It might not be as glitzy a technical showcase as Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, but the Xbox Series X|S does have an exclusive first party launch title that’s out today: Gears Tactics.
Originally coming out for PC back in April, the console release was only a matter of time, with Microsoft choosing to line it up alongside the new console instead of rushing it out the door. Of course, it’s also a cross-gen release that’s out for Xbox One as well as Series X|S, and available to Xbox Game Pass on all platforms.
While real time strategy is often still a bit of a stretch on console, turn-based strategy games have proven themselves time and again over the last decade. It was really XCOM: Enemy Unknown that threw the genre into the spotlight once more, and it’s that game who’s footsteps Gears Tactics follows most closely.
As we explained in our original Gears Tactics review:
Gears Tactics is the lovechild of Gears of War and XCOM. You’ll be leading a small fire squad of four across the ruins of Sera through turn-based tactical battles. Each unit has three actions as standard, and you burn through them to varying degrees depending on how far you move, what skills you engage and whether you shoot or not. This being a Gears game, reloading also comes into play and you’re going to have to factor in how many shots you’ve got left in the clip along with everything else.
In action, this is about as Gears-y as a tactical game could be. You’ll aim to hunker down in cover, fire off a few rounds, time your reload, close emergence holes with a well-placed grenade, and finish off the nearest Locust with a visually brutal execution. Despite the fact that you’re doing it via a completely different control setup, in a new genre for the series, it still feels utterly familiar.
With no time pressure on your decisions, the jump from mouse and keyboard to controller is relatively effortless. My fingers and thumbs did initially get in a muddle when trying to select different targets to shoot at, and I occasionally tapped back out of an action when I didn’t mean to, but I could put that down to a tired brain that’s been hopping between dozens of games over the last week or two. After one or two missions, it’s easy to do exactly what you need to, whether that’s quickly targeting an enemy and blasting them with a few taps of the X button, or scrolling through your alternate weapons and abilities.
Everything that you need to interact with is clearly laid out around the side of the screen, slightly rejigged from the PC version to be a bit bigger and friendlier to a TV that’s a few meters away. Honestly, it’s all a little bit plain, with a rather basic teal-y green box highlighting the actions at the bottom of the screen and new enemy types you encounter being with a similarly basic lower third. Where’s the grit and grime of the Gears of War franchise?
The between mission UI is still a touch unrefined feeling, as you try to manage the Gears in your convoy and their equipment. Each character you have has their own class that determines their loadout, and skill tree to customise their abilities. As you play, you’ll find Supply Crates in battle and earn new weapon mods and armour that can boost damage output, accuracy, add passive abilities and more. It’s great to have that flexibility and depth to tweak character builds for your particular playstyle, but right from the off, following the red markers to reach each upgrade and then comparing things feels like a bit of a chore.
A new element for the console release, and a free update for PC players, is the introduction of Jack, Gears of War’s traditional floating robot companion. Jack initially only has two abilities, to spend actions points to buff nearby allies with boosted damage output, and to cloak himself to avoid damage, but he gets far more interesting with more skill points fed into his skill tree. After a few missions, you can have pushed Jack’s abilities toward a particular battlefield role, whether it’s to support your Gears with more buffs and additional action points, to be on the front line himself with a set of weapons, or even to hijack enemies and turn them to be a controllable ally.
There’s the original campaign without Jack in it, but Jacked immediately feels like a bit of fun to use. Oh, and his fast movement speed and cloaking makes him ideal for picking up Supply Crates that are dotted around each map to add more equipment to your team.
Playing on Xbox Series X, the game looks great. It’s high resolution, it’s full of detail and (not that it really matters for this kind of game) and it runs at 60fps. While no-one will be fooled into thinking this is a cutting edge new shooter in the series, when the action camera cuts to an over the shoulder view for a cinematic takedown, there’s plenty of detail here that looks pretty great. You do have visual customisation for each Gears’ equipment, swapping colours, materials, and so on, but when you’re viewing the game from the sky for 99% fo the time it feels a tiny bit pointless.