Blind / Low Vision Game Review – Gears 5

Gears 5 is the latest game in the famous Gears of War franchise. The Coalition created this cover shooter full of action. This is our review for gamers with low vision.
Game Accessibility Nexus

Introduction

Hello, my name is Victor and I am a gamer with degenerative myopia since I was born. To give some context I had to wear glasses when I was 2 years and as of today, I have lost more than 90% of my vision. I am not able to read any text for more than 10 years without using the windows magnifier at 700% to read in all games and more recently the narrator has become my favorite accessibility tool. This is my feedback onGears 5 from a low vision perspective.

If you are a low vision player and are unable to read in-game you probably have to activate the narrator option in the Xbox app. Doing this before opening the game for the first time makes everything much easier.

It is the second time this year in my life as a gamer I didn’t need to use my eyes to navigate through all menus in a game. With the narrator active, I simply had to listen to the options and set them as I need to.

Starting with the Game options I left pretty much all enabled. The only option that really helps me in some way is the Automatic Reload option because I can’t see how much ammo I have. The remaining options don’t help me because I don’t even notice their existence during the game.

Showing Game options with all options ON but only Automatic Reaload is useful.

In the video options, there are several options to talk about. We have Field of View slider. I always set it to lower values to make everything closer and bigger during the game.

Showing Field of View slider set to 72

I always try to set the graphics quality to get the best possible image quality, however there are some effects that undermine my experience such as Screen Space Reflections (Which leaves a mirrored effect where it often totally removes me the notion of space), Lens Flare (Which makes the lights too bright and blinds me), Motion Blur (It makes the world blurry when we move the camera) and Bloom (it makes the picture more blurry for me due to the increased bright).

Video options showing Bloom, Screen Space Reflections and Lens Flare set to off

In Audio options as is my habit I just turn down the volume of the music to better hear the rest of the game sounds. I also set Subtitles off for the obvious reason I can’t read them.

Showing Audio options with music lower than the rest of the game sounds

Finally regarding the options present in the game we have a section dedicated to Accessibility. There is Colorblind Mode and you can change it to Protanopia, Deuteranopia and Tritanopia. We have the option to enable/disable Campaign and PVE Camera Shake. Initially I left it enabled to understand the impact it would have on my experience but after the first time effect activated I quickly disabled them because I lost control and orientation.

We can also find again Subtitles option that I mentioned earlier as well as the Subtitles size. You can set the overall Font Size too between Small, Medium and Large.

We can change the Button Tap Challenges to Quick Taps or Press & Hold. I personally prefer to press once instead of quick taps during QTE’s.

Also in Accessibility, we have a Text-To-Speech option which lets you read the chat and Fabricator Ping, an audible beep indicating the Fabricator’s location in Horde mode that I will cover later in this review.

Accessibility options showing Campaign and PVE camera shake as well as fabricator ping, subtitles and Text-to-speech

Before starting the campaign you can choose to do the tutorial so I did it. The prompts are not narrated and as I can’t see them the tutorial has become a slow process. Actions such as covering, shooting, running were simple to perform for the first time because I’ve played the previous games but in Gears 5 they introduced skills and a robot that has its own actions. So I had to use Windows Magnifier to read them. Once completed it eventually helped.

When you press to start the campaign you have to choose the difficulty between easy, intermediate, experienced and insane and as usual I choose the intermediate difficulty.

Once in control of the character in the campaign for the first time I quickly noticed that it was easy to know which direction to go thanks to Tac-Com. Using this tool the image gets darker highlighting allies, items and interactions.

Showing TAC-COM highlighting the next direction to go and allies with a dark background

TAC-Com helps with everything in the game even during combat. There are times when there is fog or heavy smoke and it is impossible to see the targets but thanks to the target marker (Aim + Q) on the keyboard or (Aim + X) on the controller the target is marked red and using the TAC-Com it becomes quite visible.

