With the venerable Gears of War (or is it just Gears, now?) having returned to our screens with Gears 5 a short while ago, now seemed as good a time as any to look back at the series. So, join me as I rank all of the existing Gears of War games from the worst of the bunch to the very best! Be warned, I’m not including Gears POP!, a mobile game. But if I did, it’d be last. Just sayin’.
6. Gears of War: Judgement
Ah, the little Gears that couldn’t. Gears of War: Judgement was a prequel to the original Gears of War trilogy featuring young Baird and Cole, and was developed by Epic and People Can Fly. Launched two years after Gears of War 3 it was quite clear that Microsoft weren’t ready to give up their lucrative franchise but Epic weren’t so keen to carry on, so People Can Fly were brought onboard to co-develop the game.
It has to be said that Judgement is not a bad game, after all at its core lies the brilliant cover-based shooting of the Gears franchise. But it lacked the spark of the main series and while Damon and Baird were great side-characters they struggled to hold a story up on their own with Marcus Fenix and Dom. The simple fact of the matter is that nobody was clamouring to know more about Baird and Cole’s backstories. Indeed, we were all far more interested in experiencing the Pendulum Wars which ended shortly before the emergence of the Locus Horde, a period in the franchise’s history which is still begging for a game.
On the multiplayer front Judgement did try a few new things by introducing modes such as OverRun and Survival, but the lack of the traditional Horde mode was a baffling choice and ultimately the new additions never did feel quite right.
There was even some attempts to spice up the campaign by splitting it into bite-sized chunks and then rating players on their performance in those segments, with headshots and the like scoring more points. Modifiers could be used in an effort to give the campaign a higher replay value. This arcade-approach didn’t sit right with the Gears formula, though.
5. Gears of War 4
After the lukewarm Gears of War: Judgement the series went on hiatus but finally got resurrected in 2016 with Gears of War 4 which sought to introduce a cast of new characters while mixing in some of the old guard. With The Cog on development duties, a team that sported a lot of pedigree from Epic, the hope was to bring back one of Microsoft’s biggest IPs. Given how the Xbox One has been dominated in terms of exclusive titles by the Playstation, it was important to bring the cover-based shooter back from its extended leave with a bang. Unfortunately, Gears of War 4 wound up being a largely forgettable game. By no means bad, it just never managed to capture the same brilliance as its forebearers.
It says something that the bit I remember the most was Marcus Fenix, the grizzly lead character of the original trilogy who outshone the rest of the cast every time he was on screen.
Gears of War 4 also struggled to get its enemies right. The first half of the game is spent slogging through fights against robotic foes who are kind of interesting at first but get old fast. Then The Swarm arrive, but they’re basically just another version of The Locust and struggle to have an identity of their own.
At the core, though, was that addictive cover-based shooting. Some tweaks had made it a bit faster than the previous games, there were a handful of new weapons and above all else it just felt nice to slip back into the familiar Gears action. Ultimately Gears of War 4 is a safe return, but given developers The Coalition were bringing back a beloved series playing it safe was probably the best choice they could have made. While I might struggle to remember much about the game, it laid the foundation for Gears of War to return to the stage and chainsaw some people in half.
Plus, we got to stomp around in giant robot suits.
4. Gears of War
Trying to determine where to place the original Gears of War on this list was not an easy task. Launched way back in 2006 it ended up being a major influence in my decision to go with the Xbox 360 over the more expensive PS3. I remember poring over previews and videos, trying to get every snippet of information out of them that I could.
And then I remember getting my Xbox 360 and my copy of Gears of War. I hooked up the console, slotted in the disc and was immediately blown away by the incredible graphics that Gears boasted and its remarkable cover-based shooting. It blew my 15-year-old mind into tiny pieces and began my continuing love affair with the franchise.
The original game has something none of its sequel does, which is a stronger focus on horror elements. The Locus Horde are introduced as monstrous beings and there are numerous slow sequences where the horror is played up, such as traversing through ruined streets by sticking to pools of light lest you get ripped to shreds by the Kryll. Gears of War 2 still had the bleak colours but the Locus were largely stripped of their horror elements, and when Gears of War 3 came around it brought with it an entire tub of coloured crayons like the developers have suddenly discovered that Crayola made more colors than just grey, black and brown.
Of course, we can’t forget about the other things that Gears of War brought with it, like the now iconic Lancer rifle that let you chainsaw enemies in half or the ferocious multiplayer where the Gnasher shotgun ruled supreme. If you go back and play Gears of War now – even the excellent remastered version which smooths out the combat – it struggles to stand next to its own sequels, but we cannot and should not forget just how much Gears of War did when it first came out. It’s a classic, and deserves to be treated as such.
Fun fact: Gears of War arguably cost over a billion dollars to develop because Microsoft doubled the ram capacity of the Xbox 360 in order to run the game properly.
