Platform: Xbox One
Gears 5 Preview - E3 2019
Going hands-on with the new Escape mode for the upcoming shooter
Gears of War 4 marked the debut of the popular shooter franchise on the Xbox One. We hadn’t seen the series since the Judgment spinoff at the tail-end of the last console generation, and the return allowed a new development studio to take the franchise into another direction. At least narratively – the gameplay was still very much familiar to those who have enjoyed the violent action of the series for the past decade. With the new set of characters and lore established, The Coalition seeks to return in 2019 with Gears 5.
While the game's E3 2018 reveal teased some of the new story elements, the E3 2019 announcements focused on gameplay and a brand new mode – Escape. We had a chance to go hands-on with this new cooperative adventure designed for 3-man teams. Before jumping into a round, players have a chance to select their character – we had the choice of Mac, Lahni, and Keegan. Each character represents a class; tank, scout, and support, which gives them one unique ultimate ability. As you might expect, each character has their own progression system and experience bar. Players can also adjust the difficulty, which affects what modifiers are activated – more enemies, more enemy variety, and so on. To keep things safe, we played on Intermediate.
The three of us watched a cutscene of our heroes getting consumed by a vile creature on purpose, in order to emerge within the hive and activate a deadly poison gas. As soon as we gained control of our characters, the 1 minute countdown to the gas release was already on. With no time to waste, and scarce ammo, we made our way through the facility, taking out the occasional Swarm enemies. The goal of the mode is to clearly make your way out quickly, rather than become entangled in lengthy cover-based firefights. The enemies were not overly numerous, and there were interactive doors which we could close for a moment of peace or to simply leave enemies behind.
The movement and shooting was traditional Gears. The single new gameplay mechanic was the Ultimate ability; for Lahni, she could activate her electrocharged blade to make quick work of foes up close. Mac could create a barrier to block incoming damage, and Keegan was able to create resupply domes to refill ammo. The abilities are all on a cooldown, so they can only be used a few times during the level.
While that all seems straightforward, the challenge comes from the difficulty level, because once the gas starts, it begins to encroach behind you without pause. The map is only revealed as you run around the level, and there are plenty of dead ends. During our first attempt at the mode, we actually ventured into such a dead end, and got trapped by the gas, ending our run. For the second attempt, we kept a better pace, and made it to a safe area halfway through the level. In this section, players can restock and take a breather, as the gas pauses as well.
Once ready, we opened the door and fought our way through the rest of the level. Enemies were more numerous here, and we also faced off against a large enemy boss that could only be damaged by shooting its face. He would be fairly nimble, and cover his face when approaching, so it made for an intense fight. When players go down, they can be helped up; if you die, you can be revived from a nearby cocoon that the game will spawn for others to pull you out of.
Ammo is extremely important – our entire team would run out of ammo at an extremely fast rate, as we also couldn't carry very much to begin with. You have to constantly pick up ammo or swap weapons, but even in doing so, we had to resort to melee for almost half of the time. It was awkward and will hopefully be balanced by the time the game launches. This was especially a problem during the boss fight – with a few goons defeated, two of our three-member team simply ran out of ammo fighting the boss. With no more enemies spawning and no way back due to the gas, we were simply stuck. Luckily, yours truly had just enough left in the clip to finish off the kill – but our run could have easily ended right there, because there were simply no ammo sources for the fight.
With the boss defeated, we advanced to the final room with tons of foes. As the gas quickly approached, we decided to simply skip the room and make a run for the end, an outdoor helipad. We activated the door behind us, and had to fight off the straggler enemies that made it through the slow-closing mechanism. Finally though, our escape was complete, and the game displayed a ton of stats on how well each player did, what commendations they earned, and so on.
While the Escape mode was fun, it's not exactly groundbreaking. The gameplay experience seems to be fairly straightforward, with one Ultimate ability, and static map that took under 10 minutes to clear. It seems the longevity of this mode will lie with players wanting to set records, play on higher difficulties as they perfect their Escapes, and so on. You will also be able to create and share your own hive layouts (but you'll have to beat them yourself first). Just like the game itself seemingly dropping the "Gears of War" title in favour of simply "Gears", perhaps Escape will be just the straightforward, accessible, and highly replayable mode that The Coalition hope it to be. Only time will tell – after Gears 5 launches this September, exclusively on Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs.