Disclaimer: I haven’t played a prior Gears of War title, so I’m not very familiar with the setting and lore. Gears Tactics is a turn based strategy title jointly created by Splash Damage and the Coalition. Despite drawing comparisons to the popular XCOM franchise, Tactics feels more like last years Phoenix Point. Fans of RNG based simulations may feel that Tactics is too streamlined, however first timers will find it a good entry point.
In Gears Tactics you play as Gabe Diaz, a Gear slumming it in the motor pool after a tragic loss. Bringing you out of retirement is a secret mission to enter enemy lines and begin a guerrilla war against the Locust threat. Cut off from typical supplies, it forces Gabe to salvage and recruit his own rag-tag army. Unlike the one man army of games prior, true edge comes from an array of well skilled troops. By lessening the traditional FPS action machismo, the Gears franchise is able to fit Tactics in its own niche.
In order to appeal to a larger market, the game retools many staples of strategy games. When a soldier or enemy dies, they automatically enter a downed state instead of simply passing on. The game encourages the use of save states, or save scumming, through a checkpoint system. This also allows missions to be multi-faceted and more cinematic at the cost of realism. Cover is less vital, and a soldier can survive being in the open on all but the hardest difficulties. The finisher style executions offer a strategic use of melee and a way to showcase the trademark gore. Gears Tactics also uses a projectile model similar to an FPS, leaving cover very often fragile at best.
Despite the interesting mechanical innovations, Tactics’ core gameplay loop is somewhat flawed. Any enemy squad smaller than four is easy to dispatch quickly, and the game resorts to throwing massive numbers at you to counteract poor balancing. Instead of balancing enemies around the beefy troops, the message is quantity over quality. Very often, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed and taking cheap hits due to no fault of your own. The recoverable loot is also often far away from the action, forcing you to waste precious moves to secure it. Very often, you’ll be spread too thin, or quickly running out of loot to keep things engaging. Unlike other titles, most of the improvements come from completing the story and collecting loot. There is little to another layer of strategy, as everything comes down to combat.
During the first 20 hours, I experienced only a single major bug. A checkpoint wasn’t activating, and after failing a mission, I ended up losing my entire first hour of play. Other than a few other hitches, the game ran at a smooth frame rate, and features a robust options system. Also, there are no microtransactions, instead featuring an in-game lootbox system. The customization options are slightly lacking however, focusing mostly on armor and weapon detailing.
While more strategy games, especially featuring popular franchises is good, Gears Tactics is a disappointingly mediocre experience. Mechanically and graphically, it’s no slacker, but it falls apart strategically. For a full $60 experience, it lacks the diverse tactical experience that other games offer. The streamlined experience works both for and against this game, and I wish there was just more to do. Ultimately, Gears Tactics may be inviting to someone who wants a bridge between robust strategy and high octane excitement. However, veteran strategy game players may find this game a shallow ride.
Final Score: 6.5 out of 10
A digital copy of Gears Tactics was provided to GotGame by Microsoft/Xbox for this review.
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