Showing target maker in combination with TAC-Com making targes visible

There are certain areas that are too dark and this is noticeable already in the first chapter which makes the progression much slower making me walk against walls and objects. Even though when aiming with the gun the robot gives some light in that direction most often it isn’t enough to see the way.

Showing a dark place where is hard to see

Interactions on a computer or using a gun to cut rusty wires are cool. I can understand what the game wants me to do since the symbols are big and I can deduce which interaction I should perform. However, sometimes that is not the way to progress and using the robot to get into a fan, touching a button to move a platform, or clicking a button from a distance becomes very frustrating. When there is enough contrast to see those same interactions highlighted or shining even, it is relatively simple but when we are in a bright place seeing the highlights is no easy task. There were many times when I kept pressing the robot action (Aim + E or Aim + X) all over the area until it hit the object or area it has to go to. This makes me feel bad for not being able to perform a simple action. On the other hand, using the robot to fetch items, ammo, weapons and components is great because aiming at an item shows a symbol that I cannot see but I realize that there is a shape being shown along with the blinking of the item and it becomes easy and pleasant.

Showing an interaction that the robot should perform in a dark place
Showing an interaction symbol to cut a few wires

Initially we just have the Pulse ability that allows us to scan the area and highlight collectibles within a certain range. I personally spent all my components on this ability as it allows me to spot more items, ammo, weapons, components and adds a circle shape to them.

Showing circular shapes added to items and collectibles after upgrading the Scan ability

The skills menu is quite simple to navigate as it is fully narrated. You need to pick the skills to unlock them but don’t worry about missing them along the way because you can only proceed if you get them, and the game will warn you about it through dialogue from your teammates. If you want to get all abilities improvements you have to do the side missions.

The only way to read the skill’s name is by pressing the upgrade button (RMB or X) but it would be better if it was read by the narrator just by selecting it. In the upgrade menu, you can read the skill’s name in the first circle on the left and its improvements on in the following circles.

Skills menu showing available skills and a small visual preview
Skill upgrades menu where you can read skill names and improvements

The narrator works almost everywhere. It just doesn’t read collectibles and any prompts or objective text. Sometimes the narrator may be a little annoying especially if you pause the game during a cutscene or open a menu and when leaving there is some dialogue you may not be able to understand what they are saying. When performing any action read by the narrator it will always read the commands to the end. But if you need it, I’m sure that this will not be a problem for you.

The game introduces a semi-open world in chapters 2 and 3 where we drive a skiff. These two chapters become quite lengthy because it is very difficult to find the outposts.

After spending so much time wandering around completely lost I thought over and over that it would be so much easier if we could have a sound cue like Fabricator Ping telling us the next objective location. These two chapters would be even more accessible if the manual markers on the map made the same sound but in a different tone. There are side missions and I can’t do them because having multiple goals shown on the screen confuses me. When I move the camera I lose track of which one I was trying to reach and I will end up following both all the time and I don’t get anywhere. Also I think blind gamers would appreciate these sound cues very much.

If you have played the Gears series you will probably know that it has a simple combat system, after all it’s a cover and shoot game.

The contrast in Gears 5 is good. Sometimes it seems like you always have the right lighting in the right place to make the characters, objects and scenery visible. However in some situations, I’m not able to see the enemies, but holding my cover position I look for the muzzle flashes shooting at me which makes it possible to at least know where they are and then mark the targets to use the TAC-Com to actually see them.

I personally prefer to play mouse and keyboard as I can react and aim/shoot faster but the vibration of the controller is very useful. As usual, the controller vibrates when we are hit or when there are explosions near you. The controller also vibrates when we take cover but if you are too close to the cover spot it will not vibrate. It only vibrates if it is at least one or two meters away. I also noticed a vibration when shooting works with only a few weapons such as heavy weapons and at least two light weapons.

