Gears of War: Ultimate Edition for Xbox One Review

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I have some history with the Gears of War series. Several friends of mine were big into the first game and they’re constant praise is kind of what pushed me to check it out way back when. I’ve beaten it at least two times and it never really did anything for me and every time I tried getting into the multiplayer, I remember getting kicked out of a lot of matches. As of this review, I’ve only played and beaten the first three games. I thought the first was alright, I loved 2, and I barely remember anything about 3. When I heard the first game was being remastered, I figured it would be a good excuse to jump back into the series.

Developed by Epic Games and published by Microsoft Game Studios, Gears of War was released for Xbox 360 in November, 2006 and PC in November, 2007. It was remastered as Gears of War: Ultimate Edition by The Coalition and released for Xbox One in August, 2015 and PC in March, 2016. The Ultimate Edition not only features an improved visual presentation but also some mechanics from the sequels, chapters from the original PC version, and new multiplayer game types among some other things. For this review, I played the Xbox One version of the Ultimate Edition on a Series X. I was initially going to play the PC version but after reading about many issues that have possibly still not been resolved, I decided against it.

Years ago on the planet Sera, a race of subterranean creatures called the Locust launch an attack on the humans, known as “Emergence Day”, and the soldiers, known as Gears, of The Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) ensure the survival of humanity. Fourteen years later, Marcus Fenix, a former Gear, is reinstated and extracted from prison by his friend and fellow Gear Dominic Santiago and joins up with Delta Squad. The story follows the squad and their efforts to obtain a resonator that will map out the underground Locust tunnels and deploy a Lightmass Bomb to eradicate their tunnel network.

Gears of War conveys a grim and brutal atmosphere and I like the premise and world building. The voice performances are good with John DiMaggio as Marcus Fenix stealing the show thanks to his low gruff and raspy voice work which is a perfect fit for the character’s gruff exterior and personality. There’s very little in the way of character development but each member of the squad has their own personality which makes them unique and I did often enjoy the banter exchanged between the members of Delta Squad.

Gears of War is a third-person shooter and what really made it stand out for its time is the cover system. Other than that, nothing about gameplay is revolutionary but the mechanics work well. If memory serves, before Gears, snapping to cover wasn’t a common mechanic like it is today in so many games. Gears of War is not the first game to feature a cover system but I do believe it’s one of the games to popularize it. The game does a good job at giving the characters a sense of weight. They don’t move fast and surviving firefights often means staying in cover. You can run, roll, mantle over obstacles and move from cover to cover. Standing out in the open is never a good idea. Cover is crucial, especially on higher difficulties where enemies are spongier and inflict more damage.

The story mode can be played solo or cooperatively and supports both split-screen and online play. The game also comes with a multiplayer mode that was pretty big back in the day but I was unable to find any matches. However, I was able to join a couple of co-op games. Even though progressing through the story solo can be a lot of fun, playing with a friend is the ideal way to go. Working together and planning out attacks with someone or even just playing with someone without communicating is far superior to relying on the shitty AI.

At a certain point in the campaign, you’ll be able to issue basic commands to your squad like regroup, attack, and cease fire and, unfortunately, the AI doesn’t always do what they’re told. Plus, the squad splits up often making the command system seem unnecessary. But whether everyone is together or it’s just Marcus and his friend Dom, the AI would frequently get in my way, sometimes refuse to attack enemies in plain sight, and on more than one occasion they would stop following me for some reason. They also have a tendency to get stuck in the environments and unnecessarily run towards danger, often resulting in them needing to be revived.

The enemies aren’t very bright, either. The Locust will often stand out in the open and sometimes run right past you and they, too, have a tendency to get stuck in the environments. The only good thing I can say about the AI is that your squad members will shoot at enemies and sometimes kill enemies. But most of the time, I felt like I was doing all the work.

There’s two things I’ve really come to appreciate about Gears of War. The atmosphere and gunplay. The game puts you in the middle of a war with the a subterranean species known as the Locust and they sound as mean as they look. They growl, they snarl, and they’re out for blood. They’re basically underground monsters. You run around what kind of resembles a post-apocalyptic world complete with dead bodies scattered about, dirt, grime, rubble, and partially destroyed buildings. The atmosphere is often dark and creepy bordering on scary without actually crossing that line making for a grim experience. Gears of War has its own gritty style which I think is complimented by its violence.

Other than certain weapons sounding a bit weak when fired in my opinion, the gunplay is satisfying and has a cool chunkiness to it. There’s a good variety of weapons and I would say every weapon feels useful. One of the most iconic is the Lancer, an assault rifle with a chainsaw bayonet that can slice through any foes that get too close. Some of the more unique weapons include the Hammer of Dawn and Torque Bow. The Hammer of Dawn is only available at certain points in the campaign and requires an open sky so that whatever you’re targeting can be hit with a powerful satellite-based laser. The Torque Bow fires explosive projectiles which are capable of dropping tougher enemy types very quickly, making it quite useful.

