Finally, after a seemingly interminable wait, there is new story DLC for the mighty Gears 5, a game that I could hardly fault in the original review. And, just to make that moment a little sweeter, we’ve got the Xbox Series X in place to play through it on. So, has it been worth the wait, and does it meet the high standards found in the story of the rest of the game?
Despite Gears 5 ending on a massive cliffhanger, The Coalition have chosen to go into the past with Hivebusters, all in order to explore the origins of Scorpio Squad – the three new characters that were introduced for the Escape multiplayer game mode. In case you haven’t played it, Escape involves three players being purposely captured by a Snatcher, before being taken deep into the heart of a Swarm hive. Once there, they have to escape from a pod, before planting a Venom bomb and hightailing it out of the area. The only slight fly in the ointment is that Scorpio Squad can only take sidearms along for the ride, and if they want better weapons they have to kill the Swarm that are holding them, ripping them from their cold, dead fingers. The game mode is genuinely tense, especially when you reach the exit and have to hold off a final wave of Swarm with nothing more than harsh language and a smoke grenade.
So, that is Escape, but how did Scorpio Squad get together? Well, as with everything in the Gears universe, if there is some sneaky peaky underhand skullduggery going on, you’ll always find one man at the middle of it, and it’s no different here. Yes, Colonel Victor Hoffman is back, even if he is now seemingly older than the hills and restricted to a wheelchair. Strangely, he’s also grown his hair back, but that’s an aside. So, Hoffman sends an Onyx Guard, Keegan, a disgraced ex-con in the form of Lahni and a complete outsider with no previous connection to the CoG, Mac, to try out his way of exterminating the Swarm right where they live. Summoned to a secret base on a tropical island, the team get off to a rough start when their aircraft crashes, and they are forced to fight their way through to even meet Hoffman.
Hoffman, and his science sidekick – none other than Cole Train’s daughter – have developed an early poison weapon to use against the hive, and the Scorpio Squad is sent to Sanctum, a massive end of the world CoG hideout, to try it out. You see, after the Locust war, the grub corpses were entombed in Sanctum, and in the preceding years have turned on the Swarm, and so Scorpio’s goal is set. For various complicated story reasons, which I’m going to avoid for fear of spoilers, things don’t quite go according to plan and so the team are forced to look for not only a new and improved toxin, but also a new delivery method.
We obviously know what the second of these things is, but the search for the former leads to some genuinely touching moments as the team starts to bond, open up and share their backstories. The characterisation is very sensitively done in Hivebusters, and when Mac in particular shares his reasons for fighting, it is actually quite affecting. It is most definitely a good mark for the writers and voice actors there.
Graphically, and not to put too fine a point on it, Gears 5 and Hivebusters in particular looks fantastic. Whether it’s the new deliverance of power via Xbox Series X I’m not sure, but the jungle looks like it is a living, breathing landscape, right down to snakes slithering out from under your feet as you walk along. You can seemingly see forever too; there’s no slowdown even when the action gets fast and furious with seemingly endless swarms of Juvies leaping out of the bushes. The Juvies have had an upgrade as well, as they now come strapped with grenades. Shooting the exploding ones at a distance is vital, as a suicide Juvie detonating can ruin your entire day. Sound-wise all is awesome as well, with the hooting of the Juvies, the growling speech of the Scions and the ambient jungle all fantastically reproduced. There is literally nothing to complain about in terms of the presentation of this Hivebusters expansion.
In fact, there’s hardly anything to complain about at all, but complain I will and that’s because the only problem I have with this DLC is a simple one: it’s too damn short. With the best will in the world, you’ll roar through the story of Hivebusters in about three hours, even if you spend time trying to find all the collectibles. I would certainly have liked to have seen more.
That is however the sum total of my complaints, and so in conclusion Hivebusters is a great addition to the story content of Gears 5 on Xbox. The same production values, the same great acting, and (whisper it) a better set of protagonists than Kait and J.D., all add up to make this a must play expansion.