I couldn't have completed all these titles without sighted assistance and, even though there were frustrating elements, I could definitely see why the series has remained as popular as it has since its inception.
Though I still haven't completed Road To Ruin and Raam's Shadow (both of which are DLC for gears 2 and 3 respectively), I've been anticipating the fifth numbered entry in this series since I saw it revealed in person at E3 2018.
After being able to play Escape at the Microsoft store in London and Horde at Gamescom 2019, I am pleased to be able to bring you my accessibility impressions of Gears 5.
Fortunately, my theory turned out to be completely accurate as, on loading in, the title screen and entire setup process, including being given all the rewards from the Road To Gears 5 challenges was all narrated.
Even the beginning of the tutorial read, which was surprising. Unfortunately, the tutorial isn't able to be completed without sighted assistance. If the rest of the tutorial prompts read and there was more audio to work with, I do think the tutorial could be accessible though.
You can actually skip this tutorial even when first booting up the game, however, by going to the pause menu and pressing return to main menu, at which point you will see any rewards, which in my case included those from the Gears 5 challenges.
If you select a character on the customisation screen, however, you can read the name of the character and the various options including skins, expressions and Horde setup.
Speaking of Horde, even the Fabricator menu reads, which means that runs are much less frustrating than they used to be, save for a few points that I'll come to throughout the rest of this review.
That being said, important screens like Help, where vital information on supply drops, iron, tours of duty and other key game elements resides, doesn't read the information in the topics (though the topic lists themselves do read, so that's a good start at least). The news screen is similar, in that the topic reads but the information within it does not.
Though the previous points don't cover every menu in detail, with that clarification out of the way, let's discuss the various modes the game has to offer.
There is also the perk system which, as far as I've been able to test doesn't have any accessibility implemented as of yet (though I will update this review if this is found to be incorrect).
However, he does have his challenges, in that there are no sounds for the Forge fortification or nearby weapons, both of which can be said to be key elements of his gameplay. The forge allows you to scrap weapons that your team doesn't need and, though your team can scrap weapons themselves, they have to drop their own current weapon and pick the spare ones up to do so. Jack, on the other hand, being without a true weapon like a Lancer or Gnasher, doesn't need to worry about that, instead just picking it up and moving to the forge to scrap it.
Hopefully weapons, the forge and other fortifications can have sound and haptic cues added to them for greater ease of use for gamers without sight to utilise this character to his full potential.
That being said, as was the case with Gears 4, ammo boxes and frag pickups, as well as power and the associated power taps (a key component in the new Horde mode in Gears 5) have no sound cues even whilst in tac com. If this situation was resolved it would definitely improve the mode's playability without sight.
All things considered though, at least buying a new gun every time you need ammo isn't as tough as it was in the previous game. Playing Fahz and being able to buy a new sniper rifle just by going to the fabricator felt like a breath of fresh air, especially when the aforementioned target lock allowed me to hit multiple headshots in a row at times.
Another is more closely tied to the narration of the menus and the UI, in that some passages don't interupt correctly, meaning that you have to sit and listen to arguably superfluous information. Coupled with the fact that there's currently a bug wherein you can't read the fabricator menu without pausing, going to options (by pressing down once then A) and backing out again, this can be rather frustrating, even if it is just a small issue that can hopefully be patched alter.
In Horde, however, it's a different matter entirely for the most part, with AI partners reviving you and calling when they get kills, though not always what enemy they've taken out. This is all backed up by a very satisfying implementation of the Gears Unscripted Dialogue System (GUDS) which means that pretty much wherever you are, you'll be aware of what your squad of AI teammates is doing.
One of the issues I discovered is that, if you choose to fill the team with bots, you can't set their difficulty, often meaning that they will make large numbers of kills that you could've otherwise obtained yourself. Moreover, the AI, which has been said to provide more of a challenge, is very hard even in the opening waves on beginner, leading me to believe that there are issues with difficulty scaling.
Map design also appears to be frustrating at least at this point, given that most of the time the fabricator spawns within large amounts of geometry or twisting corridors, making it hard to return to even with practice. Bots won't go and find it for you either, so it's just a matter of working with what information you have in terms of the layout.
Playing alongside human opponents, even without mics, is a much more rewarding experience, not least because if you play with the same people for a while, you'll apparently receive bonus XP (as discovered in the help section under Gears Allies, which as previously mentioned is a part of the UI that doesn't read as of yet). Unfortunately though, when trying to complete a 1-50 run, the servers disconnected myself and the rest of my squad, leaving all of us stranded.
Fortunately there is work being done to resolve these server issues though, so hopefully it won't be an issue for too long into the game's life cycle.
In all, Horde is a great experience with the new accessibility additions and, as more heroes are added in addition to Horde variants and other elements, I can't help but think I'll continue to spend hours in this mode for many years to come.
That being said, target lock, when I'd tested it both in demo builds and during this review period, appeared to be inconsistent. Sometimes it would work flawlessly for entire waves of Horde, other times I couldn't get it to work at all. Thankfully, after feeding this back to The Coalition, I was advised they'd look into it. If I obtain any further information on how to utilise this feature effectively, I'll place it here.
