After a well over dozen hours, I thought I had Gears Tactics nailed. My squad was well crafted, I’d only lost one unit (thanks to an accidental team kill), and the giant spider like Corpser boss at the end of the second Act was sure to be a doozy. How wrong I was.
Gears Tactics comes from Splash Damage and curators of the franchise, The Coalition. It is a turn-based tactics title, in the same vein as XCOM, and was released in the same week as Chimera Squad so could easily slip under the radar. It shouldn’t though as Tactics strips away the meta game of XCOM and gets you focused on the action with a typical Gears plot.
The story focuses on three characters, coming together a year after Emergence Day. COG marines Gabriel Diaz and Sid Redburn are joined by Mikayla Dorn, a civilian who joins Diaz and Redburn’s troop. The plotting might be pulpy with clichéd commentary on the motivations of the COG leadership, but the pacing across the three Acts works well to keep you invested enough in reasons for your actions.
With three Hero characters leading your journey, you recruit troops from an ever-rotating pool of squaddies. Unfortunately, you can’t name them as you wish, but you can choose from a range of predefined names and call signs to help you identify with them. Tied to this are some customisation options to play around with hairstyles and tattoos, while they help you to make these squaddies your own, there isn’t as much choice as there should be, especially in the early game.
I have built a strong bond with one of my squaddies, a Scout called Marcella. She was one of the first troops I recruited and has probably seen more action than the three protagonists. This is driven by the sequence of story missions and side-missions that comprise each Chapter. Some missions will have restrictions on the composition of the team you take into battle, while your troops can only take part in on side-mission per block. The modifiers at play here will also weigh on your mind when deciding who to take into battle and when to deploy your Heroes into these side-missions if they haven’t been defined as being banned from deploying of course.
On the easier difficulties you can easily manage your roster through these side-missions without too much hassle. By the third chapter the choices become starker. In the first grouping of side missions, I had to complete three out of the four available to progress to the next story Chapter, with all of them offering Legendary equipment in some shape or form.
At the top of the list was a Salvage mission, think capture and hold the flag, but with a limit of two troops who you can take into action with the Legendary item on offer for killing twelve Locust when in Overwatch. The tease was a tasty modifier to your Overwatch damage bonus. Holding the flags and repelling a strong Locust assault with only two troops was a nigh on impossible task. For this, I took the sensible approach of taking two expendable grunts into action and focusing on keeping them alive and getting the Overwatch kills. The flags were lost, but I met the criteria for earning the Legendary equipment. The other side-missions were easily handled with the Heroes dropping in when required, and my squad was well rotated and well tooled up to carry forth the fight.
While equipping high level loot (earned at mission end or by collecting crates in mission) is beneficial to your progress, your choice of skills plays a bigger role. Marcella, my favourite Scout, is a grenade toting killing machine. A standard character will have a four or five turn cooldown between grenade actions. Marcella can fire a grenade each turn, and make use of proximity mines and planted grenades. A commando through and through.
It was during the Corpser fight that she came into her own. Her shotgun wouldn’t do much damage against the giant Corpser, but her grenades kept the incoming Locusts at bay, while the mines would destroy Locust emergence holes before the bugs could get into the fight. That fight did show that I had made some poor moves on planning Mikayla’s sniper abilities. While I battled through, I immediately re-specced her to unlock abilities that grant additional action points when shots hit and kill enemies.
Combining those skills with the chainsaw ability of Diaz and Sid starts to really ramp up your possibilities each turn. A chainsaw kill can grant an additional ability point to active unit, while executions of downed enemies grant the whole squad additional actions. When you smartly consider your moves (and avoid silly teamkills) you can chain your moves together and find yourself with an additional turn’s worth of actions for the whole squad.
It’s just a shame that despite the wonderfully gory special kills, so many of the Locust all look so similar. While their abilities are varied and challenging, there are half a dozen which all look interchangeable unless you take a moment to check their details before taking any action. There’s a similar feeling of a missed opportunity when it comes to the UI when managing your equipment and abilities. It looks ready made for the upcoming Xbox One release, with options buried with menu upon menu. During a standard playthrough the gear you acquire, even if classed as Legendary, doesn’t look that fancy. It might get more extravagant in the end-game Veteran missions, but really your options to make your troops like even mildly interesting is to go wild with the colour combinations.
I’m really enjoying Gears Tactics, and will certainly be returning to finish it off in the near future. There are quality of life improvements that I would love to see, but the underlying game is rock solid, and certainly appeals to me more than XCOM does. While I’ll leave that series to Jon’s capable hands, in my eyes Gears Tactics is a really strong entry for a new style of Gears titles and I would love to see more.
The Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available – PC, Xbox One (soon)
Platforms Reviewed – PC
For more on our scoring policy, please head here. Review based on Steam media account copy.