Video game review: Gears 5 opens up world of Sera while delivering heart-pounding action

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      Anyone with an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription has been playing Gears 5 since September 6. Everyone else playing on Windows or an Xbox One got access to the game yesterday. 

      It's outstanding.

      Coalition studio head Rod Fergusson once said that Gears of War 4 was intended to honour the franchise and find new fans. 

      Gears 5 expands on that intent by delivering the story and gameplay that is expected of a Gears of War game, but it also introduces some new elements that modernize the series.

      There are elements here that will be a comfort to those for whom the franchise is beloved. Gears 5 is filled with clever writing, witty dialogue, and rich characters that burst from the screen. It delivers the intense, cover-based combat that gamers expect, with a variety of enemies to defeat and an assortment of weapons to wield.

      But the latest game in the series that includes five previous titles also introduces some new things that open up the experience a little bit. The most obvious is the addition of open-world exploration in some of the game. 

      It's very similar to what Sony's Santa Monica Studio did with 2018's God of War. In Gears 5, two of the game's protagonists, Kait and Del, are free to explore the countryside, engaging in side missions as well as discovering the story's path. 

      They roam using a wind-powered skiff that is a joy to control. Like a dogsled with a breeze-catching parachute at the front, the developers at the Coalition use visuals and sound to make you feel like you're really zipping along.

      The plot picks up where Gears of War 4 left off and reveals more of the dark history of the planet Sera and the creatures that populate it. 

      In addition to the campaign—which can be played solo, cooperatively online, or locally with up to three players—there are three other multiplayer modes available.

      Escape features three players trying to get out from within an enemy base. Versus pits teams of players against each other, with one side playing as COGs and the other as Swarm. And Horde has a group of five friends holding out against increasingly powerful waves of enemies for as long as possible. 

      Visually, Gears 5 is stunning. The game was built to deliver high-resolution graphics and dynamic range, and the artwork and animation capitalize on that opportunity. Vistas are breathtaking, character faces and facial movements are extraordinary. Combined with the dialogue and acting, Kait, Del, and the rest of them become real to us, facing the kinds of world-ending problems that the heroes we like to play must confront. 

      We can only hope there's more where this came from.