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Gears Tactics

Gears Tactics - Last Look

The Gears are getting tactical in Splash Damage's spin-off adventure.

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The bullets are swooshing overhead, and at the same time, nearby we can hear a familiar rumbling voice shouting "BOOM" followed by huge explosions. To make matters worse, too many Wretchers are bouncing up alarmingly close by, and the feeling of panic is rapidly approaching. How do we get out of here alive? The answer, of course, is: take a deep breath, go and make a lovely cup of coffee, have some chocolate cookies, and come back to make a tactical decision later.

You see, time is your friend when you're playing Gears of War on Xcom-like terms. We mostly liked the concept when Gears Tactics was first announced, even though it felt a little unimaginative. Then, after getting a closer presentation of the game from developers Splash Damage, our hype levels have risen quite a lot. This is a game that deserves better than just being dismissed as Xcom-Gears - it has some really fresh ideas to offer.

The most obvious new idea goes against the established grain in a genre (populated by the likes of Xcom 2, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden) where we're used to being limited to using a grid to plot our movements. In Gears Tactics, however, we get to move our troops around with complete freedom on the map without any limitations. Similarly, Splash Damage has completely removed the two-step system that usually has you move and then attack. Instead, you have three actions per character per round - and how you distribute these actions is up to you.

If you need to go further, you can spend all three actions on moving, and if you find yourself in the centre of a pitched battle, maybe it's a better idea to just shoot and throw grenades with those three actions instead. There is also a feature called Overwatch, which lets you save the remaining actions for a character, using them to attack enemies during their round instead. If you save all three, you will shoot that many times if enemies pass you by. On the other hand, if no-one goes by, you just wasted the character's entire round for nothing...

Gears Tactics

But before we continue to plunge into the gaming system, it might be appropriate to state that in Gears Tactics we play as the protagonist, Gabe Diaz. The story is set 12 years before the first Gears of War during the big Locust War. Therefore, we are met by completely insane battles, and in order to take us further into the story and hopefully defeat the game's main antagonist, Ukkon, we must gather more soldiers.

One thing we noticed when we got to see more of the game during a recent presentation, is that in terms of design it actually beats everything The Coalition has done so far. Minus Diaz's wisp of white hair (who thought it was a smart move to give a huge macho meathead a Eurovision haircut?), we're looking at the same kind of lovely beefcake looks we learned to love during the earliest days of this series. Splash Damage also willingly admits they've been inspired by RPGs when it comes to the insane level of customisation you can use on your crew. You can freely change everyone's appearance and, more importantly, tailor their characteristics, abilities, weapons, mods, armour and more to create the squad that you consider has the best chance of meeting the challenges you're going to face. In addition, all characters have classes that give them unique properties, and having a crew with a mixture of abilities is important.

Gears Tactics

Your visibility over the battlefield is always limited so you don't see what is hiding further away due to the 'fog of war', and you are always expected to make your way to certain points that trigger the next part of the mission. It looks like each the maps also includes secrets that give you new items to equip to your squad, but at the same time, you'll have to use at least one person in the team to seek out such treasures. However, doing so can quickly turn the battle against you, as the enemy also can use traps and revive downed comrades. In addition, the missions also have optional goals for those who want an extra bonus, and these objectives can include things like not letting any Gear die during a mission.

The demo was rounded off with a brutal fight against a giant Corpser. We have played against these enemies many times in the regular Gears series, but they are actually even more terrifying in Tactics, as you can, for once, properly study your foe up close without dying if you stand still for more than a few seconds. Of course, the fact that other enemies are also attacking at the same time doesn't make things easier, and when a Boomer made an entrance during the same encounter, we realised that the coming battle was going to be a tough one.

Gears Tactics has and will be compared to Xcom in the future, but it has undoubtedly enough unique features to feel like a fresh concept that might even take the genre forward. It remains to be seen whether all of these ideas and the Gears theme come together to make an entertaining adventure when the game lands on April 28, however, we're much more positive about the game's chances since watching Splash Damage's presentation.

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Gears Tactics

REVIEW. Written by Jonas Mäki

"Every move is exciting and there are always multiple options, and we suspect it will have an impact on how the genre develops in the future."

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