Gears of War. A series synonymous with being at the heart of the Xbox gaming scene. But things have come a long way since the launch of the original game way back in 2006, with multiple entries in the series taking the cover-shooting greatness to consistently new heights. But what are the best of the Gears of War games? Join me as I list and rank, from worst to best, the series as a whole…
6. Gears of War 4
Gears of War 4 proves that even the worst of the franchise is still pretty great. Gears of War 4 still includes the top-notch third-person shooting and cover mechanics we’ve come to expect from the series. But that’s where it stumbles: Gears of War 4 gives us everything that we expect, and not much else.
The campaign is fairly by the numbers. It consists of various beautiful corridors where you’ll jump in and out of cover tactically to flank enemies and chainsaw them from behind. But a few fun new weapons and the ability to yank enemies out of cover aren’t enough to make Gears of War 4’s campaign excel. There are a few nice action set-pieces, but these are few and far between and they never last long enough, meaning Gears 4 ends up seeming overly repetitive. Gears 4 also doesn’t do enough to make its new cast of characters as interesting or endearing as the meat sacks that came before them.
Horde Mode is probably Gears 4’s only online mode to get a notable revamp. This time around there’s a mobile ‘fabricator’ that players can go to to build defences, set up sentries and acquire weapons; it also doubles up as cover, which is handy. This leads to Gears’ most dynamic Horde Mode yet as each round can be changed significantly thanks to the placement of the fabricator.
5. Gears of War: Judgment
Gears of War: Judgment is probably the most openly criticised entry in the series for a number of reasons. It was the first Gears game developed outside of Epic, the first Gears game after the beloved initial trilogy and the game did have a number of issues itself. However, Judgment also gets an unfair amount of heat and its contributions to the series shouldn’t be forgotten.
Firstly, Overrun is perhaps the funnest multiplayer mode in Gears history. It’s a PvP mode that pits 5 COG soldiers defending an area against 5 Locusts encroaching on COG territory. It’s essentially competitive Horde and what could be better? The Locust side in particular allows you to choose from a series of Locust beasts including the expendable Tickers, generic Grenadiers or imposing Maulers to push enemies back. It is tactical, frantic and just a welcome change of pace from Gears’ traditional cover-based shooting, and I can’t believe some variation on the mode hasn’t become a mainstay in the series.
The campaign falls slightly short of expectations. There is a good ‘Declassify’ system that ups the difficulty by allowing you to set handicaps on Kilo Squad like restricted vision or limited ammo. These can add some nice variables on classic Gears encounters but most of Judgment’s campaign is a little bit of a slog. It doesn’t include any of the phenomenal blockbuster set-pieces of previous games and its narrative feels inessential to the larger Gears story.
4. Gears of War Ultimate Edition
Where it all started. The original Gears of War may have some outdated and clunky boss fights but at its core it’s still a fantastic action game with horror inspirations.
The horror part is what makes the original Gears so enduring. As well as the hefty cover-based combat, Gears took full advantage of the monsters it had created in its universe. I’ll never forget moments like avoiding the darkness out of fear of being devoured by Locust bats, or playing a game of cat and mouse with an impossibly muscular blind monster. Gears of War wore its campy horror-monster influences on its sleeve and it was better off because of it.
Despite its quality, the original’s impact on the gaming landscape is largely overlooked today. Gears of War wasn’t the first game to have a cover system, but it was the game that perfected and popularised it. Every other modern game with a cover system, from Tomb Raider and The Last of Us to Mass Effect, owes a great deal to this game.
3. Gears of War 3
Gears of War 3 followed in Halo’s footsteps to give us another epic finale to another epic trilogy. Everything about Gears 3 fired from all angles and delivered a satisfying conclusion to a generational series for Xbox fans. It steadily ratcheted up the action and drama, with levels that continually looked to one up the last.
Gears of War 3 gives big, Hollywood blockbusters a run for their money in terms of explosive action sequences. From the very beginning of the game where your titanic warship is attacked and sunk by a grotesque worm, to sequences that see you controlling a submarine submerged in an ocean of sea mines, Gears 3 isn’t content on giving you a single forgettable act.
