An army of heavily armed soldiers are on the march in "Gears of War 2"

All ‘Gears of War’ Games Ranked Worst to Best

MUSCLES! GUNS! ALIENS! TESTOSTERONE! BROTHERHOOD! MY WIIIIIIIFE!!!!! The Gears of War series is stuff of legend, one of the best sci-fi franchises of all time. However, not all Gears games are created equal. Here they are, worst to best.

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7. Gears of War: Judgment

The cast of "Gears of War Judgement" hold guns on a battlefield

Damon and Baird had big boots to fill. Marcus and Dom-sized boots. While the two buddies are some of the best side characters in gaming history, the Gears series suffers when its two main stars are not in the spotlight. Set as a prequel to the original Gears of War, Gears of War: Judgment is by no means a bad game. After all, its heartpoundingly fun cover-based shooter mechanics had been heightened to chainsaw blade sharpness by previous games in the series. It’s just not quite as grand of a story, but how could it be? It’s more of an appetizer of a game, while the following are the main course.

6. Gears: Tactics

Three soldiers stand against a giant monster in "Gears of War: Tactics"

Turn-based tactical warfare? In a GEARS game? Oh my good developers! Surely this will be disaster! This game will fall flatter than a piece of paper on a hardwood floor! It simply won’t work! But… it DID! Gears: Tactics jumped the Brumak and made a turn-based strategy game that wasn’t just good… it was GREAT. It’s easily one of the best-looking turn-based strategy games in the market, I mean just LOOK at those cutscenes! And somehow the tactical combat feels right. You’re no longer a Gear in the thick of battle, but a commanding officer with a bird’s eye view of the war. It’s beautiful from both angles, metaphorically speaking.

5. Gears of War 4

Soldiers ready weapons in a firefight in "Gears of War 4"

Gears of War 4 had the difficult job of picking up where the almighty Gears trilogy left off. Judgment tried first, and Judgment failed to make as deep an impact. Gears of War 4 fared marginally better. It’s not a bad game, but like Judgment, it fails to capture the lightning in the bottle of the OGs. No one can quite replace the gravely voiced, could-bench-press-a-horse gravitas of Marcus Fenix, just as no alien foe (sorry, Swarm) could replicate the chthonic terror of the Locust. The good part? The cover-based shooting we all know and love didn’t change one bit. The cake still tastes the same, the icing just isn’t quite as good.

4. Gears of War

A group of soldiers walk towards the camera holding guns in "Gears of War"

Gears of War exploded onto the market, creating a fast-paced, gritty, and brutal military sci-fi world that not even the majesty of Halo could rival. It’s a game that plays like the best of action movies. It’s heart pounding. It’s vicious. It’s over the top. It’s FUN. How could you not fall in love with the two main characters? One seeking victory for its own sake, the other on a quest to find his wife. Dom and Marcus are one of the best duos in gaming, making for one of the best couch co-op multiplayer experiences of all time.

The icing on the glorious Gears 1 cake? The tone. While the other games in the franchise are gritty action-based shooters, the original Gears of War is arguably a horror game. The Locust hordes in this game were terrifying, eviscerating your comrades (and you if you screwed up) with their bizarre bioweapons and menagerie of insectoid horror monsters. Gears of War unfolded with all of the horror of War of The Worlds by H.G. Wells. It was horror like the original Alien, while the sequels were action-horror like Aliens 2.

3. Gears 5

The cast of "Gears of War 5" stand strong against a grey sky

After the defeat that the franchise suffered with Judgement and Gears of War 4, the team took a lesson out of the Locust playbook and retreated, regrouped, and came back stronger than before. Gears of War 5 is as close as the franchise has ever gotten to its former glory, and some would call the fifth installment a complete return to form. The tepid cast of Gears 4 gets much-needed character makeovers, turning them from cardboard action cutouts to living, breathing men and women. Marcus Fenix himself also makes a glorious return to the series, louder and more foul-mouthed than ever before. The tight 10-hour campaign hits like a fast-paced action movie, with strong story beats and some phenomenal firefights. Sure, the open-world elements falls a little flat, but hey, you can’t blame a franchise for trying new things! Without experimentation, there would be no Gears: Tactics. No Gears of War itself.

2. Gears of War 3

Soldiers stand over the corpses of fallen aliens in "Gears of War 3"

Ending a video game trilogy is a particularly perilous endeavor. Fail to stick the landing, and like Mass Effect you’ll have a galaxy-sized blemish on an otherwise flawless series. Succeed, and a franchise will ascend to the vaulted halls of God of War glory. Gears of War 3 fell somewhere in between. A stuck landing, if slightly wobbly.

Don’t get me wrong, Gears 3 is a BLAST. The action has never been better, the story more emotional, the stakes higher. After two beautiful games before it, Marcus and Dom felt to the player like two gym-bro uncles who, if not a little intense, were part of the family. And, spoiler alert, when Dom dies at the end of the game, we FELT that. Whose eyes can remain dry when contemplating his noble sacrifice? None among us. The flaw in the jewel? The distinct lack of closure. The game ends, but our heroes are still bereft in a world torn apart by war. I get that the studio was attempting to leave room for sequels, but without a neat bookend, Dom’s sacrifice almost—almost—feels like it was in vain.

1. Gears of War 2

An army of heavily armed soldiers are on the march in "Gears of War 2"

What is it about the second game in the series that always gets it right? Mass Effect 2. Uncharted 2. Dead Space 2. The second game in a trilogy always thrives. Perhaps it’s because it has all the solid groundwork of its predecessor to build on, but without any of the baggage that comes with having to present a satisfying ending. Gears of War 2 was every bit “bigger, better, more badass” as its famous tagline promised. The campaign? Don’t get me started. You got to ride a Brumak. You got to screw around in the belly of a GIANT WORM. And then just as you’re riding the dizzying high of an action movie roller coaster, the game decides to emotionally sucker punch you with the spoiler alert discovery of Dom’s alive but vegetative wife. It’s BRUTAL. It’s unforgettable. It’s the stuff of which greatness is made. It’s GEARS OF F*CKING WAR. RAHHHHHHHHH!!!!

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Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.