Gears Tactics, the new strategy game out today for PC, adds some brains to the famously brawny series. Yes, you can still shoot baddies to a pulp and chainsaw Locust with abandon. But under the veneer of blood, sweat, and protein shakes, you’ll need to do some serious thinking to get through battles with your troops intact. The following tips should help you do less thinking.
The core concept of the sightline is simple enough: As you move units around, you’ll see a white line pop up between that particular unit and any enemies it can take a shot at. Before you commit to a unit’s placement, keep this in mind.
But there are some subtleties to be aware of. The fainter the line is, the lower your shot percentage will be. If it’s a dotted line, that means you’ll have a bad shot: 40 percent chance or lower. And if there’s a perpendicular crosshatch, you might have an obstruction, which won’t affect the percentage chance of landing a shot but might result in you hitting something, or someone, else. Get your teammates out of the way! (Yes, there’s friendly fire.)
One of the game’s most truly bonkers mechanics is the fact that bullets can go through enemies. If you can line up your sightlines so two are overlapping, one shot should hit both people in a row. This works with all guns but is most effective with a scout’s shotgun or a heavy’s mulcher (Gears-speak for minigun).
Similarly, you can miss shots entirely and still wrack up some kills. Few things are more satisfying than lining up a medium percentage shot, missing completely, and hitting the enemy right next to your target. Again, get your teammates out of the way!
There are few classes in Gears Tactics more essential than the support class (combat medics who take the “combat” part a little too seriously). Their stim ability is essential for healing injured teammates, and has a generous range, but you should know it’s not infinite. Some other healing abilities—including the superpowered recovery patch, which heals one teammate a fixed amount for three turns in a row—have an even shorter range.
When a unit’s health drops to zero, they won’t die on the spot. They’ll be “downed,” at which point you have a chance to move another soldier over and revive them. (Once per level, they can use a second-wind ability to get up on their own.) When a unit comes back from a downed state, you can only heal them up to 75 percent of their max health. But be careful, because the game will still let you go ahead and use stims, healing patches, and other recuperative abilities on them.
For the most part, side quests in Gears Tactics are straightforward. Then there are supply missions, which add an extra wrinkle of strategy to the game. In these missions, there are two king-of-the-hill-style control zones. At the end of each turn, you’ll get a point for each one you control. If your enemies control any, they’ll get a point. Your goal is to score 10 points before the enemy can score five. But, get this, even downed units can help. If one of your Gears is downed inside a control zone, they’ll still be able to score you a point, which is especially helpful if you need to nab just one more point yet don’t have the action points remaining for a revive.
As you beat campaign missions, you’ll get more room in your roster to recruit more troops. It can be tempting to fill up your company to the brink. Don’t do that. Instead, always keep at least one slot open. That way, if you come across a randomized Gear who’d kill it on your team, you won’t need to dismiss that faithful sniper who’s been with you since the third mission.
All of the troops you recruit are totally randomized, right down to their name. Sometimes, this results in troops named Brett “Buster” Johnston who have dumb haircuts and patchwork eyepatches. But you can change all of that. Even though this is a game about shooting, shooting, and shooting, you shouldn’t neglect the customization options. They’re impressively robust.
For starters, all customization is gender-neutral. Any unit can wear any hairstyle, facial hairstyle, or piece of clothing. What’s more, every piece of armor can be colored, and you can even fine-tune the sheen from more than a dozen options. And best of all, there’s no shortage of offensively bright neon options. Words can’t describe how much literal color this brings to the notoriously gray Gears table, so here’s a visual reference. Would you rather your team look like this:
Or like this:
Of course, there’s a practical application here. Make like Kotaku’s Zack Zweizen and color-code your team by class. This way, at a glance, if you see someone decked out in firetruck red, you know they’re a sniper. That person in Casablanca blue? They’re a heavy. It’s an easy trick that helps you reacquaint with the battlefield situation in a heartbeat.
This might seem obvious to some players, but I sunk an embarrassing amount of time into this game before realizing it, so let me save you the trouble.
In most levels, you’ll come across chests that can be opened up for bonus Gear. Here’s how I opened them initially. First, I’d use two action points—the metric that determines how far a unit can go and how many things it can do—to move to a chest. Then I’d use one more to open it. (Most units start with just three action points.) Turns out, you can just open up a chest right as you walk up to it. Yeah, all you have to do is hover your mouse over it until you see the cursor turn from an arrow to a hand. That way, you won’t expend any extra action points and you can, say, move your soldier back into cover where they won’t take a sniper round to the face in the name of loot. Who knew!
