Thursday, 24 June 2021

Gears Tactics (2020) - Sci-fi Horror Video Game Review (Xbox Series X Enhanced)

A month or so back I decided to play through all the games in the Gears of War series. I didn't actually intend to play the turn based strategy spin-off game Gears Tactics but figured as I had played the rest I might as well finish with that one. I haven't played many turn based tactical games in my time but I still recognised the elements that were all on display here. Initially I found this fun, however game breaking bugs and plenty of repetition soon brought by playthrough to a cataclysmically anticlimactic end.

Tactics serves as a prequel to most of the series, though I believe it takes place after the events of Gears of War: Judgement. The main character is Gabriel Diaz (the future father of Kait from Gears of War 4 and Gears 5). His mission with Sid Redburn has him discovering the existence of a twisted Locust geneticist named Ukkon. Going AWOL from the COG, Diaz heads to the outlands where he recruits a group of soldiers with the sole aim of hunting Ukkon down and ending his experiments.

Tactics is split into three different chapters. Chapter 1 takes place within former human towns, chapter 2 takes place out in the desert, while the third chapter is still in the desert but is based around fortified enemy bases. On paper this would be fine, the first chapter is made up of six missions, while the second and third both contain eight story missions. Artificially stretching out the length of the game however are the mandatory side missions. Every two or so main missions these side quests pop up and each chapter you are forced to do more of them before you can carry on with the main story. Initially you just have to do one, but the second chapter makes you do two each time they pop up, while the last chapter forces you to do three of them. This wouldn't be such an issue if they were interesting, instead you get a generic reason for having to do them, they add nothing at all to the story, and due to the limited amount of different game styles they just ramp up the exhausting repetitive nature of the experience.

Typically you will be controlling four different soldiers, along with the robot Jack. Soldiers are split into different classes; scouts, support, heavies, vanguards and snipers, each with their own weapon type and abilities. Jack is mainly used for support and has a range of buffs that unlock such as healing, defence, reloading weapons etc. Each character has three actions per turn, they can move, use an ability, fire upon an enemy or go into overwatch (which then automatically targets any enemies that come into range of their weapons). Like the main Gears games cover is paramount to success. The enemies you fight are all ones that have previously popped up before. You get the default Locust, as well as more powerful ones such as Boomers and explosive crossbow wielding ones. Those later ones drop their weapons upon death giving you brief access to more powerful tools. Missions are split into around four or five different types. One of them has you constantly having to advance as the level behind you is incrementally bombed each turn, another has you needing to defend supply drops from attack for a set number of turns, then there are more traditional ones where you must get to a location or kill all enemies. It is all fun to begin with, but again repetition puts paid to that.

Onto the very worst part of Gears: Tactics and the reason that two rotting heads got dropped from my score. The final mission of the game takes the form of a boss fight, a boss fight which on my playthrough was literally impossible to win. I tried it four times in a row, each and every time the game would freeze up around two thirds into the battle. Eventually I just gave up and watched the ending on YouTube. To get through so many bland missions only to find out the game was unbeatable was a bit soul crushing. A look online made me realise I hadn't been the only person to get this bug, it appeared to be relatively common. I can't in good conscience give a game a high score when it is plain broken.

If Tactics had removed the dull side missions, had a more interesting story, and if it hadn't had game breaking bugs then this would have had a score much higher. However, even before I realised I would have to abandon it my patience was wearing thin. On the surface the gameplay is fine, and the boss battles (when they work) are a real nice change of pace, but boredom settled in and just didn't leave. If you like this sort of game maybe you will have a better time, but there is always the risk that like my playthrough this is one game you won't be completing.


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