Gears 5 Review: UE4 Performance, Guts And Glory Explored

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Gears 5: Performance at 2160p, Conclusions

We don't expect that 4K performance would be completely playable for our cards at our chosen settings, but we're going to test them anyway. Along with that, we'll also look at performance with the Medium preset. The GeForce RTX 2080 Super is here, too, so we can get an idea of whether an extra $300 of graphics card buys us maxed-out graphics and high frame rates at 2160p. 

Gears 5 - Performance at 2160p
Built-in Benchmark with Medium, High, and Ultra Presets

2160p summary

Well, we were wrong on a couple of counts. First, the Radeon RX 5700XT is definitely still playable on Ultra. Since the 99th percentile frame rate stays above 30 frames per second, we think it should still be an enjoyable experience. To test that out that hypothesis, we played through the campaign for around a half hour. Subjectively, it wasn't glassy-smooth since it was never pushing 60 frames per second, but we still had fun with Gears 5 in 4K. Less enjoyable was the RTX 2060 on Ultra, which just can't cut it. You'll see why when we get to the frame times below. 

Secondly, the GeForce RTX 2080 Super is not enough to max the game out at 4K and still get 60 frames per second. However, we're hard-pressed to tell apart High and Ultra settings, so we think you'll still enjoy the game with a lot of eye candy on High. Still, we'd hoped that a 75% higher price would deliver more than a 25% frame rate increase at the highest resolution and settings in Gears 5. Let's look at the data to see what happened. 

2160p rtx 2080 super frame times

The GeForce RTX 2080 Super basically stuck at 40 to 50 frames per second all the way through the demo. You can see a couple of minor hitches, but they're infrequent enough and short enough they shouldn't detract from the fun. 

2160p rx 5700xt frame times b

While the overall frame times are higher for the Radeon RX 5700XT, the shape of the graph is basically the same as the faster GeForce. Let's have realistic expectations from our $400 graphics card, though. This is pretty darn good. 


2160p rtx 2060 frame times

The GeForce RTX 2060 doesn't seem too bad as long as you don't look at the frame time axis labels. Two separate spikes sent the game into a stall for nearly a quarter of a second. The reason is the amount of available VRAM. At 2160p and Ultra settings, our 8 GB cards showed that around 6 to 6.25 GB of video memory was constantly in use. Because Windows 10 still needs some VRAM to itself, the GeForce RTX 2060 can only make around five of its six gigabytes available to the game. The GeForce is waiting for data to come back from main memory semi-frequently at this resolution with these settings.

The problem with built-in benchmarks in this case is that this test covers up some of those VRAM problems. When playing through the campaign, we saw stall after stall walking into or out of a building, and sometimes when opening a door to move from room to room. Turning the textures down to High and leaving everything else on Ultra did make the stuttering disappear, but the overall framerate is still pretty sluggish, dipping into the 20s more frequently than we'd like. Turning the game to the High preset does resolve that, though. We think that a GeForce RTX 2060 Super would avoid these more major (and, without data, subjective) stuttering problems, too. 

Let's see how the data stacks up when we group frame times together. 

2160p Performance Summary GeForce RTX 2060 2160p Radeon RX 5700XT 2160p GeForce RTX 2080 Super 2160p
% below 10 (above 100 fps) 0.21 0.00 0.07
% between 10 and 16.7 ms (100 and 60 fps) 0.11 0.09 1.26
% between 16.7 and 25 (60 and 40 fps) 0.79 53.46 96.29
% between 25 and 33.3 (40 and 30 fps) 77.33 46.02 2.24
% above 33.3 (below 30 fps) 21.56 0.43 0.14

Overall, the Radeon RX 5700XT does a pretty good job at 4K, all things considered. It's running at 30 or more frames per second 99% of the time, though it never really surpasses 60 in our test. Unfortunately for the GeForce RTX 2080 Super, that exact statement applies here, too, but that graphics card costs you $300 more than the Radeon. The GeForce RTX 2060 begged for mercy, dipping below 30 frames per second more than 20% of the time. We expect that the slightly more expensive RTX 2060 Super would close the gap thanks to its additional resources and, more importantly, the additional video RAM

downhill jam
No, this isn't Shaun White's Pro Snowboarder on the PlayStation 2.