Gears fans will recognize tickers as the most annoying enemies in the game. That rings true for Tactics, too. If one of these explosive buggers reaches one of your Gears, it’ll detonate, killing itself but dealing north of 200 damage in the process. Even worse, tickers have staggeringly high evasion, so you likely won’t be able to gun them down as they sprint toward your frontline.
To combat this, all of your units can run up to and kick tickers. Doing so will knock it over and remove its evasion, at which point you can then shoot it. Whenever you line up a kick, a purple dotted line will appear, helpfully indicating where the ticker will land. The idea is that you can see exactly where it’ll go, so you can stay safely out of the blast zone. But the mechanic appears—and please forgive me for this pun—to be just a bit buggy.
Sometimes it works just fine, and you can kick a ticker like you’re Lionel Messi. Other times, for no apparent reason at all, you can’t kick it more than a foot. Yes, you’ll remove its evasion, but you won’t be able to shoot it without seriously hurting your adjacent unit. If at all possible, try to only use one action point to both run up and kick tickers. That way, even if you can’t punt one a safe distance away, you’ll have the action points remaining to retreat to a safe distance and take a shot.
Gears Tactics makes heavy use of a mechanic called “overwatch.” (Fans of XCOM will come into Tactics with an intimate understanding of this mechanic.) When a unit’s in overwatch, it’ll create a cone-shaped overlay and stand guard for a turn. If someone walks into the cone, they’ll get shot at. Once a unit uses their overwatch, that’s it: overwatch over for the turn. All of your soldiers can set up overwatch. All of your enemies can, too. After shooting at—and getting shot by—enemies countless times, there are a few quirks I’ve noticed:
- When you’re under an enemy’s overwatch, you can safely reload.
- As the game explains, you can disable an enemy’s overwatch with one of the pistol’s special abilities (which all units start with). But well-placed grenades and other explosives will also get rid of an enemy’s overwatch.
- An enemy sniper’s overwatch is superpowered yet, thankfully, limited. They’ll “pin” one of your units. Rather than a sweeping cone, it shows up as a solid red line. If a pinned unit tries to do anything other than reload, they’ll get taken out in one hit. But other units can safely cross the red line without getting shot.
- If a scout is pinned by a sniper, use the cloak ability. This will remove the pin.
- More often than not, your overwatch shots won’t hit tickers. Still, tickers will trigger the overwatch, essentially “wasting” it.
- The smaller your overwatch cone, the more accurate your overwatch shots will be.
Yes, using your mouse to select units works just fine. But there’s an easier way: Just hit tab. On the left-hand side of your HUD, you’ll see a list of all the units you have on the field. Whoever’s at the bottom is the person you’re in control of. This trick also works for cycling through enemies. When you’re weighing shots against different targets, hitting tab will jump from foe to foe, so long as you have sightlines on all of them.
One other hotkey tip: You can double-tap escape to skip cutscenes.
Each of the game’s five classes can be further specialized through a four-pronged skill tree. Since the truly game-changing abilities are at the end of each branch, it’s best to focus on one pathway. Of course, how you level-up characters is dependent on play styles, but I’ve found these subclasses to be especially useful.
Support: Surgeon. Dumping your points into the surgeon tree won’t just unlock skills that can double your unit’s healing powers. It’ll also unlock the recovery patch, one of the game’s best healing items.
Scout: Commando. Few abilities are more useful than the proximity mine, which the scout can only get by leveling up the commando tree. Proximity mines function exactly as you’d imagine: Place it down, and if an enemy steps on it, kabloomers! As Zack mentioned in his review, the AI is fairly intelligent. Well, let’s just say they missed the lesson on proximity mines.
Vanguard: Assault. This tree opens up a ton of great passive skills, including one that boosts your chances of landing critical hits. You’ll also get the rage shot ability. When fully upgraded, it deals double damage.
Sniper: Hunter. Snipers who invest in the hunter tree will get abilities that restore action points, reload weapons, and reduce cooldowns. Play smart and you could conceivably have an endless turn.
Heavy: You can’t go wrong. There’s no such thing as a useless heavy in Gears Tactics.
If I could only offer one piece of advice, it’s this: Go for it. Gears Tactics is relatively forgiving in its checkpointing. If your squad—or one of the three heroes—gets wiped, you generally won’t get set back more than 10 or 15 minutes. You’ll even get checkpoints in the middle of boss fights. So if there’s a risky move you want to try, try it. Experiment. Have fun. And for the love of Gears, don’t think too much.