It also closes out the original trilogy story in true Gears fashion. Self aware, B-movie humour is here in full force, but so are the moments that give you goosebumps. Gears 3 is equally camp, funny and sombre and it gives a perfect send-off to characters big and small in the franchise. Gears of War 3 was undeniably a worthy finale to a trilogy that influenced a generation of gaming.
2. Gears 5
Gears 5 is the best Gears has been in a long time. This is partly thanks to refining everything the series has been doing for more than 10 years. Gears 5 feels, looks and sounds better than the franchise has ever done. It features drop dead gorgeous art and animation and its pantheon of new and classic weapons are as brutal, bloody and crunchy as ever. ‘Kait’s Theme’ is also perhaps the best musical theme of 2019. Gears 5’s cinematic action set-pieces are insanely over the top in all the right ways, throwing stunning explosions and surprising monsters at players in non-stop sequences.
But what’s most impressive about Gears 5 is the plethora of changes it brings to the long running series. Two of Gears 5’s acts are set in stunning open-worlds that are traversable with an implausible vehicle called the skiff; a mixture between a boat, a sled and a kite. It’s maybe the most unique vehicle since Halo’s Warthog. These open sections are filled with Gears’ classic cover-based shooting arenas that contain upgrades for your robot companion Jack, who is invaluable this time around. Jack has a series of passive and active abilities that can be upgraded and they change combat dynamics exponentially. A Gears game has never allowed you, or even forced you, to spend so much time out of cover than Gears 5 thanks to Jack’s abilities like freezing enemies, stunning them, cloaking you and supplying you with shields. Gears 5’s combat encounters, with the ability to prepare for battles and sneak up on enemies, has never felt so flexible and full of options.
None of this takes away from the most dramatic Gears story to date. Gears 5’s new lead, Kait Diaz, does take some heat away from the Fenix family, but she enhances the narrative greatly. Laura Bailey’s voice performance is incredible, and Kait’s personal struggle of discovering her past ties in brilliantly to the larger Gears storyline, expanding the lore, while also making revelations to the world’s past. The wider cast also gets a ton of time to shine. Del gets a bigger supporting role here and is much more likeable than he was in Gears 4; JD is actually given some character development, and newcomer Fahz also makes a strong, comedic impression. The returning cast from the old games also make their mark. Baird and Paduk are utilised well as mentor figures. But it’s Marcus Fenix who steals every scene he’s in with amazing one-liners, and 10 years after his first introduction he still gets poignant character moments and emotional scenes.
1. Gears of War 2
Gears of War 2 is, in many ways, the perfect sequel. New weapons, characters, game modes, locations and ways to play cemented this sequel as something bigger and better than its predecessor.
The unforgettable Horde Mode was first introduced here, and has been a Gears staple ever since. It had a tense atmosphere and challenging design, forcing gamers to cooperate properly for the first time in a Gears game. And without tight teamwork, it was practically impossible to survive for long in Horde. The dream of operating like a full on COG squad was playable here.
The campaign also saw a substantial improvement. New enemy types and weapons kept minute to minute combat fresh but that’s not why Gears of War 2’s campaign remains unforgettable. Firstly, this Gears has, maybe, some of the best action set-pieces in the series’ history. Riding classic Locust beasts, defending a falling city against an invasion and chainsawing your way out of a colossal Locust worm put Gears 2 on another level of badass.
But what could be an overly macho game actually has an emotional and heartfelt story. Gears of War 2 proves what has been true about the series all along: it’s far from just a ‘bro-shooter’. I’ll avoid spoilers but there’s one pivotal scene in particular that is absolutely crushing. But even when Gears 2 isn’t pulling on the heartstrings, it’s still subverting tropes by representing realistic, wholesome and healthy male friendships. In a generation full of hyper masculine, violent shooters (partly influenced by Gears), Gears of War 2 challenged the stereotype.
So there we have it, the Gears of War games listed and ranked in order of cover shooter wannabe right up to the perfect sequel. But let us know your thoughts – which are your favourite Gears of War titles, and why? The comments section is down below.