GEARS TACTICS: OVERVIEW
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, Into the Breach, Phantom Doctrine – tactical strategies and RPGs have been experiencing a real renaissance for many years now. Although this genre is by no means the first one that comes to mind when it comes to video games, its popularity simply refuses to decline – thanks to the triumph of Enemy Unknown, now and a month does not pass without the release of the next XCOM successor. Another thing is interesting, however: the Firaxis masterpiece inspired the industry not only for low-budget independent imitations but also for unobvious experiments with very noticeable IPs. However, the “non-obvious” is not necessarily “bad,” and Gears Tactics is a good example.
The new face of the king
Gears of War hardly need a long introduction. Once a trendsetter among console shooters, but today the whole universe with many comics, books, and a Funko application for smartphones – the creation of Epic Games has long earned the title of a truly national brand. What is the secret to success? In the tough heroes and gloomy setting, they will say one. In the advanced schedule, others will declare. And although both options are true, everything is even simpler: salt – in the ageless gameplay and, importantly, its competent presentation.
These games are like a roller coaster: no matter how many times you ride them, but still breathtaking on every slope. Large-scale battles with hordes of monsters are replaced by long battles against giant monsters, one grotesque than the other. Intense skirmishes suddenly flow into a duel on under-barrel chainsaws. And the cherry on the cake is a bustling multiplayer in a good way, in which they turn not only bots but also their own friends into minced meat. The best parts of the series, for nothing that do not sparkle with originality, are excellently set in terms of design: in many respects due to the ferocity and dynamics of each scene, Gears is still afloat. Throw these traits out of the cycle, and he will instantly lose the lion’s share of his charm.
That is why the announcement of Gears Tactics during E3 2018 seemed a strange adventure. On the one hand, on paper, the idea of spin-off a la XCOM looked more or less logical: in Gears of War, heroes spend most of their time in shelters, and teamwork is always at the forefront. Simply move the camera higher, add a cursor – and voila, the strategy is ready! However, what about the unhurried gameplay, ridiculous genre conventions, and protracted, not at all intense shootouts, as in the finale of The Naked Gun 2 1/2? Is it possible to fully transfer the brutal and savory action game that the original pentalogy is famous for in a slow format?
The developer and he did not inspire confidence: the Splash Damage team For most of her career, she has been involved in multiplayer action movies (in recent years, everything else has been a failure), and then she was suddenly instructed to bungle a tactical strategy from scratch.
Between a rock and a hard place
Inequality, disease, the battle for resources – life on the planet Sera has never been easy. It is worth ending with one bloody bath, as another one replaces it. Barely relaxing after the protracted Pendulum Wars between the Coalition (COG) and the Union of Independent Republics, humanity suddenly clashed in battle with a new enemy – the mysterious Locust Horde. Ruthless and cunning monsters in a single rush attacked all the major cities of the world, leaving behind only the ruins and mountains of corpses. Just six weeks after the long-awaited reconciliation of peoples, the human race is mired in a new global conflict without the hope of a quiet life.
The events of Gears Tactics begin a year after Breakthrough Day and about 12 years before the setting of the original Gears of War. Due to a number of defeats and the threat of death, the Coalition government decides to take a desperate step – to burn out almost the entire surface of the planet with the help of the Hammer of Dawn orbital laser. However, before launching the crazy plan into action, Chairman Prescott sends Gabe Diaz, one of the best COG soldiers, on a secret mission – to kill Ukon, the monster supplying the enemy army with new mutants. Details of the operation? Classified. Leads where to look for the villain? Are absent. Help and weapons? Alas.
Orders, however, are not discussed, and together with the laconic Sid Redburn, another such “volunteer,” Diaz rushes in pursuit of the evil genius of the Locust. Gabe still does not know that during the journey he will have to face not only the Horde but also the dirty secrets of his superiors. How will this story end and what kind of dark tricks does Prescott hide?
The questions, admittedly, are a little pointless: the fans know the answers perfectly well, and the newcomers themselves will quickly figure out what’s what. Intrigues, conflicts between colleagues, dusty skeletons in cupboards – no matter which side you look at, Tactics history does not shine with originality. Poorly? On the contrary. It’s not enough to scold the scriptwriters, as the authors perfectly compensated for the secondary nature of the tone of the game.
