Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Price: $39.99 (digital only Deluxe Edition includes various weapon and character skins for multiplayer for $59.99)
Upon its original launch back in November of 2006, Gears of War redefined competitive online multiplayer with its innovations on tight, cover-based third-person shooter gameplay and methodical, cat-and-mouse online competitive multiplayer. Co-Created by famed developers at Epic Games, Rod Fergusson and Cliff Bleszinski (aka Cliffy B) Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a [The] Coalition-developed, painstaking remaster in 1080p with 60 FPS online competitive multiplayer. GoW:UE is packed full of new content, including five never released campaign chapters as well as early access to the Gears of War 4 multiplayer beta.
Players take on the role of Marcus Fenix, an ex-Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) soldier who was imprisoned for abandoning his post to protect his father. The adventure begins as Marcus is busted out of his confinement by long time friend and ally, Dominic Santiago (referred to by Marcus as “Dom”) just as Locust have begun attacking the prison. Along the way, Marcus and Dom meet up with fellow COG soldiers Anthony Carmine, Lieutenant Minh Young Kim, Damon Baird, and Augustus “Cole Train” Cole, an ex-Thrashball player turned COG soldier. Together, they form the Delta Team of the COG army, the only hope left to defend the planet Sera from complete annihilation at the hands of the Locust and their malevolent queen.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition contains buckets and buckets of gore. Decapitations, bodies blowing apart, and characters getting visibly sawn in half with a chainsaw bayonet are all included in the game’s combat. While the boldness of the game’s no-holds-barred violence is one of the its defining features alongside the chainsaw bayonet asperhaps one of the most iconic weapons in gaming, the gore may also be a point of contention for some gamers. There is also plentiful use of foul language such as f***, s***, b****, and many others. Drug use is also present, but not in abundance and there is only a bit of playful banter between the main characters that include some lewd innuendos and crude humor. There is no religious or spiritual content, however the game does have you collecting the COG tags of fallen soldiers to honor their memory and is the only real kind of spiritual connection that we see the characters display throughout the game.
Gameplay consists of smart, methodical, cover-based third-person shooting. Enemies will take cover effectively and flank you if you aren’t paying attention. While the gameplay is top-notch and what I consider, best-of-genre, the friendly AI is the only thing that didn’t transition as well to the new generation of platforms. Friendly AI squad members will often linger behind in rooms that you have previously cleared out only to magically materialize next to you at the next checkpoint. When a firefight breaks out, allies seem to enjoy standing out in the open and immediately getting “downed,” a paralyzed-but-not-out status where players must be finished off with additional weapon fire or an execution move, which forces players to leave the safety of cover to go and revive them. Luckily, reviving allies is quick and painless as a simple tap of the X button has them back on their feet almost immediately. While it is annoying to have allies effectively turn into bullet sponges, it becomes infuriating in later levels and against a particular, late-game boss when they flat out refuse to draw enemy fire away from you or use any sense of strategical positioning as they charge blindly into battle blasting away like a drunken Mega Man.
A few technical glitches also mar an otherwise perfect reimagining of the original GoW campaign. Enemies will sometimes fall from a grate in the ceiling and continue to fall continuously as you approach, and these same enemies will sometimes get stuck in the environment as the attempt to vault over cover. While there were no game-breaking glitches present these were only slightly annoying as it makes the remaster seem a bit more shaky compared to its predecessor’s performance on Xbox 360.
In between the sometimes monotonous shootouts players will drive a tank while avoiding being instantly killed by birds of prey that only appear at night and are sensitive to UV light. There are also a few sections which require you to out run and outmaneuver a sub-boss that can only be killed with three hits from an orbital satellite or via environmental kills and some later boss battles require tight communication with a co-op partner or quick maneuvering to survive.
Despite the idiotic friendly AI and technical hiccups, the campaign is at its best when you have a co-op partner at your side. Players can create a literal bullet ballet as one player draws enemy fire while the others snipes the boss or sneaks up on a grunt to chainsaw him in half while nestled safely behind cover. Moments like these quickly become those “heck yeah” moments that you can share with friends or family members as you work together to effortlessly mow down the locust horde. Boss battles become more demanding and require tighter teamwork, good strategic maneuvering, and smart weapon selection on harder difficulties.
