Gears Tactics PC review: A goretacular turn-based strategy game with big franchise potential

Gears Tactics is a turn-based strategy game set in the popular Gears of War universe. It doesn't quite steal XCOM's crown, but the potential is clear.

Gears Tactics 17 04 2020 07 27
(Image: © Windows Central)

Windows Central Recommended Award

Gears Tactics is a turn-based strategy (TBS) game in the vein of XCOM, set in the popular Gears of War universe. Taking place before the events of the first game, Gears Tactics follows Gabe Diaz, exploring the lineage of Kait Diaz from Gears 4 and 5. Gabe is a military strategist, tasked by Chairman Prescott to undertake a dangerous mission, during the early days of the Locust War.

Gears Tactics evolves the turn-based XCOM formula in some truly awesome ways, with awesome cinematic treatment that Gears of War fans have come to expect from The Coalition. Some of the game's flaws stop it from taking XCOM's TBS crown, but it's a solid first effort that could easily evolve into a pillar franchise for Xbox Game Studios with a little more love.

What I loved about Gears Tactics

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I'm a huge fan of turn-based strategy games (especially as someone who multi-tasks a lot), and when I heard Gears was getting the XCOM treatment I couldn't be more thrilled. Gears is an obvious candidate for this type of game, with its cover-based shooting, weapon types, and enemy variety. Clearly Microsoft thought so as well. Gears of War seamlessly translates to a tactics game, and advances the genre in a number of ways along the way.

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GenreTurn-based tactics
DevelopersSplash Damage, The Coalition
PlayersSingle-player only
PlatformsPC (Xbox One, Project xCloud later)
Game PassPC (Xbox One later)

Gears Tactics tells an interesting story that ties together some of the wider Gears' universe's loose ends. It tells the story of Kait's father, Gabe, offering some insights into the origins of Kait's lineage and the Outsider movement, touched upon in Gears of War 4. Without giving away too much, Gears Tactics introduces some stellar new characters with Gabe Diaz, complicated veteran Sid Reburn, among others.

The game's story plays out in high-quality cinematics the likes of which we've come to expect from the franchise. The Coalition and Splash Damage did a great job weaving a cohesive narrative around the gameplay format, as Gabe Diaz is tasked with building up an army from the scattered remnants of the C.O.G. and take a guerilla-style battle to a Locust leadership figure, known as Ukkon.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The game takes place during the early days of the Locust War, and kicks off with a bang, as Chairman Prescott uses the Hammer of Dawn orbital strikes to destroy the Locust on the surface, destroying many Sera cities, hitting fries and foe alike.

Putting Locust mobs through a meatgrinder feels as satisfying as ever

The cinematics are incredibly well done (for the most part), with some great poignant moments and great acting. In that vein, Gears Tactics certainly feels like Gears, even if the gameplay format is completely different. Different, and awesome.

Gears Tactics modernizes the standard XCOM formula, ditching the rigidity of grids for radius-based 3D movement, and ramping up interactivity with more opportunities to make attacks, throwing dozens of mobs at you at a time. The more action-oriented format helps it retain that Gears feel. Indeed, every aspect of the game has been engineered to ease Gears fans into the genre, with an emphasis on juicy weapon executions that reward aggressive play.

Is TBS games, typically each of your unit has a set number of attacks, movements, or overwatch shots per turn. Gears Tactics changes it up a bit, allowing you to invest as many of your action points into anything you like, balancing that by sending swarms of mobs at you instead.

The combat is bloody and visceral, rewarding thoughtful aggression.

Many armor pieces and abilities also grant additional action points, allowing players with intimiate knowledge of enemy behavior and squad passives to weave in incredible combos, wiping out large amounts of mobs in a single turn.

Executions reward your entire squad with additional action points, and can be crucial to managing some of the more difficult fights in the later stages of the game. Some of the boss battles telegraph large area of effect attacks, forcing you to manage your action points carefully to avoid them, while also ensuring you effectively manage additional canon fodder coming your way.