Though Gears of War never had a deep plot, the series had an amazing mood. These were gloomy soldier ballads – brutal, but depressing militants, in which dances with death took place against the backdrop of ruined architectural masterpieces, ordinary soldiers were not immune from accidental death (or emotional injuries), but joked situationally, just to defuse the situation, forget for a moment about the hell surrounding them.
You might think that this is just an accident, but no: that was the original idea of Epic Games and specifically Cliff Bleszinski, whose thoughts about a failed marriage and sorrow about his long-dead father inspired the sad atmosphere of a fantastic action movie. Unfortunately, in the later parts of The Coalition, it is fundamentally different: the meat remains, the tin is still over the edge, however, the new characters behave like characters in Marvel films , which, despite their young age, the meat grinder around for the most part at least henna.
And all of a sudden Splash Damageeither by accident or deliberately managed to return the cycle to the roots, to the stories of simple warriors with the forefront. The recent launch trailer, which shows off at the beginning of the material, does not reflect the essence at all: Gears Tactics is not a remote grindhouse, as the publisher draws it, but a harsh military thriller in the traditions of the first part. Like the original, here the characters are simple but colorful and memorable. As before, their goal is simple, but the path to it is thorny. Even the production is surprisingly spectacular: let the cut scenes not be conquered by camera work and direction, they were shot and played sensibly – in some ways even better than the slurred booth from Gears 5.
This alone would be enough to compliment the studio. Fortunately, the team did not stop halfway: from the point of view of gameplay, the novelty is also able to pleasantly surprise.
Go down to hell step by step
The essence of Gears Tactics can be described in three words: XCOM with Locust. In general terms, everything is similar: the player takes control of a detachment of several infantrymen (from 1 to 4), selects various missions and fights monsters in the format of turn-based tactics with a top view. Each individual soldier, depending on the class, has a set of unique skills, and the number of actions per hero’s turn is limited. And of course, the probability of hitting an enemy depends on a number of factors: shelter, range, and so on.
Although in general everything works according to a formula familiar for many years, there are enough unique finds in Tactics. Firstly, the characters move around the locations absolutely freely, without being tied to any checkered field. Secondly, each character has at least three action points, and not two, as is customary for Firaxis, – this accelerates the pace of what is happening. And finally, thirdly, Splash Damage ennobled the mechanics of “Overwatch”: the commander not only encourages the fighter to lie in wait for any enemy move insight but independently chooses the direction and place that the shooter guards.
This is only a small part of such edits – and all of them, oddly enough, to the cashier. When compared with analogs, Gears TacticsIt seems noticeably more straightforward and simpler: for example, the authors threw the base management and economic component away from sin, instead of focusing on the action and customization of the soldiers. There is not even a hint of stealth a la XCOM 2 . Although to some extent this is a minus (the game is not able to boast of special depth), it’s worth considering the team’s intention – not just to make a tactical strategy, but to adapt Gears of War. Taking the ideas of cooperative action from a third party and carefully transferring them to a new format is not a task for average minds. And in this regard, designers jumped above their heads.
From the first (actually training) mission, it is striking how meticulously the designers reproduced the appearance of the classic parts of the series. The chatter of “Lancer,” falling apart into bloody sloppiest of opponents, familiar armor, separate sound effects – everything is here, everything is under the hood. Even the feeling of shooting and those like old!
But this is only the beginning. Splash Damage transferred to Tacticsnot only the appearance, but also the mechanics of the originals, and not only the obvious ones. So, fighters who have lost all health do not die right away – for the first couple of times, they simply fall to their knees, waiting for help, as in a cooperative action movie. Moreover, in such a deplorable state they still have 1 ML, which can be spent to crawl away from danger. The rejection of the artificial division of the location into fields here, too, as it turned out, is not just. Like the originals, in which soldiers know how to “glide” to shelters from afar, Diaz’s subordinates can also “magnetize” to walls or other fortifications, gaining an easy advantage in battle. And there are plenty of such subtleties.