While the solo and co-op campaigns are solid on their own, the bread and butter of Gears of War is the frantic, methodical, teamwork focused competitive multiplayer. As most modes only offer one life per round in a multiplayer session, players must be more strategic when planning their assault and must coordinate and communicate with teammates to avoid racking up deaths, and feeding kills, to the enemy team. Much like in Halo, all players start on equal footing with a few basic starter weapons.
While the Snub Pistol and Lancer Assault Rifle (complete with trusty chainsaw bayonet) can get players through most scraps, many others will instinctively flock to the Gnasher shotgun with its easy to learn, difficult to master two-shot or even one-shot kills which rely on timing and clever positioning to pull off. There is also the option to swap out the Lancer for the Hammerburst Assault Rifle. While it does not include an instrument for sawing opponents in half, it more than makes up for it in stopping power as each burst can slow an enemy significantly and within a few short, follow up bursts opponents will be crawling helplessly away in the hopes that their teammates will revive them.
Each weapon also offers the active reload ability which adds another layer of strategy to the core GoW gameplay. There is a white section of the active reload bar that will provide a damage boost or a quick reload depending on where the meter falls when the reload button is pressed. For example, the smaller portion of this bar will grant additional damage for each bullet in the gun that was reloaded allowing players to more effectively pull off a one shot kill with the Gnasher or pop open an enemy’s skull with only a few rounds of the fast, but not very powerful, Snub Pistol. Missing the white section of the reload bar entirely will cause a gun to jam and will leave players vulnerable to attack. However, switching to another gun will not require a reload.
Battles will mainly take place near power weapons such as the Boomshot, a powerful grenade launcer-like weapon, or the Torque Bow, a bow that fires fast, explosive bolts that stick to surfaces or enemy players, and the Sniper Rifle which allows for instant kills with headshots or one-shot downs with an active reload. An orbital laser, the Hammer of Dawn is also available on the more open, outdoor maps and is slightly unbalanced with its unlimited amount of ammunition. Grenades are also available as pickups on the map and can be stuck to enemies to make them literal ticking time bombs or can be thrown to force clustered enemies to scatter.
Thankfully, most of my qualms with the beta have been addressed in the final release. Shotgun vs. Shotgun tussles are balanced thanks to near non-existent bullet lag and no host advantage is present thanks to the inclusion of dedicated servers. The game feels smoother and less clunky than it did during the beta and kills are quick, brutal, and satisfying.
With near limitless ways to kill enemy players and cleverly-designed maps that offer strategic spots for sniping, stealth kills, or standard shoot-outs and shotgun ballets, a well-coordinated team using consistent communication and strategy can easily dominate matchmaking.
Simply put, GoW: Ultimate Edition looks like it was designed from the ground up for Xbox One rather than a simple upscaling of a 360 game. With vastly improved visuals in 1080P and blistering fast 60 FPS competitive multiplayer, this truly is the definitive edition of Gears of War. Down to the tiniest features in Marcus’s facial scars, or Dom’s tattoos, The Coalition’s almost-obsessive attention to detail is on full display in the games visuals. Environments look richer and more vibrant than before and the lighting and water effects look more real than ever.
The game’s musical score matches the hopeless, and at times, somber, tone of Delta Team’s struggles to survive the growing locust incursion. The dialogue seems beefed up and new despite the fact that the game retains the voicer work of the original Gears of War.
The game’s user interface and menus are crisp, clean and easy to navigate and the COG tags left behind by fallen soldiers unlock vibrant, colorful comics that shed backstory on the overall plot of the planet Sera and its inhabitants.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is every bit as refreshing, innovative, and satisfying as the original release back in 2006. With the advent of built-in Twitch streaming and game DVR, GoW is now available to a whole new demographic of casual, hardcore, and professional gamers alike. I have no doubt that those new to the franchise will fall in love with the series just like I did nearly a decade ago, and those returning Gears veterans will find themselves reminded of the true, skill-based multiplayer and addictive co-op gameplay that sunk its claws into them and refused to let go. If you are a fan of competitive online multiplayer games or action shooters in general then stop reading this review and try Gears of War: Ultimate Edition as it is truly a masterpiece and a near-perfect example of how to make a competent, functioning remaster.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Xbox One owners can purchase Gears of War: Ultimate Edition between Aug. 25 and Dec. 31, 2015 to get four Xbox 360 games, Gears of War, Gears of War 2, Gears of War 3 and Gears of War: Judgment, as a bonus as part of Microsoft’s backwards compatibility initiative for Xbox One.
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