various stat bonuses and power-ups for playable characters. hose wanting something deeper can dive into Ranked, which itself offers several indepth modes that can climb up to 15 rounds of head to head competition for a single match.

In Versus’ favor, the sheer amount of options means there’s something for everyone. I may be terrible at ranked play, but I can hold my own in more casual matches with other scrubs. Maps across the board are built with dynamic elements, such as speeding trains and breakable ice beneath player’s feet. It’s often easier to get yourself killed with these elements rather than strategize around them, but they ensure maps feel lively in a way almost like Uncharted 3‘s setpiece multiplayer maps. While nobody’s having a shootout on top of a train here, maps are brilliantly designed, encouraging teams to naturally stick together and employ flanking tactics. Competitive players might still opt for more aggressive strategies, but often it’s as much about positioning as it is watching your aim.

The World Needs Heroes

The most notable addition to the casual playlists is the aforementioned hero shooter aspects. Now, all characters have unique buffs, and can spend their kills on mid-match equipment. They’ll also spawn with character-specific gear. Lahani for instance spawns with two SMGs, and the ability to slide to cover way faster. Meanwhile, Marcus Fenix gets an extra elimination for buying equipment by getting a multikill.

Even guest characters like Sarah Connor, Kat, and Emile get unique abilities. While their ultimate abilities are reserved primarily for Horde (and to a lesser extent, Escape), the rest of their unique modifiers apply across all modes. It’s an ambitious design choice, and one I hope The Coalition plays around with more.

Gears 5 Horde Mode Screenshot
Players can also pursue an additional resource point on Horde maps, but if the harvester is destroyed, the points it collected are lost.
Source: The Coalition

Horde – 5 out of 5

Old Faithful

Regardless of the above, the mode Gears is most famous for remains its biggest highlight – Horde mode. Featuring a borderline absurd amassment of enemies, weapons, and maps, you could ignore everything else in Gears 5 and still have a mountain of content to work through. With up to fifty waves on every map, over a dozen difficulty modifiers, and multiple characters to level up within the mode – you’ve got a wealth of replayable last stands.

It is worth mentioning that progression is a bit… peculiar, but in Escape and Horde, it makes the most sense. As you progress, you earn cards that include gameplay modifiers, eventually leveling a character high enough to have several cards equipped at once. There’s also an in-game store for microtransactions, but honestly, it’s so hard to find the store that you’ll never notice it. Sadly this also applies to progression on a whole, warranting some investigation to get every character fully equipped. Thankfully, card upgrades and new card slots open automatically, so you can focus on the best the game has to offer.

On the flipside, another feature that proves positively crucial in Horde is Gears 5‘s voice to text system. Now, even if you don’t have a microphone plugged in, you can see what teammates are saying, or vice versa. Text chat also ensures cross-play with PC players avoids the potential divide of a PC player lacking a microphone. This is on top of color blindness settings and text prompts clearly indicating what’s going on in gameplay, in addition to subtitles for character banter.

What’s most likely to leave a few players peeved is the absence of a sniper class in this iteration of Horde. Instead, Gears 5 opts for two variants on engineer, and the return of scout and tank classes. Everyone has a role to play, including eagle-eyed headshot hunters, but you’ll have to earn that Longshot rifle, or loot an Embar off a dead DeeBee drone. All things considered, a worthwhile sacrifice to ensure players don’t have too much of an advantage at the start.

Final Score – 4 out of 5

Gears 5‘s multiplayer is great, but has a ways to go.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that Gears 5 isn’t an amazing game, because it is. From every angle, there’s something to like about it. The game’s too large to not appeal in at least one regard. That said, Escape needs some serious TLC to get players on board with it, and the confusing progression system leaves much to be desired. Regardless, the moment to moment action is furiously frenetic in a way fans demand, and make it recommendable all the same.


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