Gears of War features a system called Active Reloading. Once a reload is initiated, you have the option to press a button at a certain point to reload the weapon faster and gain a damage bonus. But you need to time it right otherwise your weapon jams. Weapons do exhibit good visual feedback, enemies bleed when shot, you’ll see enemy armor break off, and explosions and close range shots from a shotgun can turn foes to gibs. Explosions will result in blood flying through the air and you can rip the Locust to shreds with mounted guns which is always satisfying as is landing headshots which typically produce a nice satisfying squishy sound.

There is a decent variety of enemy types and you’ll encounter most of them by the time you reach the halfway point. You’ll engage a lot of Drones and their elite variant, Theron Guards, which appear more often later in the campaign. They run around, take cover, rush you, shoot at you, and throw grenades. You will come up against snipers from time to time and once Wretches are introduced, they begin to appear frequently. They’re quick-moving small types that appear in numbers and swarm the squad, and their Lambent variant will explode when killed. Boomers are big fuckers that bellow out a “boom” when they fire shots from their grenade launchers known as Boomshots. They can prove to be extremely dangerous but they also move slow and are easy but spongey targets. There are some other enemy types that appear, most of which I would consider boss-types or types that appear as an obvious excuse to use a specific weapon like the Hammer of Dawn.

Playing the game nowadays, there’s not much about the encounters that we haven’t seen before but the satisfying gunplay and the grim wartime atmosphere help to make the experience engaging. The campaign primarily has you going from one firefight to another and every now and then you’ll have to defend an area or protect something. There are some set pieces here and there to break up the typical third-person shooter action like when you have to navigate around dark environments, staying in the light to avoid getting swarmed and killed by creatures known as the Kryll or the segment where you get to ride in a mine cart as you blow away enemies. The environments are mostly linear but many encounters are set in open-ended areas allowing for different approaches and flanking opportunities. But any kind of planned attacks and/or flanking work better when playing in co-op because you can’t always rely on the AI to be around let alone suppress or distract foes.

The campaign does take you through several urban areas and locations like mines, a theater, estate, courtyard, power plant, and a moving train. As you walk, run, and roll around the environments, Emergence Holes will appear at certain spots in the ground and this is where the Locust emerge from and they will keep spawning until the holes are closed which can easily be done by lobbing grenades into them. It’s wise to find these as soon as they emerge otherwise you risk draining through a lot of ammo. The environments are filled with plenty of objects, walls, and structures to use as cover and getting lost should never be a problem. But there are often rooms and areas off to the sides that are worth exploring, if not for ammo and weapons then for COG Tags which act as a form of collectible and finding and collecting them unlocks comic pages.

Veterans of the original game should immediately notice the improved textures and models in the Ultimate Edition. In the past, I disliked the game’s lack of color which is carried over to the Ultimate Edition. However, this was common for the seventh generation era. A lot of gray and brown and desaturated tones. Regardless, I don’t think any part of the facelift comprises the game’s original style. Everything just looks better. The world is detailed, it looks war torn, and I think the desaturated look compliments the apocalyptic style making for a very atmospheric experience. Much of the audio is also enhanced in the Ultimate Edition and I do really like the soundtrack. It contains a lot of orchestral tunes that ramp up during encounters. The music ranges from moody to adventurous and dramatic and it meshes really well with the action, helping add tension to many situations. On the technical side, I did encounter some bugs. During the sequence where you drive the Junker, part of it got stuck in the environment and at one point a Brumak was refusing to move forward so I could trigger the next objective, forcing me to load the last checkpoint. Other than that, everything was fine. I did play this on a Series X and the campaign seemed to run at a stable thirty frames.

I had a great time with the Ultimate Edition. Honestly, I was never that big into the original game. I just didn’t get it. I thought the gameplay was solid but the dark tone and grim atmosphere wasn’t for me, I guess. But I enjoyed it enough to be interested in getting 2 and that’s the one I fell in love with. From what I understand, the multiplayer is what captivated many players and even though I enjoyed the several matches I did play way back when, I didn’t play enough to really understand. Now that I’ve played through the Ultimate Edition, I think I’ve come to appreciate the game more. From the gameplay to the premise to the art style. Some aspects feel dated but it remains a fun and well made third-person shooter. I think the plot gets more interesting in 2 but I do like the enemies, worldbuilding, and action. I love the violence, gore, and blowing the Locust to bits. Unfortunately, if playing solo, the AI is terrible and that’s my only major complaint with the campaign. It’s still a fun time and I think playing with a buddy makes for an even better time.

I would absolutely recommend Gears of War: Ultimate Edition to fans of the series and original game. As it relates to the campaign, I think this is the definitive way to experience it. I can’t speak for the multiplayer since I didn’t get into any matches but the campaign does make for a fun action-packed experience that still proves to be enjoyable and the enjoyment can even be shared with a friend. Definitely check it out.

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