When Target Lock works, though, it can be the means to get out of previously inescapable situations, like being surrounded by enemies that, as I found out during my escape session at the Microsoft Store in London, can be on a different plane to you. This means that said enemies, in short, can do damage to you whilst you can't hit them without sighted assistance, unless you're using this accessibility feature.
Fabricator Ping, returning from Gears Of War 4 after being introduced late in that game's support cycle, is now easier to enable thanks to the aforementioned menu narration. However, at the current time the implementation is certainly different, having a reduced frequency of pings compared to its counterpart in the previous instalment. This means that the fabricator is in fact much more difficult to locate and, coupled with picking it up not being as fluid either and being activated with the right stick, can make matches take even longer to start on new and old maps alike in a solo setup.
It's great to see the above two accessibility options implemented this early into the title's support however, as opposed to being added later when such ideas are stereotypically harder to implement. I can't wait to see what other improvements The Coalition make after the game releases.
Objectives, when complete, will reset the next day. You can re-role objectives if they seem hard to complete (say they use a character you can't easily play and task you with getting 30 eliminations with them, for instance). However, after the first re-role of the day, which is free, it costs you currency called Iron.
Boost, on the other hand, is an element that allows you to gain XP at double the usual rate to increase progression, This has a timer which counts down from the moment you start playing and doesn't stop. Unfortunately, during the review period at least, the days for boost appeared to reset on US time rather than on my actual time zone, Theoretically giving players more or less boost depending on time zones and when day and night occur comparatively. If this isn't the case and I discover they're working correctly, I'll update this part of the review.
Crafting cards doesn't appear to be as straightforward as it was in the previous game, as setting skills is tucked away in a separate part of the Horde setup process and customisation menu. This also means that sighted players won't be able to easily check what skills you have equipped, but again, menu narration will slightly ease this burden, though only if the issues with it not interrupting some longer passages correctly (as previously mentioned) are resolved.
Campaign, in terms of solo play, is currently completely inaccessible, though the cutscenes that introduce the mode are easy to follow as most of the content is spoken dialogue and ambient sound.
Playing through the story via CoPilot, unsurprisingly, felt responsive. The experience was definitely more interesting even with two players playing the same character. In fact, playing via CoPilot could possibly be an interesting way to play the game through if you have players who are unfamiliar with the Gearsiverse paired up with someone who knows it inside out.
During campaign, none of the prompts, tutorial hints or progression-based ones (where, for example, you have to press A to continue), actually read and there is no pathfinding tech to allow a gamer without sight to find their way through the various areas. Hopefully this could be added in the future. Having the chapters/acts narrated as their titles appear would be useful as well, particularly if you want to know where you are in the story.
When picking up collectables in campaign, the information presented on the accompanying screens doesn't read, though there is a sound cue for when they're picked up, which is helpful in a way.
When upgrading or adding to Jack, the menu, much like the character customisation screen, doesn't read the names of the various options, though all the button prompts do read.
Co-op campaign is easy enough to set up, though unfortunately when trying to test performance the servers kept removing people from the game. The Coalition are working to resolve these issues in time though and when I get a long session of co-op campaign in, I'll update this review to reflect my findings.
However, One finding I can give here is that, in terms of single player campaign at least, choosing characters is possible in single player, though you should keep in mind what character you're set to, as trying to start an existing save with a different one will result in an error message.
Given we all knew the strengths and weaknesses of playing without sight (having joined in battle so regularly it was almost second nature), factoring in target lock as well, I still played as Lahni, the melee-focused character. Running the same hive 3 times did yield a large amount of character experience to level up our separate characters post-match and the mode, whilst it does have its issues with navigation, is not as much of a problem with a team as you might think. After all, simply having a player run ahead adn swing their knife around is a comparatively crude form of audio navigation aid which could easily be used as an example of how to make solo escape runs possible, albeit probably with a different set of cues.
Were target lock unrestricted in terms of difficulty, I'd be up for playing hives on higher difficulty settings. However, as it stands I don't feel I can make that leap and still contribute to the team as effectively as I can at present on beginner difficulty.
Escape in itself is a great experience that thrives when team members collaborate and play to each other's strengths, not being accessible without sighted assistance.
As for the map builder, which is currently in beta, the good thing is that most of the UI prompts read (specifically the button prompts). The unfortunate thing is that there are no coordinates to work with, no way of telling what tile you're placing or what rotation it's in amongst other things. Given how much I'd like to create maps and test them, I really hope this can be resolved in future.
any further information on VS will be added here.
Most of my testing was conducted on an Xbox One X, but when switching consoles, though the One S ran much quieter, it did appear to struggle when there were large numbers of enemies on screen.
This resulted in audio being drawn out and slowed down, almost as if the game was being emulated. This is not a problem the previous game experienced however, so I hope that in due time patches can resolve these issues.
The accessibility bar has now been raised with the amount of menu narration this game offers, in addition to target lock being present (irrespective of how well it does or doesn't work). this game reads. Even if not all the kinks and creases have been sorted out just yet, it's an impressive experience without sighted assistance after you understand how things work.
If you're looking for a game that delivers the high-intensity action that Gears is known for, with more accessibility options than any previous entry in the series before it, look no further than Gears 5.
Back To The Main Reviews/Guides Page