Review: Gears of War: Ultimate Edition
Outrageously huge characters, a ridiculous gun with an identity crisis and evil monsters from beneath the ground. The Gears of War series has so much going for it and the Ultimate Edition shows it all off.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is my first outing into a series I’ve long wanted to explore. There are plenty of HD remake-definitive-whatever collections around at the moment, and — I have to admit — most of them appeal to me. I finally get a chance to break into some of these huge franchises from the beginning and get up to date before their newest entry. Of all the various remakes, Gears of War stands out for me simply because it’s the series I’ve been looking forward to investigating above all the others.
At first glance Gears looks like a simple, no-nonsense cover shooter, but its campaign balances action and narrative perfectly. There’s plenty of banter during the gameplay that leads directly into cutscenes, meaning its story flows constantly. Gears of War picks up 14 years after the Locust invasion — they’re the baddies, if you didn’t guess — with main character Marcus Fenix imprisoned for… um, something. This is a good example of how the narrative plays out.
The world feels lived-in and the story reflects this. Its already well into the Locust war and the game finishes without explaining everything. This may sound like Ultimate Edition is full of plot holes, but the missing information just made me want to keep playing the series to uncover more. I can do this when the Xbox 360 backward compatibility feature launches by the way. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition comes with digital versions of every past Gears game for free. Score!
Each time you encounter a new enemy, the characters react with familiarity. They’ve seen them all before as the fight has been going on for years. Sometimes, there’s a bit of fanfare — a sub-boss, for example — but most times when a new bad guy pops up the characters will just say, “Oh it’s one of them, watch out for its thing.” There’s no messing around. It means there’s more time for character development in the breaks in action.
Call me shallow, but after looking at the cast of men with arms the size of torsos, I assumed they’d be a bunch of gun-toting meatheads. They definitely are meatheads, but with depth. There’s a lot of clowning around for such heavy subject matter. This is a war that spells the end of the world after all, but it feels light-hearted and fun the entire time.
The best way to play is without a doubt with a friend in co-op. The original Gears of War was released nine years ago when split-screen was still a thing and amazingly is still in Ultimate Edition. Take that Halo 5! I played though the entire campaign in split-screen and while it felt a little odd at first, I quickly adjusted. The franchise was made for co-op and it shows. This is the type of game that encourages you to grab a friend and have some fun. You’ll definitely be rewarded for doing so and you’re sure to laugh the whole time.
The gameplay, like the game itself, is a little dated but it’s clear this version of Gears of War has been tweaked for the modern age; in fact, it leans on the innovations that came from as far down the franchise as Gears of War 3. There are plenty of cover shooters around that are incredibly clever with how they manage where you are — the Uncharted series is a good example of a similar cover mechanic that’s implemented a little better. The cover mechanics in Gears of War: Ultimate Edition can be as clunky as the lumbering characters look. It won’t happen all the time, but there will be moments when you’ll put yourself in harms way due to this clunk. Maybe you dove when you wanted to run or didn’t crouch and just continued into enemy fire. It doesn’t happen all that often and it’s not a deal breaker but it doesn’t help to conceal the game’s age. Granted, it’s an old game with some recent innovations thrown in, but I’m hoping Gears of War 4 really innovates.
While we’re on the subject of little imperfections, it’s worth mentioning there are a few bugs you may experience while playing. Warping to spawn on the wrong side of a door before an encounter isn’t fun. Neither are enemies attacking you while you’re communicating with your team and unable to use your weapon or run. I assume there’ll be a hefty patch shortly after launch to tame this. Again, they aren’t crippling bugs, but they may interrupt your game here and there.
The campaign is pretty short so you should be able to knock it out in about 5 or 6 hours if you blast your way through it. It leaves plenty of questions unanswered and will leave you wanting more. You’ll have a few options to combat this. You can start playing Gears of War 2 once it becomes available on Xbox One (via backwards compatibility) or try your hand at the multiplayer.
There are 8 multiplayer modes available, so you’ll be busy for a long time to come. It’s worth mentioning you can also play PvP in split-screen, but I would advise against it. All those fond memories of playing GoldenEye with 3 others on the 64 should stay memories. Don’t ruin the nostalgia with with new experiences. If you’re going to play online, do just that.
Arguably, the best thing about Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is its price tag. The full retail price is only $50 AUD and that comes with all the previous Xbox 360 Gears of War titles. If you’re new to the series and want to try it out, this is a perfect opportunity to delve into the series before Gears of War 4 comes out next year. If you’ve played before, the low price point should be enough to either sell you on playing the updated first game and bolstering your digital collation or simply turn you off. There is around 90 minutes of new gameplay compared to the original but if you don’t want to shell out $50 AUD for that, this isn’t for you.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition launches 24 August — tomorrow — on Xbox One.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One, as provided by the publisher.
Review: Gears of War: Ultimate Edition