Gears Tactics is a curious proposition, but one that now feels surprisingly essential given the splendid efforts of developer Splash Damage (in cahoots with franchise custodians The Coalition). Rev up your chainsaw for a turn based good time.
You could be forgiven for questioning the viability of this turn based spin off; Gears has long since defined itself as a snappy cover shooter, with a Gnasher-tastic competitive scene that favours twitch reactions and grandiose plays.
The deliberate pace of a top down strategy title is hardly the logical next step, and yet Gears Tactic's manages to subvert your expectations at almost every turn. Once you overcome any preconceived notions, you'll find it tremendously hard to put down.
One of the most striking elements is the effort made to make Tactics feel integrated into the existing narrative, whilst simultaneously double down on the more nuanced storytelling from Gears 5.
As a prequel, and featuring a leading character directly related to 5's main protagonist, there's a sense of history and relevance to each cut scene which rewards both long term fans, and satisfies newcomers simply looking for a decent yarn.
We won't spoil anything here, but suffice it to say, we were surprised with how much emphasis is placed on providing context for each mission, and how it contributes to the overall arc.
It was also incredibly gratifying to see the same high level of production value throughout, with full motion captured performances elevating the material beyond "unexpected side quest".
Where things really kick into gear (sorry) is in the tweaks to traditional turn based gameplay. Yes, you have a set numbers of actions per turn, special moves with associated cooldowns, and the ability to provide "overwatch" of a particular area to establish suppressing fire when the A.I. makes its next move.
So far, so XCOM. Executions, a staple of Gears combat, introduce a much greater risk / reward dichotomy to proceedings, offering a bonus action for your entire squad should they be performed successfully.
It encourages you to push forward and press the attack in a manner reminiscent of the mainline titles, whilst forcing you to consider your position and whether retreating into cover is the more viable choice.
The option to initiate another action for a friendly second squad mate, while your first is still completing their own movement, also injects much needed pace, and given that enemy combatants aren't shy about making bold moves, you'll never be far from the action.
The closing moments of certain scenarios don't always work, with long walks back to extraction that feel needlessly drawn out. There's no tension of combat or balancing of your actions required here; just lengthy jogs back to your vehicle that feel superfluous.
Graphics and sounds
This is an exceptionally well optimised title, with a huge amount of PC specific tweaks, and even a benchmark test to stress out your ageing GPU. Visually speaking, Gears Tactics looks on par with the most recent, current gen console instalments. Character animation is superb, and all your favourite executions and enemy types are present and accounted for.
Cut scenes look incredible, with excellent facial animation and voice acting that continues to be remarkably nuanced for a series infamous for embracing "dude-bro" sensibilities.
The music is fairly run of the mill here, sticking perhaps a little too close to previous entries. Playing it safe is OK to a certain degree, but it's mostly forgettable.
Gears Tactics is a confident and well realised spin off that makes for an ideal entry point for gamers dipping a toe into turn based action.
Gears Tactics is available now, for PC. An Xbox One version is also in development.
Played via Xbox Game Pass for PC.