When Gears of War first released back in 2006, it showcased what the Xbox 360 had to offer. Epic’s Unreal Engine was coming to form and it allowed Gears of War to become one of the staple franchises for Microsoft. Nearly a decade later and the same veracity and intrigue still shows, as Gears of War has never looked better and the gameplay is still as exciting and enjoyable as it was years ago. While a few design choices don’t hold up well, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition still remains one of the highlights of the Xbox catalogue and a must-own for all Xbox One owners.
What Is It?
Gears of War begins nearly 14 years after E-Day (Emergence Day), the time when an underground race of sentient beings, known as Locusts, arrive above ground to wage war on the humans for ravaging their land while digging for Imulsion, a source of unlimited energy. Marcus Fenix, former COG soldier, is being imprisoned for leaving his post in a previous battle and only after his friend Dom frees him does Gears of War begin. Since COG fighters have been severely decimated by the ongoing war, Fenix soon enlists and begins fighting back against the endless Locust army.
While Gears of War focuses solely on the aftermath of war, the interaction between the characters in your squad is what makes it stand out against other various shooters. Fenix and his three squad mates, Dom, Baird and Cole, all have their own unique personalities and dialogue about the war and the current situations they are in. While Dom generally sticks by Fenix’s side, Baird tends to feel anger towards letting Fenix rejoin the team, and Cole just seems to have fun with a gun in his hand. Since the game forces you to separate every now and again, you will get to know your squad mates on a very personal level and ultimately enjoy being around them for the entire haul.
Why Should I Care?
Gears of War perfected the mechanics of cover fire and it still works well today. By simply pressing the A button, Fenix can hide behind any solid object, whether it be a wall or a concrete partition. Players can then use cover to their advantage as they pick off enemies, or even blind fire around obstacles, to stay hidden while fighting. What makes this system so remarkable to use is how the Locust will adapt to your situation and flank you or lob grenades to get you out of cover. Even with their massive armor and gigantic moon shoes, Fenix and his COG soldiers are still very agile, being able to roll out of the way of enemy fire and run at full sprint for a limited time. While all of these mechanics work well during the fire fights, the need to map all of the commands to the A button gets quite troublesome during some intense moments. Multiple times, when I found myself being rushed by enemies, I accidentally clung to a surface like I was in cover or I accidentally rolled into fire when I was trying to run away.
There is also some minor annoyance whenever Fenix gets information from HQ, as he puts his hand up to his ear to communicate. But doing so forces you to wait out the talk as Fenix is incapable of even walking at a normal pace. This can be a nuisance at moments when you have to restart a checkpoint and are being shot out but can not do anything but sit there and take it. It is probably one of the biggest problems with the campaign that should have been addressed.
But besides those instances of forced standstills, the combat is thrilling and gory. The weapons you use range from shotguns to bows with exploding arrows, all of which have deliciously brutal names, such as the Gnasher and Torque Bow. Enemies who get too close to your shotgun will be blasted apart into pieces, Locust who are hit with the Torque Bow will blow up and probably the most gruesome death of all, the Lancer Assault Rifle, has a built in chainsaw on the bottom to slice enemies in half if they get too close. Its a fun way to counter enemies who rush you and also an exciting way to take down enemies by yourself.
Gears of War also created a clever way of reloading called active reloading, which allows you to line up a bar that paces back and forth on the screen. If you are successful, you gain an attack boost and an instant reload, but if you fail it draws out the reload process leaving you vulnerable. Its a neat way to give players an advantage over one of the most monotonous aspects of a shooter game.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Gears of War still looks and plays as well as it did nine years ago and holds up remarkably well. The visuals are more stunning than ever, now running at constant 1080p with surround sound. There is a noticeable difference in texture and character models on the Xbox One and cutscenes all look and feel better as a result. The newly-designed Xbox One controller also feels right at home with the shooting mechanics. Multiplayer has also been revamped with dedicated servers and new game modes that were not available in the original Gears of War. However, the Ghnasher shotgun is still way too overpowered and many of the matches I played revolved in nothing more but mindless shotgun battles at close range. Whether it be Deathmatch, King of the Hill or Execution, nearly 90% of the matches were all just shotgun free-for-alls. The added benefit of spotting, extra maps, and more match customization options is a nice touch. It’s a shame the balancing issues that were fixed in Gears of War 2 were not taken into account here.
Small nuisances aside, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is still loads of fun to play and a staple of the Xbox library that all fans should enjoy. With a great story, impressive visuals and some of the best shooting mechanics for any game in its class, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition proves classics can be remade right. Fans should feel good about what The Coalition has in store for Gears of War 4.