Gears 5 Escape Mode Appears Light, But Has A Lot Under the Hood
While the new Escape Mode for Gears 5 initially felt underwhelming at E3 2019, the co-op mode is still brimming with potential.
Last week’s Microsoft Xbox E3 2019 showcase was the first E3 press conference I had attended in person, and while I felt a variety of emotions and sensations during it, confusion and incredulity were not amongst the expected ones. At a key moment during the show, accompanied with lights and pyrotechnics, a video camera dove underneath the stage of the Microsoft Theater, revealing some sort of Gears 5-inspired crypt where it appeared that the company had trapped a handful of poor celebrity wrestlers into playing the third-person shooter’s new cooperative game mode called Escape.“Another one of these?” I initially thought to myself.
Pageantry and ridiculous showmanship aside, I got some brief time with Escape Mode the following day at the Microsoft Theater. To my disappointment, I didn’t go down in that mysterious crypt myself to play Gears 5. Playing it did get some gears turning in my head, which I now realize is a terrible pun. I wasn’t fully convinced by this brief demo of the “hivebusting” three-player cooperative experience, but I can see where these mechanics can go further down the line in the final game. The gunplay may still feel like Gears, but for everything else, players will have to think of new approaches in Escape.
The three characters of Escape Mode, a trio that forms Team Scorpio (a familiar Xbox-related term), deliberately get caught by Snatchers in order to infiltrate a Swarm hive. Each team member bursts out of a slimy cocoon and forcefully rips out a breathing apparatus out of their throats, a quick, early, and brutal reminder of just how gross the universe of Gears of War is. As seen in the E3 2019 trailer, Team Scorpio consists of “adrenaline junkie” Lahni, hardened veteran Keegan, and newbie Mac. Each of the three fill in a different role, all having their own special ability.
This is what the Xbox Team and developers The Coalition call a “suicide squad,” with Escape Mode immediately beginning with the trio planting a venom bomb and, well, escaping the hive as it is overtaken by the deadly gas. What resulted wasn’t just another iteration of the familiar Horde or Beast modes from Gears prior, but something that felt a bit more Left 4 Dead, with some battle royale sprinkled in here and there. For one, the players have to keep moving to survive.
Armed with a pistol each, what was alarming was just how quickly I and my teammates ran out of ammunition. Early into our first session, we found ourselves cheesing our way through robotic drones and hive-dwellers with our melee attacks, and came upon a crossroad. There was a minimap on the top right to provide some assistance, telling us where the deadly green gas was coming from, and giving us limited information on what was ahead of us. Ultimately, it appeared as if we chose the wrong path.
Desperate for supplies, the path we had taken provided us with just scraps of ammo. Pretty soon, we found that our meandering had cost us, as the gas was right behind us. We thought we’d run through the venom gas to get to the alternate path, but attempting to do so led to our collective doom. It was a tough lesson, but one that led to a more successful run right after.
I urged our teammates to not go through the same path, and instead of wasting all of our ammo in one confrontation, we took burst shots and made good use of our surprisingly effective melee capabilities. Upon hitting the same crossroad, we took the other path. But as I played as Keegan (who my colleague Logan Moore described as “Samuel L. Jackon with muttonchops”), I made another essential realization — my character was more of one for support. With a simple button combination I deployed my special ability, a field that replenished ammo. It was a Eureka moment that came far too late, a result of haste. We saw that there were more customization and loadout options in the starting screen, but whether due to confusion or indifference, my teammates skipped out on those.
Eventually, we got into larger enemy encounters. Numbers fly out of enemies with visible life bars depleting overhead, traits unusual to Gears games. We’d pick up larger weapons, and eventually get to a point where ammo is no longer a concern. After a strenuous boss fight, we as Team Scorpio found our way to freedom outdoors, but not before having to close the slow-moving blast doors, gunning down any Swarm enemies trying to escape or dispatch you. It wasn’t quite the exhilarating action movie escape that I’m sure the game wanted to emulate, but I assumed that this was an early level of this mode.
Once I understood the rhythm of Gears 5‘s Escape Mode, the E3 demo became a relatively easy task, though not one that I was blown away by. I understood the design of it: conserve ammo. With the literal ticking time bomb acting as a “storm” the same way a battle royale game would have, I also had to move with a sense of urgency. Those crossroads are meant to present a choice: keep moving, or take a risk in order to score loot. Though from my experience, the loot was too little to be worth it.
I wish I had more time with Lahni, who had some sort of electric knife attack as her special, and Mac, whose tank ability gives the players a shield. As I hope I made clear already at this point, Escape isn’t just another flavor of Horde Mode, but what I felt to be the Gears take on a dungeon crawler if the flying numbers and looting didn’t give it away already.
The E3 2019 showcase for Escape Mode was reasonably light for the obvious purpose of introducing the public and the press to a quite unusual game mode for Gears. There’s obviously a lot of thought put into the backstory of the mode, its characters, and mechanics. With that, I’d hope that the level design and battle scenarios later on presented in this mode have a bit more meat to them. I’d love to see this mode for Gears 5 take off into something of its own, rather than an afterthought or also-ran in what will likely be a large game package. You can’t let those muttonchops go to waste.
Gears 5, which includes Escape Mode, will hit Xbox One and PC on September 10.