The new Gears Tactics video game asks a pretty straight-forward question: What if we took the big, heavily-muscled CoG marines of the Gears of War franchise and mixed them in with the turn-based tactical strategy play of an XCOM game? And since Gears Tactic’s recent PC release (soon out on Xbox), a number of players and reviewers have bellowed out a hearty Hooah! in response.
So, does that then mean that this title should be a must-have choice for your family gaming pleasure?
From a story perspective, Gears Tactics is a prequel to the popular franchise that first began with 2006’s original third-person shooter Gears of War. Things start out with a peaceful Earth-like world being broadsided by an attack from subterranean reptilian beasties, called the Locust Horde, that burst mysteriously out of the planet’s core. The world’s Coalition of Ordered Governments react, as governments often do, by overreacting and unleashing an explosive attack from the skies that takes out much of the human life on the planet’s surface.
The lead good guy in this narrative is a CoG soldier named Gabe Diaz, who’s been trying to serve out the remainder of his military stint in an under-the-radar position in the motor pool. But when things go south, he’s called into save-the-day action. His (and your) job is to gather as many soldier and civilian recruits as possible, scrape together whatever supplies and armaments can be found, and take down a seemingly indestructible enemy geneticist who’s turning humans into Locust beasties.
Instead of typical Gears run-and-gun play, however, Tactics stages its battles on a series of chess board-like landscapes that are usually a part of some crumbling, blown-out city location or enemy military encampment. That means there are scores of enemies to face in each mission battle (and a big boss confrontation at the end of each story act), along with large chunks of debris or shattered buildings to move your unit of four characters behind and around. Those movements and strategic placements are done from a three-quarter overhead viewpoint.
Your forces are picked from five classes—support, vanguard, heavy, scout and sniper—each with their own skill sets that play into the action system. The heavy battlers unleash those massive chainsaw guns the franchise is famous for, for instance, and get accuracy boosts for standing still and taking multiple shots in a row. The snipers, on the other hand, get the bonus of taking more shots when they land kills from afar.
Those bonuses are where this tactical shooter begins to separate itself from the XCOM game series that it’s fashioned after. Battles in an XCOM game tend to be focused on the tension of making a very limited number of character-actions work to their best effect. Gears Tactics, however, gives each of the four soldiers in battle three actions per turn—any combination of moving, shooting or special abilities you see fit. And then it rewards them extra moves for executing an enemy. So, the goal here is to extend your turn as long as possible by chaining together kills and gaining extra actions and movements for your team, while combining the effects of the squad’s special skills. It’s definitely a more-gets-you-more strategy challenge.
That three-quarter, top-down strategy description might make it sound as if this is a Gears game without all the M-rated Gears goop. But let me correct that impression. The gamemakers definitely went out of their way to make sure blood and guts are still very much on the menu.
Your soldiers may indeed be moving from cover to cover at a distance, but when they use their pistols, assault rifles, shotguns and grenades, the camera swoops in to show the impact of those armaments. You see the gory effects of sniper bullets blowing out an enemy’s head with a gush. And you get the full effect when a bomb gorily blows off limbs or simply disintegrates someone into chunks. Heads are crushed with merciless thumps, and necks get snapped with finishing-move, curb-stomp glee. Oh, and the chainsaw weapons still rend with gallons of entrails and goo and they still leave the fallen Locust in a twitching pile of pieces.
Through the 30 to 40 hours of main- and side-missions, you still get battered with typical Gears foul language, too. There are misuses of God’s name as well as uses of f- and s-words and other sundry crudities aplenty.
Yes, this fresh tack on a Gears game does feel and look different. And the gameplay offers an engaging strategically challenge. But parents should be, uh, geared up for decapitating mess and gushing blood spray if they let this game hit the family room.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.