When you attach the Gears of War name to a video game you can instantly expect a boost in popularity. With that boost, though, comes higher expectations. After all, there's never really been a bad game in the Gears of War franchise, so even a free-to-play mobile game should come with a certain level of polish.
Gears POP! takes two things many people know and love—Gears of War and those collectible POP! figures you see all over the place—and blends them into a mobile game that's not unlike the wildly-popular Clash Royale.
Does mixing Gears characters, the POP! look and feel, and a tweaked version of the Clash Royale gameplay equate to something that's worth investing your time?
Visually, Gears POP! is extremely attractive. The gritty look of the Gears of War aesthetic mixed with the big heads and cuteness of POP! actually go together better than you'd think.
There's plenty of variety between the different characters, including some of the beloved characters like Marcus Fenix, Cole Train, and the rest of the crew.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, Gears POP! is enjoyable enough, especially if you're into the competitive tower defense mechanics popularized in Clash Royale. What makes it stand out is the cover mechanic, which is something for which Gears is known.
Certain character types stop as they move forward at cover points, and if they sit there long enough, you gain control of the cover. Control both points in a row, and you can start spawning your attackers further forward.
This adds another layer of strategy to the game that isn't present in other games of the type. You need to balance your direct attackers with your cover-taking characters, which isn't something you'll get from other games in the same genre.
The Horde mode is definitely my favorite way to play the game, as the cooperative nature means you won't have to worry about getting killed by someone who spent a bunch of money on the game. Instead, their investment will actually help you succeed, which will push you towards unlocking more stuff that you can take into the other modes.
Unfortunately, in order to play Horde mode, you'll need to reach level 2 and join a crew, which doesn't sound so bad, but you'll actually have to play quite a few matches to get there. And once you do, you'll need people from your Crew to actually play with you, which can be a pain. It would be much more enjoyable if you could just match up and play with random people, rather than hoping someone from your crew is actually online and ready to play.
Even then, you'll need Thumpers to play Horde, and those are earned through competitive games. Essentially, everything is pushing you towards the competitive mode whether you like it or not.
While I really enjoy the mode, there are just too many hoops to jump through.
The Gears of War part of the game feels more like a tacked-on selling point than anything relevant to the long-term Gears of War formula. There's almost no story in the game, so even though you get to see goofy big-head version of both good and bad guys from the Gears universe, you shouldn't expect much else that'll scratch your GoW itch.
Unfortunately, Gears POP! is a free-to-play game, and it comes with all the timers and other trappings we expect from games of this sort. Thankfully, there aren't timers that restrict you from actually getting in and having a battle, but there are plenty in place for opening loot boxes that contain the characters you'll need to be competitive.
As is the case with a lot of these games, you can most definitely spend an absurd amount of money collecting all of the pins (that's what the game calls the characters you'll use to battle). If you get matched up against someone who spent a ton of money, they're going to crush you and there's no amount of strategy or skill that'll carry you through.
The prices for upgrading units seems a bit high for Epic units, which feels a bit like the game pushing you to spend more money on in-game currency. I won a few matches, which earned me four chests. Each of those contained plenty of pins I could use to upgrade my characters, but I found that I didn't have close to enough money to actually perform said upgrades.
At the end of the day, this is a free-to-play through and through, and it comes with all the problems you'd expect from them. Personally, I'm just not into the constant nickel and diming, and I can't see myself sticking with Gears POP! for any length of time.
If you've found that games like Crash Royale are enjoyable for you, but you want something a little different, Gears POP! is worth downloading, especially if you're into the more cooperative Horde mode. If you're only in it for the competitive gameplay, expect to feel tempted to spend money when you get destroyed by players who've obviously invested more than you.