3. Gears of War 3
Ending a trilogy is no easy thing to do. By the time Gears of War 3 arrived the franchise had established itself as one of the biggest names in gaming, and the walking slabs of armoured meat from the first game had become fully-developed characters that we cared for. As I write this my Marcus Fenix statue which came in the Gears of War 3 collector’s edition is sitting on a shelf about 5ft from me. It’s one of my favourite possessions. Gears of War 3 was the end of one hell of a journey and it didn’t disappoint, right up until its closing moments.
The campaign is frantic and rarely ever lets up the pace, pushing Delta Squad to their limits as the new Lambent threat looks set to destroy both humanity and the Locust. There are a bunch of emotional gut-punches along the way, with the sacrifice of Dom still managing to bring a tear to my eye even today.
It couldn’t quite stick the landing, though. The closing moments of Gears of War 3 felt poignant and emotional at the time, but once the credits rolled and I had a chance to reflect on everything the ending left me feeling…hollow. It didn’t quite manage to wrap the trilogy up in a way that I found wholly satisfying, mostly because it just ended with no closure, leaving our heroes in a fucked up world with indication of where they would go next. After spending three games with Marcus, Dom, Baird, Cole and the rest simply fading to black wasn’t enough.
But the multiplayer was an absolute blast, including the awesome Beast mode which gave players the chance to reverse the typical Horde mode formula by becoming the Locust and attacking humans.
2. Gears 5
While Gears of War 4 was a reasonable return for the storied franchise it was hardly the explosive comeback we’d really been hoping for. But Gears 5 was a considerable step forward, focusing on stronger character building that turned the dull, forgettable cast of Gears of War 4 into vastly more interesting people, and a great campaign that was only slightly marred by the new open world sections which are rather hit or miss. The result is a great 10-hour campaign with superb action, good character arcs, some terrific story beats and Marcus Fenix telling someone to shut the fuck up.
Throw in some seriously addictive multiplayer and a returning Horde mode and you’ve got one hell of a package. And my God, it looks amazing! It’s hard to know just how well Gears 5 has done though, as its inclusion on the Xbox Gamespass service means traditional sales numbers don’t tell the whole story.
But if you want my detailed thoughts, go read my review of the game.
1. Gears of War 2
“Bigger, badder, more badass” was the famous tagline behind Gears of War 2. While the original game had laid the groundwork for something exceptional it was really Gears of War 2 which stole the show. Although the horror elements of the first game were pretty much thrown aside the benefit was an amazing campaign with hardly an ounce of fat on it. From riding a Brumak to an amazing level that took place inside a giant Riftworm Gears of War 2 was an action movie in video game form. It was big, it was kind of dumb and sometimes it even managed to be occasionally emotional. I don’t care who you are, if you didn’t choke up at Dom discovering his mentally and physically broken wife then we simply cannot be friends.
A large part of what Gears of War 2 so much better was the increase in enemy count. Gears of War tended to have just a few Locust at any given time but in Gears of War 2 the enemy count rose considerably, as did the variety of Locust that were trying to kill you. As a result firefights were more intense, and the enemy A.I. provided a good challenge. The cover system was tightened up, too, turning an already great shooter into something that all others would be compared to, and still are.
Gears of War 2 also played more heavily with the idea of the Locust abducting humans and torturing them. Dom’s own wife was nothing but a near lifeless shell of a human whom Dom killed out of mercy, but we got another example in the form of Tai, a COG soldier who Delta Squad rescues. Tai had been tortured by the Locust and upon being freed was handed a shotgun by Marcus to fight with, but Tai instead put the gun to his chin and committed suicide, unable to deal with the horrors that the Locust had visited upon him. This along with the death of Dom’s wife gave Gears of War 2 a surprisingly dark tone despite the more bombastic action. Maybe the atmospheric horror of the first game was gone, but Gears of War 2 still had some creepy shit.
Gears of War 2 also let Epic Games delve properly into who and what the Locus Horde were as Delta Squad pushed underground in an effort to strike at Nexus, the supposed home of the Locust. We get hints as to why the Locust emerged and attacked humanity, why they’re doing what they’re doing and the structure of the Locust’s society. It was fascinating stuff that was also careful to never humanise or otherwise paint the Locus as anything but viscious killers. Yes, they had understandable reasons as to their actions, but at the end of the day they deserved everything they got.
And of course Gears of War 2 saw the introduction of Horde Mode. Despite what many people might think Gears of War 2 certainly didn’t invent the concept of fighting off waves and waves of enemies, but it sure as hell made the concept popular. Horde mode was an instant success and became a staple of the series, appearing in every new game apart from Judgement.
The rest of the multiplayer got refined, too. A raft of great maps, fun new weapons and some solid modes resulted in me spending way too much time trying to learn the art of wall-bouncing and nailing that satisfying one-shot Gnasher shotgun kill.
Gears of War 2 is the best the series has ever been and while Gears 5 might be good it can’t quite match Gears of War 2’s fantastic campaign.
What order what you put the Gears of War games in?
Categories: Opinion Piece