Videogame production is a time-consuming and challenging activity that requires years of practice and study to master. Thousands of hours have been spent developing the skills of the industry’s best. They’ve spent countless hours brainstorming fresh game concepts or figuring out how to spin off an existing franchise into a different genre. The Coalition, however, is not one of them. They just grabbed Gears of War and “just shifted the camera up,” as they put it. Geniuses, bloody geniuses.
Okay, sure, the accurate tale is a lot more complicated than that. But I still think it’s excellent that executive producer Alex Grimbley said it in their interview with pcgamesn.com. While Gears: Tactics is much more than that, it’s the simplest and most appropriate way to describe the turn-based tactics game; it’s Gears of War from above. “We also put together a tabletop board game version of it first,” Tyler Bielman said, adding another piece of knowledge to assist in understanding Tactics. We had a large map and cover, and that was also a test for us: could we make it feel like Gears on a table with only paper, pencil, and other props? That was also an excellent early development experience for us.”
Gears: Tactics is a turn-based tactical game, yet it is far faster than most of its contemporaries in the genre. Because there is no tight grid, characters can move around freely. Many commands can be given and executed at once, allowing for faster turns, and chainsawing adversaries to death grants more action points, resulting in more violence every turn. All of this contributes to Gears: Tactics being the slickest, most fluid tactics game I’ve ever experienced. Returning to a game like XCOM or Fort Triumph feels clumsy and stiff compared, as though the characters are clumsily navigating squares using only 90-degree turns.
I’m still amazed at how Gears: Tactics feels like a Gears game. It looks fantastic in both gameplay and cutscenes, sounds fantastic, and the feeling of sprinting up to a Locust and chainsawing it in half is incredible. On a tactical level, it’s an excellent game with well-designed levels, challenging enemy AI and enemy varieties, and a wide range of skills with which to create your troop roster. Perhaps it’s because I’m more of a tactical simpleton than a tactical genius, but I thought the game’s complexity was perfectly balanced. I was always under pressure to make the most use of my soldiers’ talents and action points and discover ways to get close to those grisly executions to gain even more points to burn.
Because there was a strategic layer on top of everything else in XCOM, you’d frequently spend just as much time in menus as you would intense turn-based combat, you’d be forced to decide how to build your base, what to research, and where you should go next. Of course, this adds to the depth of the recent XCOM games. Gears: Tactics lacks this overlay, but I believe this is to the game’s benefit because it allows Tactics to maintain its faster, more aggressive style. Yes, you won’t have to think about the long picture, but Tactics is more forgiving (because a mistake made 5 hours ago can’t come back to haunt you in the arse) and relaxed as a result.
Aside from the satisfying basic gameplay, there’s a fun loot system where you can collect weapon upgrades from equipping your soldiers, which feeds into a high-level mission loop in the endgame. Sure, it’s not the same as running a global organization where every small action is continuously scrutinized, but it’s still enjoyable.
Unfortunately, Gears: Tactics was generally missed when it first came out, and this is a mistake that must be rectified. There’s no excuse not to check out The Coalition’s gorgeous jewel, which is available on Gamepass for both PC and Xbox.