GEARS TACTICS IN A NUTSHELL:
- a turn-based, X-COM-style strategy;
- 40-hour story singleplayer campaign;
- no multiplayer;
- depicts the events taking place 10 years before the first part of Gears Of War;
- 5 character classes, 30 skills, weapon modifications;
- go wherever and do what you want;
- more aggressive fights with large numbers of opponents;
- long and demanding boss fights;
- extensive team customization.
Desperate times need desperate measures the presentation of Gears Tactics happened over a private video stream. Passively taking in what the devs prepared is much different than being able to talk to them face to face, or even playing the game itself, but still, the X-COM direction the famous series has taken aroused my interest. It's all thanks to the fact that the creators have managed to bring to the turn-based strategy that brutal combat of Gears of War, which is almost as spectacular here as in TPP.
It doesn't matter that the turn-based game is basically chess with more rules, where we have unlimited time for decisions, and then we can only watch the opponent's moves. After we make up our minds and give the orders, the camera smoothly positions itself behind the active hero, showing us how effective the attack is, sometimes firing up a meaty finisher. And because this is Gears of War, the characters are always hiding behind cover, so the impression of dealing with a genuine TPP cover-shooter is really strong. The feeling is reinforced with fantastic, incredibly detailed graphics. It's turn-based through and through, make no mistake, but you can feel these are still the Gears we know, not some off-the-wall spin-off like Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris.
Gear's canonical prequel
Gears-worthy atmosphere is also intensified with some great cut-scenes, straight from the main installments of the series no cutting corners here. Besides, Gears Tactics consists solely of a single-player story campaign, which is expected to last at least 40 hours and is a sort of a prequel to the entire saga. The action takes place ten years before the events of the first part of Gears of War, and we play the character of Gabe Diaz a strategist and tactician who has been forced to return to the battlefield after a recently launched Locust invasion.
Our main objective will be to defeat Ukkon also a strategist, but allied with the Locust. Ukkon is a "monster who creates monsters." It was him who created the most powerful adversaries we have ever encountered in Gears of War. Diaz will not go into the fight alone he will be accompanied by an unusually vibrant team of heavily armored warriors. And if the character's name seems familiar to you, you're on the right track. The game is supposed to create an extremely immersive, fully canonical story that completes the universe.
DIAZ & DIAZ
Gabe Diaz, or Gabriel Diaz in actuality, is the father of Kait Diaz, the protagonist from the latest installment Gears 5. He's only mentioned in Gears of War 4. Gabe also appears in the flashbacks in Ascendance and Bloodlines, novels based on the Gears of War series.
Turn-based and dynamic
The core of the game, however, aren't cut-scenes, but the brutal war against the Locusts, where we spend time giving orders and watching things from a tactical perspective. Even though action stops after each turn, the creators tried to ensure the combat is highly dynamic. This is achieved with the camera zooms I mentioned earlier, as well as the detailed brutality, and specific gameplay mechanics such as the complete freedom in navigating the environment (without a map divided into tiles), and freedom in using action points in each turn. There's no division into movement and attack we decide ourselves whether a character ought to shoot, change position or use a special ability.
Compared to other X-COM-like games, Gears Tactics will feature a much larger number of opponents. The need for a slightly more aggressive approach and much more frequent exchanges of fire are supposed to build the feel of a fairly dynamic gameplay. Optionally, it will be possible to disable part of the TAC-COM screen interface that shows the chances for hits and criticals for each action. An important part of the assumed strategy will also be creating character builds before setting off on a mission. There will be five classes at our disposal, each of whom will have its own specialized weapon and a tree of thirty abilities to unlock, three pieces of armor with different stats, and interchangeable rifle mods. All that creates a great diversity of hardware to be used in battle.
The customization capabilities don't end on weapons and skills on top of that, we also have plenty of cosmetic items. Each weapon and piece of armor can be customized to your liking not only with the patterns and skins, but also the visual degree of wear of these items.
Fighting Locust with tactics
I really liked the smooth and very natural combination of cinematic scenes, tactical segments, and camera close-ups for proper combat immersion. It feels like it creates a thoughtful whole,. rather than just cutting off coupons from a popular brand. The gameplay can surprise you, and indeed requires a lot of tactical thinking ignoring a weak opponent in favor of a tempting shot at the boss can have serious consequences. Our team, in addition to lancers and other firearms, can use grenades, mines and various special abilities requiring cooldown, e.g. an additional action point.
The overwatch comes in handy, as it allows the selected soldier to guard a specific perimeter with accuracy of fire depending on the size of the covered area. It's hard to make any definitive judgments yet, but I was also impressed by the AI. For example: the mine I placed in a rather obvious spot was bypassed by one of the minor enemies, who, instead of blindly walking into it, started sneaking by some narrow passages, creeping towards one of the members of my team.
However, I had mixed feelings watching the fight with one of the bosses. Although it was of course spectacular and done on a grand scale, and the boss had the mandatory unique attacks that incorporated moments when he became vulnerable to injury, the fight itself came across as particularly awkward. After about a quarter of an hour, the person controlling the game fired exactly once at the boss, dealing absolutely insignificant damage. The remainder of the scuffle consisted of dealing with the minions he summoned, who seemed more problematic that the area attacks delivered by the boss. Let's hope the saving and checkpoint systems will be able to accommodate this model of play, otherwise the game might become a tad frustrating.
Spin-offs generally tend to fall into two extremities: they're either exceptional new takes on the franchise, or completely lackluster flops preying on nostalgia and affinity. Fortunately, after seeing Gears Tactics I am fairly confident about its quality it simply looks like Gears do! The perspective is different, it's heavier on tactics, but the new layer enriches the game, rather than tyrannizes it. The impression might be different when we get to play the game for tens of hours, but throughout the presentation I was really impressed with the camera work and the cut-scenes. Fingers crossed the game doesn't go sour after fifteen hours, that it slowly reveals cards throughout the campaign, keeping boredom at bay. For now, one thing is certain Gears will return at the end of April.
Darius Matusiak | Gamepressure.com