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Gears 5

FBT finds his game of the year.

Gears of War 4 was a cracking shooter and a solid bit of rebooting; The Locust Horde were convincingly remade into The Swarm, JD and Del were a top double-act, Marcus as a sidekick worked so well, and Kait provided the story, which ended on a soft cliffhanger – how did the Locust survive and evolve, what did they want with her mom, and why was a family heirloom eerily similar to a Horde emblem? And it was such a good shooter; old-school but fresh; GoW 4 was a 10-hour running firefight that never ran out of breath. But Gears 5 is … all that and way, way more. It’s almost the best game of the year. Almost.

After the events of Gears 4, JD, Del and Marcus have cautiously re-joined CoG to help with the Horde/Swarm’s return, alongside ex-Outsider Kait who is plagued by Swarmy visions. JD and Del have their bants down pat now, with Kait joining in the jokes and Marcus not. Supported by a floating R2D2 in the shape of JACK, an autonomous AI bot, our motley crew’s fun is only spoiled by fellow soldier/dickhead Fahz. Oh and the Swarm of course.

During an overwhelming Swarm attack, JD makes a suicide run to manually guide the Hammer of Dawn satellite weapon onto the attackers. It succeeds, but then fires wildly, killing civilians, troops and leaving JD in a coma.

Sometime later, at an Outsider base, the Swarm attack and make contact with Kait ... How? Why? Abandoning CoG, Kait, with Del and JACK, sets out to discover the truth about her ancestry and the Horde’s origins.

Amazingly, after 4 games of fairly linear shooting, Gears 5 shifts in to a more open world setting – and pulls it off. It’s not an RPG, but we trigger missions rather than walk into set-pieces, have side quests, locations to 100%, stuff to find. At first it’s a little jarring - I’m trying to fight my way through a more than capable Swarm here, I don’t have time to go searching for JACK upgrades (although you’ll be happy you do), but given the depth of Kait’s story and the reveals of the Swarm’s increasingly tragic history, it needed this room to breathe, this immersion in the world we’ve been blindly chainsaw’ing through for so many years. Question is, what’s Kait’s role in all this?

I’m not telling, it’s too much of a spoiler but Kait is the best shooter-lead of the year; funny, charming, brutal, deadpan, committed, hurt, angry and more, struggling to find her place - is she an Outsider, a CoG? And what does her unwanted connection to the Horde mean to her and her comrades; is she a threat? Since we’re not mucking about with moral choices or actually have any say in her actions, the tension over her future works on us too.

Kait and Del’s travels first take them to a frozen tundra to uncover a hidden base that might reveal the origins of the Swarm, and oh boy does it. That entire sequence is breathtaking, terrifying, intense and upsetting. And it all gets explained by a TV on wheels.

While Kait looks into the Swarm’s past, they’ve been focused on the future. In G4 they were kidnapping humans and turning them into ‘juvies’ and while those scatty bastards are still everywhere in G5, the Swarm has new creatures to make life interesting – even our own; the robot support troops from G4 can be taken over by leeches and they turn into this horrible, slithering fleshy robot, like someone put Playdoh and a Terminator in a microwave.