It’s hard to avoid the perception that the Gears of War franchise is dwindling in interest. With two recent divisive at worst and mediocre at best releases, Gears of War: Judgement and Gears of War 4, the franchise doesn’t have the same spark or flame it did when it was all in Epic Games’ hands. Consequently, after a purchase of the entire IP from Microsoft and the establishment of a Gears-dedicated studio, it’s obvious that the huge investment on Xbox’s part needs to finally show something. And excluding the funky and drab mobile game spinoff and the strangely missing strategy game Gears Tactics, akin to that of Halo Wars 2, the brand-new Gears 5 needs to deliver with an entry that can rejuvenate the spark. However, leading up to this weekend’s technical test, the game hasn’t had a smooth journey, with some of its biggest showcases failing to spark interest in fans and even annoying some of the more passionately spoken, a result of the switch of protagonist from Marcus to JD to finally Kait. But, where Gears 5 can finally make an impact is in this weekend’s technical test. So how did it do? Simply put, the remaining fans of the Gears franchise will have little to no qualms here. Outside of a fresh coat of paint to the UI and scenery, the core mechanics are intact, with just a few technical tweaks here and there. However, for anyone who has ditched the franchise already or is waiting for the perfect moment to jump in, don’t hold your breath.
Kicking off with a painfully forced yet still enjoyable tutorial section, Gears 5 wastes no time getting new players into the groove of things. Basic maneuvers and actions are detailed in the tutorial, allowing players to have a quick refresh in their memory or to learn the system for the first time all together. However, for a game that is so heavily marketed towards its fan base, it’s frustrating that this tutorial is required, lasting at bare minimum a solid five minutes. Such a restriction could be seen as trivial, especially once the grotesque chainsaw-bloody action kicks off in the expected yet still somewhat bare-bones catalog of modes. But with it being so difficult to even get into a match right now due to the servers being cramped with eager players, it serves sometimes as one of the only reliable pieces of content in the entire technical test. Despite the nagging tutorial, the action is as enjoyable as ever, never holding back on gore, a trademark of the entire franchise.
The excellent mechanics of the franchise are as smooth as ever with a fresh coat of paint and a handful of quality of live improvements. The near-death Gears emblem now flashes with heightened size and a sweet look, and the default settings feel considerably more sensitive and responsive. None of it changes the playing field, and rather than feeling like an overhauled sequel, is more akin to that of a visual patch to that of the already existing Gears of War 4. Sure, not much can be gathered from this brief glimpse at the game about its campaign and other modes, and Rod Fergusson of the Coalition has promised that the main campaign will bring Kait and Del on a sprawling adventure through diverse locations on the ever so outstanding Unreal Engine 4.
Ultimately, Gears 5 has reaffirmed a recent suspicion of mine regarding the entire franchise. Each Gears of War installment is like comfort food, instantly recognizable and full of heart and charm. However, the effects of comfort food when eaten too often can deteriate, something that the Gears franchise is undoubtedly facing. I have confidence that Gears 5 will be another slick, gory experience, but in terms of rejuvenating the spark of interest in the franchise, that may be a hurdle too high. But still, there is only one fair approach to judge Gears 5 fairly. And that’s to wait till the global launch of the game on September 10th.