It’s hard to believe that a franchise known for bloody executions and ridiculous weapon design spawned a fine strategy game like Gears Tactics, but all the tools have been there from the beginning. The third-person action in a normal Gears of War experience is all about finding chest-high walls to crouch behind and popping up to take out opponents. Gears and Locust take turns firing off bullets, bursts of flames, and various explosives, much in the same way humans and aliens might in a typical XCOM. Splash Damage and The Coalition simply took the combat to its logical conclusion, creating dozens of high-minded bouts of violence that work equally well on PC and Xbox Series X.
Launching alongside the console earlier this month, Gears Tactics is still the complex experience it was on PC. While it was expected that Gears Tactics on Xbox Series X would match the best the PC version had to offer, the surprising addition of several new gameplay wrinkles really makes this launch stand out. While the updates came to all versions of the game, many returning players will experience the Jacked edition for the first time on Xbox, and it adds a lot to an already complex campaign.
As the name suggests, the biggest addition to the Jacked campaign is Jack, the robot companion seen most prominently in the original Gears of War. After a few missions, Jack joins up as a fifth party member who serves to assist the team rather than take on enemies. Like in the original games, Jack can cloak to avoid fire, and he moves quickly across the battlefield. His early abilities include dropping shields and buffing aim, and he can also activate objectives and revive downed troops all on his own. Combined with the cloaking ability, his mere presence makes several styles of side mission much easier.
Later upgrades can make Jack a more proactive member of the team, including the ability to “jack” enemies and control their movements like in Gears 5 Horde mode. However, he’s most useful in a support role, letting players either bump up the difficulty or cruise through the game at their own pace. There’s also a new Deviant enemy type that buffs other foes and a new enhanced class of weapon, but those feel secondary compared to the robot companion. Jack’s addition reframes every mission in the campaign, which makes for a great way to play through again for those who already completed the game.
As for performance, Gears Tactics runs at the same quality as it did on a high-end PC back in April. Experiencing a smooth 60 FPS at 4K in the living room is impressive, but many of the pre-rendered cutscenes perform well below that, which serves to yank players out of the experience. It’s like loading up an original Xbox game on backward compatibility, but this game is less than a year old, so it’s more noticeable here. The additions of both Jack and the new layer of loot also run the risk of making things more complicated than its worth for some players, especially in a campaign that’s already bursting at the seems with upgrade trees and combat options.
Outside of that one jarring exception, Gears Tactics is as snappy and satisfying as ever. No gamepad is going to run a turn-based strategy perfectly, but Splash Damage’s implementation comes very close. It also makes great use of Quick Resume thanks to its turn-based nature. While it’s not worth wholly relying on it at this early stage, leaving a level running in memory instead of playing through an hour-long mission for a second time when the real world beckons seems ideal. Even for those who’ve already seen Gabe Diaz’s story all the way through, the Xbox Series X version is a great way to play it again somewhere down the line.
Gears Tactics is available now on Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and PC. Screen Rant reviewed the Xbox Series X version via Xbox Game Pass.