The bestiary was treated with special care: there are many types of Locusts, each with its own quirks and peculiarities, and at the same time everyone behaves as they should in the logic of the universe. Boomers and the ron are knocked out of shelters, grenadiers shoot from shotguns at close range, snipers keep the victim on the fly, forcing them to think about every move. However, the fan service is a fan service, and the highlight of the program is AI. Opponents in Gears Tactics are extremely smart: they competently surround, skillfully guard and cover each other if they outnumber the heroes; cowardly retreat if left alone. It is interesting to play with such rivals – in any case, the first 10-15 hours.
With bosses (yes, there are bosses!) The situation is a little different. The monsters of Ukon do not shine with their minds and are completely dependent on scripts, but they serve as an excellent test of skills in the final of each act. These intense, long battles in the best traditions of Gears of War require the gamer to not just sit aside, but to move, adapt when enemy reinforcements arrive, take desperate measures – in a word, to survive. The complexity is verified flawlessly – so that the user feels pressure, but not annoyed.
Suppress with fire, throw a grenade, take advantage of a new hole in the defense, run up and shoot down the last enemy – if you paint what is happening in Gears Tactics in this way, the action is not much different from the gameplay of five license plates. Unless those decisions that need to be made in a split second in the main episodes of the series here allow you to think much longer. So what a delightful adaptation? Quite. But, alas, far from an ideal game in general. Although it makes a very positive impression, and for such a skillful transfer of a mechanic it’s time to give a medal, it was still not possible to avoid the mistakes of the newcomer Splash Damage.
You can find fault with trifles for a long time – to bugs of varying degrees of severity (mainly with audio, but scripts sometimes break), to mediocre localization and frankly bad Russian fonts, to the removal of August Cole in the DLC. But it’s all so, nonsense. Fresh Gears has one serious problem – the structure of the campaign, which somewhere in the middle crashes.
Stop. For further advancement in the plot, side operations are necessary. In the first act, such breaks are fleeting and not numerous: a single sortie – and Diaz and the team again pursue Ukon, are engaged in important matters. In the second act, the interlude becomes larger, and to return to the saddle it is necessary to complete two assignments already. And in the third – as many as three.
In fairness, it’s not just Gears Tactics’ misfortune, but also many other games in the genre: it is difficult to invent 100 unique missions, sooner or later you have to turn to the random number generator. It’s just that usually designers devise ways to either make the “water” brighter or fill it with meaning, benefit. In XCOM, gamers, for example, are left at the mercy of a whole base, which he is free to equip as he pleases. Yes, constant skirmishes with the aliens will sooner or later fill their teeth, but each victory brings various resources that go right where you want.
And everything would be fine if all this filler were compensated by amazing and unique mandatory missions. But, unfortunately, the farther into the forest, the more often the suffocating monotony of the last third of the campaign catches your eye. The tasks are mercilessly repeated – you distinguish an optional operation from a story solely by the unique dialogs of colleagues. The situation could be corrected by the last boss, but it fits the bill: not very complicated, but insanely tightened. It’s not at all like the opponents with whom the main characters had to fight before.
In general, Gears Tactics was a success. Despite the skepticism surrounding the project, Splash Damage and The Coalition managed to release not just another lazy clone of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but a very solid spin-off of the legendary series. Not very deep, but bright, dynamic, and terrifying how fascinating. And what is most important – the game is able to please not only the ardent fans of the Gears universe but also newcomers who have never heard of the confrontation between the Coalition and the Locusts.
Yes, there were some blots: in particular, due to the weak last third, it is clearly visible that for authors this is just a test of a pen in an unfamiliar genre. But even taking into account this and smaller mistakes, the developers achieved the most important thing: they showed that worthy turn-based tactics can be made from the militant Gears of War. Well, we cross our fingers in the hope of a sequel – with such a first part, he promises to be at least interesting.
Pros: solid gameplay; simple but generally fascinating plot; the delightful transfer of the mechanics and spirit of the classic Gears of War into the framework of a tactical strategy; good graphics; good AI opponents.
Minuses: closer to the finale, the game exhales and is significantly simplified; bust with side missions and loot boxes; how the prequel project leaves much to be desired; an abundance of minor bugs; mediocre localization and poor Russian fonts.