I really had no issues whatsoever with the combat system. It's incredibly satisfying to chainsaw through a mob, splatter its brains with a shotgun execution, or pick off a sniper with a critical rifle shot. The mulcher heavy weapon was a particular favorite, ideal for spraying down hordes of melee-oriented attackers in a choke point. All the gore-tastic effects from the regular Gears of War games return, putting Locust mobs through a meatgrinder feels as satisfying as ever.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Gears Tactics sports a beefy campaign that can take anywhere between 12 and 25 hours, depending on the difficulty settings you choose. It also has an endless mode in the post-game, with scaling threats and items, should you wish to further test your strategies. The game also feels incredibly well-optimized on PC. I ran the game without any issues with most settings on ultra, on my relatively modest RTX 2060 Razer Blade laptop. Higher-end PCs get access to all sorts of additional graphics tweaks too, which make the game look outstanding.

Gears Tactics was a blast to play through, I enjoyed every minute of it cover-to-cover, and already find myself eager to experience more from Gabe, Sid, and Mikayla. The game does have a few limitations that put XCOM's turn-based crown just out of reach.

What I disliked about Gears Tactics

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I'm reluctant to do direct comparisons to other games typically, but Gears Tactics does little to hide its inspiration. From the mission selection screen, to the class-oriented combat design, and the costmetic customization layer, Gears Tactics clearly looks to XCOM as its primary source of inspiration. While I think it does a lot of stuff better than XCOM, namely in the modernized movement, superior visuals, and more visceral combat, there are aspects of Gears Tactics that feel underdeveloped, or straight up unfinished.

Gears Tactics has tons of soldier customization, allowing you to customize the look of dozens of randomly-generated troops. While you can't make an army of identical-looking clones, you can change your soldier's clothes, hairstyles, armor dyes, and much more. The game also features a wealth of awesome-looking armor designs and weapon mods, which honestly look better than anything we've seen in the base Gears of War series. I've written previously how I'd love to see this sort of armor and weapon customization make its way into the mainline series.

Gears Tactics Loot Box (Image credit: Windows Central)

Gears Tactics 15 04 2020 15 21 (Image credit: Windows Central)

Gears Tactics Loot (Image credit: Windows Central)

Source: Windows Central

My main problem with this is how these awesome mods are obtained. At the end of missions, you're rewarded loot boxes (sigh) for completing randomly-generated challenges in side missions. The loot in these boxes is also completely random. If you want to min-max and create a specific character build, it's not really possible due to the randomness of the system. It makes gear progression feel unrewarding. At least you can't buy them, I guess.

I'm also not a big fan of the mission structure. Gears Tactics felt like it was performing best in its cinematic levels and setpieces. Between those, you're required to undertake a few randomly-generated missions to get to what is effectively the "meat," in the story missions. XCOM has similar, but the generated missions in XCOM feel far more rewarding, because you can work towards specific items for the most part. I'm also not a fan of how some of the random mission modifiers lock you out of using some of your preferred playstyles or characters. I think it would be better to have added variety through monster types, rather than arbitrary rules that don't have any story significance.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

However, in the later stages of the game, the story missions begin to feel a little underdeveloped too. As awesome as the cinematics are, for the most part, a major character introduced towards the end felt like an unfinished model. There were a couple of moments where her voice overs had no lip syncing at all, and her face was notably less detailed than the characters we've seen in the trailers and marketing. It's just odd.

There are tons of voice over lines too that didn't get cutscenes, and were just slapped in as banter during missions. Some of them even overlapped with the mission complete screen, drowned out by the victory music unless you tweaked the audio settings beforehand. It's a minor gripe, perhaps. But considering the cinematics are usually one of the better things about the game, it just comes off as odd that the later stages of the game don't have the same levels of polish.

Should you buy Gears Tactics?

Despite some issues with polish in the late-game cinematics and an underdeveloped progression system, Gears Tactics remains an incredibly fun first-effort in what could easily evolve to be a core part of the Gears of War universe. It was awesome seeing the Locust again from another perspective, complete with one of the better villains we've seen from the franchise in recent years.

The combat is bloody and visceral, rewarding thoughtful aggression and reactive play, as you'll respond to various types of threats, including a few new ones from Ukkon's genetically-enhanced monster menagerie.

Gears Tactics is tied together nicely with some epic set-pieces, stunning, well-optimized visuals, and hey, it's on Xbox Game Pass for PC, which in some ways makes it a no-brainer to at least try. While I think this one could have done a lot more to evolve its macro-level progression layer, the minute-to-minute combat is some of the best I've experienced in the genre.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!