Review by Nathan Miller with Xbox One Digital Copy
Available now on Xbox One. Coming Soon to PC.
A Chainsaw on an assault rifle, curb stomping downed enemies, and epic shotgun battles that are uncomparable to any other game. Gears of War may have borrowed a few ideas to get the ball rolling, but it has innovated and set the standard for all third-person shooters since its release. The grittiness and darkness has been remastered for a new generation of gamers which at this point seems like a trend that has no indication of stopping. The new studio behind the Gears of War series, The Coalition, is made up of veteran developers of the series, and this remaster was not a simple touch up but rather a rebuilt experience from the ground up. They did not slather a new coating of paint like other developers and call it a day. There is a labor of love here that was necessary to modernize this classic game: Full 1080p, 60 frames per second multiplayer, dedicated servers, inclusion of previously pc-exclusive content, and more. All of those upgrades are just the tip of the iceberg, but this is not all about those implementations. Is this worth purchasing? Is there enough here for newcomers and veterans of the series alike? Let's find out.
Gears of War is the story of humanity on the brink of extinction. After battling against one another throughout history, humans were confronted by a threat much greater than themselves. A race of heavily equipped monsters called the locust burrowed out from beneath humanity amidst their war with one another. As the locust started to conquer and take control of the world, humanity used their weapons of mass destruction on their own cities as an attempt to rid of the locust once and for all. The result was catastrophic for human civilization with little effect on the locust hordes. Players play as Marcus Fenix, a disgraced former war hero, pardoned and returned to active duty as humanity tries one last plan of attack against these vile creatures. Marcus leads his fire team through a dystopian world as he seeks personal redemption in a flurry of never ending battles.
Gears of War is a third-person cover based shooter. Players must utilize walls, pillars, sandbags, and etc as cover against enemy forces. When behind cover, players can blind fire or move between cover in order to gain a tactical advantage. It is important to coordinate with team members as flanking or drawing out opposing fighters is the best line of attack. A slew original gun ideas that vary from chainsaw equipped gun to a high powered explosive crossbow keep the fire fight interesting. The campaign mode allows for two player co-op and has different routes for players to choose sprinkled throughout the story. Cog tags are scattered in various parts of the game which will unlock digital comics and concept art if picked up (these rewards were added for ultimate edition). Multiplayer pits two teams of four against one another with classic game types (Warzone, Annex, Assassination) and newly add game types (Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, 2v2 Gnasher Execution). There are 19 total multiplayer maps thanks to the inclusion of the 360 zgame's original DLC and previously PC-exclusive maps. The Coalition listened to the community and added features from newer Gears of War entries that were not in the original game: enemy spotting, multiplayer tac-com, improved sensitivity customization. The gameplay was modernized to be smoother as everything is much more fluid.
When a remastered title is pushed out on Xbox One or other consoles, there are always notable glitches and graphical issues that are often carried over from the porting of said title. The Coalition building this edition of Gears of War from the ground up completely wiped those porting issues. There is no crab walking, kung-fu flipping, or other famed glitches that plagued online multiplayer from the 360 version in this title (Not to say there are no issues). Not to mention, the game moves much faster and looks much better because it was not ported like other remastered titles. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition can stand its own against many new releases in terms of graphical prowess and gameplay. Everything is highly detailed and crafted with the players in mind. I have been actively paying attention to the forums and community of this game, and The Coalition is listening to their fans by working with them to continually update and balance the game. They want feedback, and they want this game to really be the ultimate edition. If you have never played Gears of War, this title for the campaign alone is the best starting point and representation of the game. There were many details that were overlooked in the original release because of the poor lighting, but this remaster is much brighter and vibrant than its predecessor. The cinematics were redone with new motion capture technology, so these story-telling scenes seem natural and more realistic now. Also, the characters are funny and notable as always. The grittiness and darkness still does not take away from the jokes and amusing bickering these characters have with one another.
As for long-term value, the multiplayer in Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is addicting. The Coalition can make changes to map rotations, game types, and swap weapons at any given time, so there is an opportunity to maintain some relevancy past the initial launch. There is no greater feeling of annihilating an opposing team with a slew of gnasher shells or chainsaw revs. There is a tactical approach to each map and game type that calls for actual teamwork. That is not to say a single person cannot wipe out an entire team lone wolf status, but it is much easier and attainable to do it as a team. I have felt the heat from not being able to talk to my teammates, and it is true to the squad mentality pushed throughout the game. "There is no I in team" is constantly on display as one person snipes an opponent while a teammate follows up the shot with lancer or pistol fire to down the target. More often than not, these matches or not about how many kills you get but that you win in the end. I have been trashed talked and raped (while downed they go behind and thrust their character towards your butt) by the worst player of many teams, and I am always baffled by this but inadvertently it fuels my drive to win. I tend to get pay back a smoke frag a down player, but I only do that when it is a guaranteed win and if they initialized to unsporting conduct. It is a weird sensation, but it is an exciting and fun prospect especially when you are playing with friends. Seriously, the best times I have had in any multiplayer game is trash talking and whooping ass in Gears of War with friends. This Ultimate Edition has that, and it continues to excite me each and everytime I play.
As of now, the balancing of weapons online can be a bit annoying. A regular pistol can beat out an assault rifle in a firefight in certain cases, and I have encountered many who rely on their tiny pistol over the gun on their back. The explosives can vary from working flawlessly to firing giant blanks, and the gnasher (shotgun) hit radius is wonky and must be hip fired over aiming down the sights as of now. Certain maps on Team Deathmatch just do not work. You can be spawn trapped because these maps were made with a different style mode in mind because originally respawning was not in many game modes. Speaking of respawns, these can often screw you more than help you on certain maps as well. In the case of having no respawns left against a team with a few respawns left, the spawns can change creating a tactical advantage as they can sandwich you from in front and back of you. All these issues can be updated and changed through updates, but it can be frustrating to deal with at times. Stiffness in character models like the Kantus occurs aesthetically with his cape (which often clips through walls), but this is an eyesore more than an actual issue. Lastly, the infamous vehicular moment of the campaign can create fury in the hearts of all who play it still. The hardest difficulty of the game can be too much for certain players as it is unfair in terms of damage done versus dealt. It is something to keep in mind for new players.
In my opinion, The Coalition has proved to me that the Gears of War franchise is in good hands. This is the best version of a classic groundbreaking game, and it leaves curious to see what they can do with the series moving past the original trilogy. If you want to experience Gears of War for the first time or remember why you enjoyed the game to begin with, this is the perfect title to pick up. After I played Ultimate Edition, I tried to play what people consider the best entry of the series "Gears of War 3" and felt it was sluggish and laggy in comparison to this game. It is the fastest, smoothes, and prettiest Gears of War game ever released, and this series is known for being graphically outstanding. I cannot stop playing this game even with the slew of new releases piling up on my entertainment stand. If you get a team going and really give this game a chance, you will fall in love with it the way I have and my friends have ever since we started playing the series nearly ten years ago.