Performance Summary and Value

Just like every entry in the franchise before it, Gears 5 is a beautiful game. The environments are stunningly detailed, the characters are realistic enough, but also quite stylized, textures are sharp and varied, and animations are very fluid. While it's easy to wonder what The Coalition's latest title would look like with all the ray tracing eye candy of another recent release—Remedy and 505 Games' Control—it's hard not to get caught up in the scenery. The best news is that great performance at moderately high resolutions won't break the bank, either. 

outsider settlement
Get ready to revisit some familiar places

We've hinted at it earlier, but the custom-cooled MSI GeForce RTX 2060 we tested with is priced awfully closely to a Radeon RX 5700XT with the stock blower cooler. In fact, the best price right now for this exact card and its maximum 1830 MHz boost clock is $379.99 on Amazon, whereas a stock-cooled Radeon RX 5700XT is just $20 more from the e-tailer. There are plenty of benefits to buying a card with higher than usual clocks and a nice cooler with larger, quieter fans, but that's outside of the scope of this review. Instead, we're going to look at value strictly from a price / performance standpoint for both average frames per second and the 99th percentile number. 

value average fps

To read the scatter plots, the closer a point is to the upper-left, the better value it represents. Since we've got three resolutions represented in our graph, it's important to keep in mind which points are related. For example, the Radeon RX 5700XT at 1080p is a significantly better value than the MSI GeForce RTX 2060 at the same resolution. In that case, 20 additional dollars spent nets a greater than 20% performance uplift. In fact, across the board for average frame rates, the Radeon represents a better buy for Gears 5. If this title is important to your upgrade decisions, and if you're looking to spend around $400, you can't do better than a Radeon RX 5700XT. The differences here are significant enough that saving around 12% to get slightly-slower $350 RTX 2060 still isn't all that appealing for Gears fans. 

Making these comparisons didn't make a whole lot of difference with a title like Control, since AMD's cards aren't capable of all the additional ray-tracing eye candy. On the other hand, a pure rasterized-rendering title like Gears 5 means we can compare identical image quality settings and make a judgement. Let's see how the 99th percentile graph looks.

value 99thpercentile fps

The numbers are different, but the trend continues much the same. Especially at the more mainstream resolutions of 1080p and 1440p, the Radeon RX 5700XT far outperforms its price gap over the GeForce RTX 2060. With all the variables at play—including the fact that our text RTX 2060 has a higher clock speed than stock—we just don't see how an RTX 2060 Super could catch the Radeon in Gears 5. Again, this is a very focused test—a single game with just a couple of graphics cards—but for fans of the game, the relative performance and value are worth remembering. Don't forget that buying a shiny new Radeon graphics card (or Ryzen 5 or 7 series CPU) will get you three months of Xbox Game Pass for PC for three months, which includes the last two Gears titles. 

silo infested
I don't envy the guy who has to clean up this mess.

Regardless of which card you choose, you're in for great performance in mainstream resolutions, and turning the details down a bit at 4K even made that resolution playable, as would using a dynamic resolution frame rate target. Cheaper cards like the RX 500 series or the Pascal-based GTX 1060 and 1660 Ti would likely be restricted to 1080p without turning down the details, but the game still looks fantastic at the lower resolution. 

Conclusions

The Gears 5 main campaign's plot had us hooked from the beginning, and the voice acting is engaging, so it's easy to get sucked into the world of Sera once again. From the moment we airdropped into the first scene, we just had to know what would happen next. The fact that it's a beauty that runs well on mid-range hardware makes the PC version of Gears 5 the best version to get. You can gain access to it for free if you're already planning on a system upgrade with AMD hardware thanks to the bundled Game Pass for PC. The biggest downer is that the game seems to be always online, and when the servers went down as they did over the weekend, we couldn't get to the mode selection screen to continue our campaign or even run a benchmark. 

title 2
Gears 5's title screen changes each time you log in, and they all feature some neat architecture.

Gears 5 features some solid enhancements to the series keystone "take cover and shoot" gameplay, too. Jack's upgrades never feel overly complex or gimmicky, and several of them are genuinely helpful. Letting another human play as Jack in a support role is a nifty feature, too. If you prefer multiplayer combat—either cooperative or competitive—to solo action, you're sure to find plenty to do. The Horde cooperative mode is engaging as it was in Gears 4, and Escape is an interesting twist with a satisfying conclusion, if you can get out in time. It all boils down to whether you like Gears' tried and true cover-based shooting action or you don't, and if you do, Gears 5 is quite possibly the best entry in the series to date.

Gears 5

 
  • The original cover shooter returns
  • Jack's new abilities are sweet
  • Stunning visuals
  • Great performance on mainstream hardware
  • Excellent voice cast and performance
  • Engaging plot with co-op play
  • Innovative multi-player modes
  • Always online
  • Plot assumes you've played the whole series
  • Shotguns still reign supreme in Versus

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