Even some of my favorite games of the past generation can fall victim to the trap of adding unnecessary elements to fill the runtime, but Gears 5: Hivebusters is the opposite. This DLC extension removes fat and provides a laser-focused linear experience that makes you want more rather than exaggerate your welcome. Characters (and their interrelationships) can feel uneven, but great new environments and cool new bird creatures add a new flavor to the Gears world.
Billed as an origin story, the Hive Busters begin with a team of crack units that infiltrate the Swarm Hive and destroy it from the inside. The three playable characters you and up to two cooperating teammates live in are the Scorpio Squad, which consists of Keegan, Lahni, and Mac. This is the same crew that was first introduced in Gears 5’s excellent Escape multiplayer mode. Excellent (and sometimes amazing) to support the cast turn with actors Dave Fennoy, Sumalee Montano, Trevor Devall, and great voice performances.
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Still, it’s inconsistent. The Scorpio squad may feel like a cohesive unit that participates in other missions together and understands each other, or just met early in the day and don’t particularly like each other. You may feel it. Keegan’s “book-based” military approach and Mack’s “devilish care” attitude feel well-fulfilled in their own right, centered on Rani’s history and culture, and interesting in part of the story. It provides background, but their individual parts are not always effectively organized. As a result, changing a team from a “passive ally” to a “we are a family” happens too quickly because the teams are not organically approached during the three-hour expansion process.
Despite these occasional “team building” issues, Keegan, Mac, and Lahni are welcome additions to the Gears world. They all feel like the characters that belong here, and many of their jokes work well. I would like to see them appear in another story extension that focuses on more exploits. Or I’m looking forward to seeing it in the next main game with Kait, Marcus and more.
Hive Bastin makes me feel good
The Hive Busters remain action-packed and tense throughout the Chapter 6 campaign, and the story of the Ragtag team gathering to find a way to counter the swarm is fascinating. Gears 4, the weapon and enemy of the base game, is back, but the addition of an impressive new bird creature that plays an important role in the story of the Scorpio squad is very important and visually stunning. It’s a highlight because of both the fact that it’s different from the hordes of plump flock we’ve fought for a long time.
Combat is still tight and responsive, with the same “gold standard” cover-based shoots you’d expect from any Gears game, and combat is almost claustrophobic from the chaotic shootouts in vast spaces. It extends to the struggle for survival, which is tense due to phobia. In the narrow corridors, the scenarios naturally flow together and make you feel refreshed. While the Gears 5 campaign had a mix of linear and open world sections, Hivebusters returns to its roots in the series with a more focused approach. This is not just a linear search. Each chapter, which lasted about 30 minutes, was long enough and featured various combat encounters, so almost nothing was old.
More than any other Gears game I remember, I felt this was a fight I didn’t intend to win. The Union did a great job of making me feel consistently standing on my hind legs. It was about to fail, but it only achieved a heroic victory over the odds. This sense of desperate struggle across jungles, beaches, volcanoes, ruins, herd nests, etc. is one of my favorite elements of Hive Buster. When playing on Xbox Series X, each of these vibrant settings is achieved in great detail. And it doesn’t just look incredible, it works fine at 60 frames.
Bring the knife into the shootout (and win)
The biggest change in the mechanic is that the Gears 5 robot companion Jack is no longer visible in Hivebusters. In short, his wide range of support is lost. They will be replaced with simpler and more effective ultimate abilities, one for each member of the Scorpio Squad. Keegan can play ammo for himself and anyone nearby, Mac can call a shield that floats in front of him as he moves around, and Lani can use a particularly nice chain Lightning upgrade. After getting a knife that is electrically charged to tear the swarm completely.
I’ve noticed that each Ultimate Ability has a relatively short cooldown, is so powerful and consistently useful that I use it every time it’s available. I was always excited because the small golden glow of the upgrade pickups is often a game changer. For example, Keegan’s ammo regeneration feature is already incredibly useful, allowing you to hold your favorite weapon as effectively as you like. It can also be used as a second defensive cooldown, as it can be upgraded to reduce the damage it takes while standing in the ammo regeneration area (a lifesaver in some difficult battles later).
When playing solo, Keegan is the default playable character, but you can choose to play as one of three. In other words, you can focus on your ultimate ability and command your AI partner to use that ability.
The Hivebusters campaign took only three hours, but I felt it was longer. In the best way, the ending made me want to dive directly into more Escape multiplayer matches. I’m looking forward to playing with a few friends at the co-op.