Showing a few enemies and character in cover

Overall the sound is excellent. Be it a blast, an earthquake or a building collapsing almost falling on you is great. I can tell when a new direction to go has been shown, such as knowing when all targets have been defeated through sound cues.

During combat enemies are constantly making noise making it easy to locate. It is also very easy to distinguish enemy types by each having their specific sound and it is very simple to know what kind of targets are coming and where they come from. Good news in Gears 5 was the addition of successful hit sound that I missed so much in the previous games in the series. This makes me very happy because if I just rely on my vision to shoot down targets it becomes very tiring and I am often missing without even realizing it. I can know even in chaotic situations if I am hitting or missing targets and I think this is very useful too.

Thanks to the sound cues you will also always know if you have killed a target either through dialog “One down” “Got one” “Got another one” or through sound cues like a distinctive sound effect indicating headshot or a target exploding. Marking targets (Aim+q or Aim+X) also has its own sound cue as well, and when the enemies throw a grenade you will hear three beeps giving time to avoid them.

Cooperative and multiplayer online modes

Gears 5 has several other game modes such as Versus where two teams compete against each other in order to win the match, Horde mode where you need to eliminate and complete a number of enemy waves and in Escape you need to reach an extraction point while you defeat enemies along the way.

Starting with Escape mode I just had bad experiences. I only managed to finish this mode once because my team was not in a hurry. Unfortunately, Escape is part of some Tour objectives so I completely gave up trying to complete them. Teammates are always rushing to move forward very fast and I always get left behind.

Horde mode is cool. We have to eliminate waves of enemies in an area and protect a machine called Fabricator. As I mentioned earlier in this mode there is a sound cue called Fabricator Ping. Using TAC-Com makes a beep that tells us the Fabricator’s direction. This helps a lot as I lose the Fabricator’s location many times. There is not much more to say about this because nothing is too complicated. All you have to do have to eliminate targets, earn points, buy more fortifications and keep going.

Versus is where I spent about 80% of my time on Gears 5. I haven’t been able to play competitive modes online for many years because I just didn’t have a chance. But what’s so special about Gears 5 that allows me to play and compete? So during the match I’m always using TAC-Com to know where my teammates are. Knowing their location I simply need to focus my hearing on the steps. Because the game has a very heavy sound of footsteps it is very easy to hear where it comes from and if I see the outlines of my allies so whenever I hear footsteps from another direction I am ready to attack and I can surprise my opponent. In fact, I can even warn my teammates that someone is flanking, and helping them feels amazing to me. Something impossible has become an advantage for us. I am also always aiming and pressing Q to mark opponents if they appear within the range of my crosshair making sound and making them visible for a while with TAC-Com.

I never had any difficulty reading or listening to any teammate. Voice chat has always worked perfectly just as text chat has always been read to me by the narrator. I could always understand everything that was said or written so in that sense I have no complaints.

Final thoughts

As a low vision gamer I think Gears 5 will give you a solid experience and won’t let you down. The most negative points I felt were during the campaign like when I had to travel with the skiff. If you are only interested in completing the main missions and don’t care much about the overall completion of the game I think it will be easier. But having multiple goals set on the screen is very confusing to me. That could be solved with sound cues. Also, the lack of sound cues as to where to go next or what to interact with, especially when you need to use the robot to progress, can be a serious issue. This is the reason why I always jump directly into the Versus mode unless I’m playing cooperatively.

Overall everything works very well. I always felt immersed in the game. The audio is amazing, the combat sound cues like grenades coming up, hit / miss targets made me very happy because they remove barriers for me. TAC-Com is a lifesaver. Having the narrator present from the moment I first opened the game was a huge relief, and I didn’t miss having to read!

Finally, I returned to multiplayer mode! I get emotional when I write this. If someone told me that I would be playing online against other players and that I would be able to compete I probably would have laughed a lot, but it’s true.

Blind / Low Vision Game Review – Gears 5

OVERALL SCORE - 7.4

7.4