Gears of War on the Xbox 360 was more than just a game, it was a cornerstone that made the Xbox 360 a console worth owning as well as set the bar for cover-based shooting, elimination-style multiplayer, and one of the best co-op experiences to have. This can also be said about Gears of War: Ultimate Edition on Xbox One. The gritty and horror-themed game remains the same, as a ragtag group of soldiers (that end up friends) within Delta Squad are of a dwindling military doing whatever is necessary to wipe out a spreading invasion from the subterranean dwellers that have come to the surface known as the Locust, and save their planet of Sera. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition stumbles in a few places, but mostly is a smooth ride down memory lane.
For the uninitiated, the subterranean natives of the planet Sera have come to the surface to reclaim the planet for their own. What comes as a result of this is devastation, destruction, and despair. Ruins are all that remain of most of Sera’s cities. Marcus Fenix is released from prison when the military’s decreasing numbers require that he be pardoned for all his wrong-doings and be thrust back into action. The plan here is to unleash an underground bomb that will scour the planet’s caves and rid Sera of all who threaten it. Getting there, is the challenge.
This third-person cover-based shooter is the best in the business. While other games have done it prior, Gears of War perfected it. The hulking members of the COG, or Coalition of Ordered Governments slam waist-high barriers with such force that you think that they won’t withstand the punishment. They run low and fast to the ground, showing off their strength. Being able to take cover from fire allows you to replenish your health to get back in the fight. The members of Delta Squad also have machine-guns with chainsaws attached to them for superior melee gore whenever a Locust gets too close.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition takes me back to 2006 that most games that get a remaster never quite manage to do. It has been nine years since this game came out, and I still remember how to defeat the Berserker in that first encounter. While it wasn’t difficult due to the forehand knowledge, it was still really fun, even if maybe the tension wasn’t there. The story of Gears of War is decent, but the dialogue and delivery is slightly groan-inducing now years later, as each of the voice actors were just learning these characters and the characters themselves were about to go over some important arcs. Being named the “Ultimate Edition” isn’t far off when you realize that this Gears of War includes extra content that could only be found on the PC release of the game, adding five chapters that take the crew of Delta Squad to Timgad Station before reaching the Fenix Estate. It’s amazing to see this content restored and add meaningful length to the game as the fight with the Brumak is an exciting and tense battle that the rest of the game doesn’t capture, especially that final showdown with General RAAM.
Multiplayer is how you remember it, this is largely dependant on whether you are really good at the series, or just okay when playing the multiplayer. That’s either a good or a bad thing, respectively. The TAC-COM (Tactical Communications) that is used in the singleplayer is also present in multiplayer, allowing you to tag enemies and issue orders. This release has more maps than a single Gears of War has ever seen, with twenty maps to compete in, coming from DLC, the PC version, and a community-made map and mode. You can even work to unlock characters from Gears of War 3 for play in this game. In an interesting decision, one likely governed by the size of maps is that the campaign runs at 30fps, while the multiplayer runs at 60fps. I’m sure if it was possible, they both would run at 60fps, but is a shame it doesn’t. The new textures look great, and is likely better looking than you remember, but it is a game that looks like it is between generations rather than a full Xbox One title.
Playing the original Gears of War is one of my fondest memories on Xbox 360, as I completed the game three times (once on each difficulty) through local co-op. It’s something I won’t soon forget. With the ability of drop-in and drop-out co-op for the first time in the original game, has made it easy for friends or even strangers to join me. Each player can now set their individual difficulty (which didn’t come later into the series). There’s also a New Casual Difficulty if things get too hairy. It raises the question that if they are going to give us features from the later games, why not Horde Mode or all of the multiplayer maps from the series? It doesn’t bring this game down by not having it, but having it included would really accentuate it being the “Ultimate Edition”.
The AI often has issues that are easy to get past, but too noticeable not to mention: enemies stand still, and friendlies dance around awaiting to activate the next door, or even have difficulty navigating a simple hallway. It is things like this that I don’t quite remember my first time through. And it’s a shame these bugs are present.
The gameplay is absolutely raw and gruesome when chainsawing, using the gnasher shotgun to reduce an enemy to giblets, or using the sniper rifle to split open a locust’s head. Each enemy encounter is cap-ended by a “gong” sound effect to let you know it is time to move on. This trademark sound would go on to be used in other games, but not as well as seen and heard here. As you progress through the game, there are constantly new enemies introduced to keep things fresh and on your toes for how to handle them.
The course of the game follows a timeline, going from daylight into night (over the course of chapters and acts, not a dynamic lighting system). The variety of the levels bring rain into the mix, for a very horror-themed type of game. There’s even a driving sequence that falls in line with the horror and is a trade-off of keeping enemies off you while maintaining forward movement. Later, infected locust become lambent and must be picked off before they get too close and explode, likely killing you. The original Gears of War kept things dark and scary, and you never felt powerful despite your size and the array of weapons you had on you.
Editor’s Note: It is weird that as an Ultimate Edition, it is not a collection of the entire series, remastered for Xbox One. The Coalition has made this look and play how you remember. If you buy and play the game before December 31st, you will get to own the original Gears of War games on Xbox 360 through Backwards Compatibility. I find that to be a good trade-off, and having the original games will certainly show the improvements The Coalition has put into Gears of War: Ultimate Edition.
Playing Gears of War: Ultimate Edition reminds me how much this game inspired itself for sequels, as well as others in the genre, pushing it all forward. Saying that Gears of War has the weakest story in the series isn’t that big of an insult, as it features some great moments that I haven’t forgotten to this day. I can only hope the treatment for the first game can eventually happen for the remaining games in the series. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is still a great game that shows not only how far the series has come, but technology and the genre as well. This is a game well-worth owning on Xbox One.
An Xbox One code was provided by the Xbox for review purposes