Gears 5's campaign was an absolute treat and turned out to be one of the best in the series, and now its newly released Hivebusters campaign gives us more single-player action to dive into - free with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate!
Hivebusters is essentially a prequel to the game's Escape mode, introducing the three characters, Lahni, Keegan and Mac, officially into the Gears franchise. The story follows their first mission on the secret Hivebuster programme, taking them to never before seen locations in the Gears of War series. While the narrative tying everything together feels fairly loose and throwaway, its ending resolution ends up being immensely satisfying and conveys a more lighthearted tone than we're perhaps used to seeing in the franchise.
Right off the bat, Hivebusters is gorgeous. Perhaps even the best visual showcase for the Xbox Series X|S so far. Set on the stunning volcanic Galangi islands, the narrative takes place across golden sandy beaches, scorching lava soaked craters, and dense, colourful jungles to venture through. With the increased fidelity of the Xbox Series X|S, it really makes a case for next-gen and is a testament to the power of the new consoles.
Amongst these locations, the classic Gears 5 gameplay is retained. Numerous set-pieces, cover based shooting, and various collectibles to discover - its all there. New for the campaign are unique character abilities, making three player co-op even more essential than before. Lahni has an electrical charged knife used to cut through enemies, Keegan can resupply the team with ammunition, and Mac can bring forward a barrier to block incoming gunfire.
The idea is reminiscent of Jack in Gears 5's campaign, who could be upgraded with various component kits around the world. The same sort of premise remains here, but the upgrade kits this time automatically unlock specific upgrades for each character's skill. It creates a dynamic between the team not found in the Gears series before, as each bounces off the other with their necessary abilities used for survival. It's something that we never realised we wanted from the series before, but now we're eagerly hoping the next entry borrows the same formula.
One of the elements that made Gears 5's campaign seem fresh was the open-world environments. Sure, they didn't offer an insane amount of possibilities in regards to open-world exploration, but they added something new to a series which was quickly becoming stale. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Hivebusters, which harkens back to the linear level design seen in past entries. With such a beautiful landscape and a story set within the realms of one region, it would have been great to see The Coalition push the idea further and try something new with this one.
Perhaps that's the biggest downfall to Hivebusters - it ultimately feels just a bit throwaway. The comparison can be drawn to a wide range of so-called "popcorn movies" - a good time, but a bit forgettable. Without a massive driving force for trying something new, once the campaign is over it never truly feels as though it amounted to much. It would have been great to see the team attempt something new, instead of treading the same old ground.
At three hours long, it passes by at a breeze, and is packed with some truly spectacular set-pieces. One particularly notable scene takes place halfway through, and fans of the recent Hobbit trilogy will see a striking resemblance between the two. It all feels as though its building to a dramatic, explosive conclusion, but ends with one of the most anticlimactic boss fights in the series' history. It pales in comparison to intense encounters with General Raam and Queen Myrrah, and blends in with the majority of the expansions' combat encounters.
That being said, it's certainly a fun time while it lasts and the added bonus of it being free for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members is really nice. While it would have been great to see Gears 5: Hivebusters push beyond its boundaries even further, fans of the series will enjoy its breezy, explosive campaign that plays as well as ever, particularly on Series X.
Have you tried Gears 5: Hivebusters yet? Let us know what you think of it in the comments below.