The best Gears of War game will always come down to player preference, but it’s inarguable that Gears has always been a reliable hit for Microsoft’s line of consoles. The third-person shooters feature football-sized men crouching down behind an inexplicable number of knee-high barriers and firing off weapons at glorified mole men who want to take over the surface.
Somehow, lead designer Cliff Bleszinski made that premise believable and emotionally resonant, turning out a trilogy of great Xbox titles and leaving new developers The Coalition a blueprint for success when they took over in 2014. No matter who the developer is, the Gears of War series has retained a loyal fanbase, and it’s not just because players get to chainsaw Locust goons in half. Gears of War did for third-person shooting what Halo did for first-person shooting, providing the framework that others followed beat-for-beat in the years after its debut.
How Gears of War Changed Over Time
The Coalition has tried to inject variety into the formula but it’s still very easy to tell when someone is playing Gears, and that reliability has kept players coming back for each entry. With high-quality action, a ragtag bunch of playable characters, and intense shotgun duels in its multiplayer, the series has been a sturdy pillar of Xbox through good times and bad.
Every game in the Gears of War series retains a lot of the same elements, whether made by Epic or The Coalition. Like the output of a great heavy metal band, players outside the fanbase may have a hard time distinguishing one game from the next, but there are certain factors that make it easy to determine.
Different weapons, gameplay tweaks, and newly-introduced mechanics bring more depth to the sandbox, even if every game retains that basic loadout of a Lancer rifle, Gnasher shotgun, and a pair of grenades. Here are more details on how the best Gears of War games perfect the formula and which games rushed too far into enemy territory.
#8 – The Worst Gears of War Game – Gears POP!
It’s arguable whether or not Gears POP! counts as a true entry in the Gears of War franchise, but the franchise has only had two spinoffs in its long history and Gears POP! deserves to be remembered after it closed forever in April 2021. Developed by Fall Guys developers Mediatonic, Gears POP! clones the popular gameplay of Clash Royale and combines it with Funko versions of the Gears of War cast.
Missed out on playing the worst Gears of War game before it shut down for good? Check out some gameplay of Gears POP! via the YouTube video from Barricade2091 below!
Despite bringing Xbox achievements and the promise of cartoony violence, the rote gameplay of this mobile title couldn’t draw in an audience, and Gears POP! is now nothing but a memory.
#7 – Gears of War: Judgment
Developed by People Can Fly following the release of Bulletstorm, Gears of War: Judgment is a side-story for the franchise in more ways than one. The new team attempted to shake up the formula with new weapons, new multiplayer modes, and distinct changes to how the combat functioned. Players could no longer tag grenades on walls and the “down but not out” state vanished from multiplayer, taking the over-the-top executions along with it. Players were not thrilled with this change, and few of the new features carried forward into future titles.
The campaign’s focus on tight arenas and its borrowed ranking system from Bulletstorm are interesting additions, but nothing could overcome the franchise fatigue many felt upon release. Ultimately, Gears of War: Judgment changed too much from what makes Gears worked and failed to find an audience at launch, making it the worst of the third-person shooters in the franchise. At least the developers had a practice run at this type of shooter before going all-in on a game like Outriders.
#6 – Gears of War 4
The first in the series from current developer The Coalition, Gears of War 4 served to prove that the studio could carry the franchise forward without its original creators. While the team did put their own spin on things, this transition period provided a game that felt like more of the same for much of its runtime. New elements like JD’s run as a protagonist and the robotic enemy faction were simply unexciting additions, and many of the changes were reexamined in the next entry.
On the multiplayer side of things, the introduction of randomized loot boxes was met about as well as one might expect. Better received was the DLC setup that added maps into Gears of War 4’s matchmaking rotation for free at regular intervals. The game was still selling these maps for private matches, but it was one step towards the setup many shooters implement today.
#5 – Gears of War
The original Gears of War is a stone-cold classic that gave the Xbox 360 generation its very own Halo, but it’s also much different than the franchise that followed in its wake. The dark undertones of Sera and its government were more on the surface, and the entire planet felt more hostile. See the original reveal trailer for Gears of War below via IGN:
The Kryll sections which had players sneaking through nighttime areas to avoid hungry bat-like predators provided a great worldbuilding concept amid frustrating gameplay, and while the core members of Marcus Fenix’s squad were memorable, the supporting cast had not yet risen to meet them. It’s a formative entry with plenty of memories attached, but the best Gears of War game was yet to come.
#4 – Gears Tactics
It is impressive how well developer Splash Damage transferred the Gears of War franchise to the realm of RTS and tactics, but it does make sense. With gameplay all about crouching behind cover and setting up enemy ambushes, they only really needed to shift the camera and add a pause button.
Gears Tactics provides some backstory to the characters introduced in The Coalition’s two mainline Gears games, packing in impressive boss fights and memorable characters along the way. When compared to other titles in its genre, Gears Tactics doesn’t really hold up, but it’s a fine bit of variety for franchise fans.
#3 – Gears of War 3
Gears of War 3 is probably the most content-packed package in the entire series: a full co-op campaign wrapping up the Epic Games-developed trilogy; a downloadable bonus campaign featuring the return of General RAAM; an expansive deathmatch mode with a massive roster of playable characters and modes.
There’s also both Horde 2.0, an expansive upgrade to the original that let the player build defenses at their leisure, and Beast, a mode that cast players as the Locust in a reversal of Horde. All that and a playable character voiced by legendary rapper and Def Jam star Ice-T made Gears of War 3 a fitting end to Epic’s time with the franchise.
#2 – Gears 5
The latest in the series now just called Gears, Gears 5 takes new steps forward to finally expand on the gameplay formula seen throughout the rest of the franchise. The campaign introduced open world sections filled with collectibles, and Gears 5’s alternate combat scenarios hint at a next-gen future while the story branches off in new and interesting directions.
The multiplayer and Horde modes remove many of the more odious monetization elements of Gears of War 4 and present something streamlined for its dedicated fans, although most of them probably could do without The Terminator and all the other crossover characters. It’s not the best Gears of War game, but Gears 5 is a solid entry in the series that foretells a bright future for Gears.
#1 – The Best Gears of War Game – Gears of War 2
The best Gears of War game is clearly Gears of War 2. The Coalition has certainly come close, but nothing in recent times touches the heights that Gears of War 2 reached upon its debut. A refinement of the classic original, the second entry in the series proved how much room for expansion there was in the Gears of War universe.
The introduction of Horde mode was a revelation that other games wouldn’t wait around to copy, the second time this happened in the franchise’s short life. Outside of that innovation, the strong character introductions and various new environments led to a strong and memorable middle chapter in the original Gears of War trilogy. See the original reveal trailer in the video from IGN below:
With a solid cliffhanger at the end of Gears 5 and another Gears of War entry on the horizon, players have not seen the last of the chainsaw-wielding COG contingent. It’s one of Xbox’s most reliable franchises, even if it doesn’t reach the heights of Halo or Forza with every new release in recent years.
Perhaps the changes hinted at in Gears 5 could provide an innovative shift in the next game that brings the crowds back, or perhaps it will go too far and become a repeat of Gears of War: Judgment. Either way, there will likely still be some fun to be had in smashing Locust drones into gibs whenever it does come out.
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Gears of War 5
- Gears of War
- Xbox One, PC
- The Coalition
- Xbox Game Studios
- Shooter, Action