Videogame development is a complex and challenging task that takes years of experience and learning to master. The very best in the industry have spent thousands of hours honing their craft. They’ve burned away countless hours coming up with ideas and concepts for new games or how to take an existing franchise and spin it off into a different genre. But not The Coalition. Nah, they just took Gears of War and, in their own words, “we actually just took existing Gears and just moved the camera up.” Bloody geniuses.
Okay, okay, obviously the real story is far more involved than that. But I still love that in their interview with pcgamesn.com, executive producer Alex Grimbley dropped that excellent nugget of truth. And while the reality is that Gears: Tactics is so much more than that, it’s probably also the simplest and most accurate way to describe the turn-based tactics game; it’s Gears of War, but from above. Tyler Bielman dropped the other piece of information that helps describe Tactics, saying, “We also put together a tabletop board game version of it first. We had a big map and we had cover, and that was also a proving point for us: could we make it feel like Gears on a table, with just paper and pencil and stuff? That was also a really cool moment for us early in development.”
It might be a turn-based tactical game, but Gears: Tactics is much faster than most of its brothers and sisters in the genre. The lack of a strict grid lets characters move around fluidly, multiple orders can be dished out and executed at one, meaning turns can be much quicker, and chainsawing enemies to death grants more action points, equaling plenty of extra violence per turn. All of this makes Gears: Tactics the slickest, smoothest tactics game I’ve ever played. Going back to something like XCOM or Fort Triumph seems clunky and stiff in comparison, like the characters are awkwardly navigating squares via 90-degree turns only.
I still can’t believe just how Gears-like Gears: Tactics actually feels. It looks amazing both in gameplay and cutscenes, it sounds awesome and running up to a Locust and then chainsawing it in half feels freaking glorious. And on a tactical level, it’s an incredibly solid game filled with good level design, challenging enemy A.I and enemy types, and a great selection of skills available to build your roster of troops with. Perhaps it’s simply because I’m less of a tactical genius and more of a tactical simpleton but I found the game balanced its difficulty brilliantly. I always felt under pressure to use my soldiers, their abilities and their action points in the smartest ways possible, and to find ways to get in close for those gruesome executions in order to give myself even more points to burn.
In XCOM you’d often spend just as much time in menus as you would in tense turn-based action because there was a strategic layer on top of everything else, demanding that you consider how to build your base, what to research and where you should go next. Of course, this makes the modern XCOM games richer in their depth. Gears: Tactics doesn’t have this same overlay, but I think that works in the game’s favour because it lets Tactics keep that faster, more aggressive style. Yes, it means you won’t have to consider the bigger picture, but in return Tactics is more forgiving (since decision made 5 hours ago can’t come back to bite you in the ass) and more relaxed.
Aside from its gratifying core gameplay there’s a fun loot system where you can hoover up weapon upgrades to outfit your soldiers with, which feeds into an endgame loop of high-level missions. Sure, it isn’t the same as running a global operation where you constantly stress out about every tiny decision, but it’s fun nonetheless.
Sadly, Gears: Tactics got largely overlooked when it launched, and that is simply a wrong that must be corrected. With it on Gamepass for both PC and Xbox there’s no excuse for checking out this stunning gem from The Coalition.