Gears 5 gets aggressive with its new 3-player Escape mode.
For a franchise so focused on epic-scale wars and hyper-violent combat, Gears of War has always—oddly—focused on playing a good defensive game. Firefights generally have you hiding behind cover as you wait for Locust and other atrocities to advance forward, prompting you to pop out and, well, pop some heads.
That all changes with Gears 5‘s new Escape mode, which, in a refreshing change of pace, asks you to check your defensive tactics at the door. Escape is an extremely aggressive, fast-paced mode where you must work as a three-player team to survive a hostile Swarm hive. As someone who has put more than 1,000 hours into Gears of War 4—but eventually got fatigued of it—I found Escape to be the jolt of energy the franchise so desperately needed.
Escape mode introduces us to a new group within the Gears canon called Team Scorpio, which consists of Lahni, Keegan and Mac and is under the direction of Victor Hoffman. The three-person squad are members of a special force called Hivebusters, which seeks to destroy Swarm hives from the inside out.
During my hands-on demo at E3, I was paired with fellow Switcher Brad Dicks and another attendee of the Xbox E3 Showcase. Escape begins by letting everyone choose their character from the three choices. Here’s a quick snapshot of them:
- Keegan: He’s the Support unit and has a very useful “Resupply” Ultimate Ability that places a small ammo resupply circle on the ground. Teammates standing in the circle will slowly replenish their ammo over time. Keegan’s passive ability lets him recharge his Ultimate Ability faster with each kill.
- Lahni: She’s the team Scout and possesses an electro-blade that damages and stuns enemies. The electric shock is particularly effective against larger foes like Scions or the all-new Warden Swarm commander. Lahni’s passive nets her a free drop after every five executions.
- Mac: He’s the tank and can deploy an energy shield to protect himself and the team. Mac’s passive recharges his Ultimate Ability when taking damage, encouraging you to stay on the offensive.
Personally, I’m a fan of tanks, so I gravitated to Mac. If we’re going to infiltrate a Swarm hive where we’re woefully outnumbered, we might as well pick the tough guy!
Escape matches begin in a horrifically cool way: your character kneels down, puts on a gas mask and sacrifices themselves to a Swarm Snatcher. That’s gotta take some serious guts.
Your team later wakes up inside a Swarm hive and plants a venom bomb that slowly spreads throughout the entire hive, killing all living organisms in its wake. Your goal is to navigate through the twisty, turny hive and reach the evac spot—all while avoiding the venom and taking on the Swarm.
Like every past Gears game, I started unloading bullets on the hive inhabitants but almost immediately heard a terrifying clicking sound. Yup, I ran out of bullets after just a few enemies, and that’s when I realized Escape mode requires a totally different approach than I’m used to in Gears. This left me no choice but to pound away on enemies with risky melee strikes.
In order to survive the hive, stealth and teamwork are key. Defeated enemies drop guns and ammo, essentially making the Swarm your main source of resupplies. Keegan can also resupply the team, but his Ultimate Ability takes time to recharge. There are safe rooms scattered around the hive as well, which not only give you ammo and a chance to catch your breath but also act as a save checkpoint. And, yes, you can restart in safe rooms should your whole team fail.
With the venom gas creeping up behind you and Swarm hordes lying ahead, staying on the move is imperative to team success. My team was constantly rushing into new rooms, eliminating the Swarm as fast as possible and restocking ammo quick. Since the hive is so maze-like and most rooms are a mix of abandoned military bases overrun with organic hive material, it’s easy to get lost along the way. Regular map checking, or picking a navigator, is key to ensuring your team is staying on course to the evac zone.
Guns and Gameplay
Gears 5 looks to be shaking up the gameplay a few ways, judging by my roughly 30 minutes with Escape. For starters, you can see the damage amount each bullet inflicts, and enemies have health bars. Apparently, both the damage numbers and health bars can be turned off in the menu for those wanting a more traditional Gears look and feel.
Another significant change is the Inverse Omen. When your character takes damage, red streaks appear from the screen edge inwards. With this change you won’t have the traditional Crimson Omen appear centre screen and block your view. I found this to be a nice quality of life improvement and shows that The Coalition is listening to fan feedback.
As far as enemies go, I fought many of the usual suspects: Drones, Sniper Drones, Elite Drones, Scions and Juvies. There were a few new enemies, though, like the Corrupted DeeBees we saw in the Gears 5 gameplay trailer at last year’s E3. Our team also came across the terrifying new Warden Swarm Scion, who wields dual maces and is quite bullet spongy. We even had an encounter with Heart Leeches, Gears 5 new chest-explode-y creatures that attack in huge packs.
Weapons were also mostly familiar, including Gears mainstays like the Boltok, Snub, Hammerburst, Embar, Enforcer and Combat Knife. I did manage to snag a Cryo Cannon, which is a new weapon that freezes enemies dead in their tracks. Shattering frozen Swarm makes a satisfying ice-cracking sound, so I really dug that new weapon. My partner nabbed a new two-handed mace that reminded me a lot of Halo‘s iconic Gravity Hammer. Striking enemies with the mace sends them hurling literally right across the room. THWACK! How do you like that, you puny Swarm creatures?
Gears 5 will also include a custom Escape map editor, and The Coalition plans on sharing the most popular layouts with the entire Gears community weekly.