Title: Gears of War: Ultimate Edition
Developer: The Coalition (@CoalitionGears)
Platforms: Xbox One
While I had a chance to remedy this last fall, the one Xbox franchise I was always most disappointed I hadn’t yet played was Halo. Gear of War has its dedicated supporters, but as an avid fan of shooters and sci-fi themed stories, Master Chief was always the one sitting in the back of my mind, subtly prodding me to eventually take up arms and bring down the Covenant. Always hearing about how epic Chief’s tale was is why I was so excited to finally experience the series with the Master Chief Collection. That’s not to say I didn’t have any interest in the Gears of War franchise; I am well aware of its storied past and fervent following. I just wasn’t sure if there would be enough depth to the characters, or the story for that matter, to really hook me and keep me engaged by the time I eventually got around to trying it. Let’s be honest, just by glancing at the cover art featuring Marcus and company, it could easily be assumed this is nothing more than a mindless shooter. Well, after spending the past couple of days toiling away through the campaign of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, I can confirm that it has all the ingredients of a mindless shooter, but with an unexpected wealth of charm and charisma.
There are many who argue that the Gears franchise put third-person shooters on the map with its revolutionary (at the time) cover mechanics and gunplay. Even though the control scheme in the Ultimate Edition may feel dated by today’s standards (RB to reload?!), the game itself features tight, responsive controls and I only experienced a few moments of frustration throughout my eight hour playthrough. After tweaking the sensitivity levels to my liking and getting my head around the “better to shoot in bursts” approach to gunplay, I was pulling off headshots and dodging from cover-to-cover with ease. The only major issue I had — and one that most third-person shooters seem to struggle with — was swapping in and out of cover while in confined spaces. There were multiple times where I’d want to dive behind the cover to the left or right of me, only to instead watch in despair as my no-neck neanderthal went barreling over the cover I was behind and right into a Boomer’s incoming projectile. I don’t know if we’ll ever see a third-person shooter pull off the perfect control scheme in this regard, but I’ve grown to accept and deal with these rare issues when they occur, both here and elsewhere.
As most of you know, Gears of War was the first of four series entries, and this installment takes place on Sera, a planet similar to Earth. Fourteen years ago, Sera was overrun by the Locusts — creatures from deep within the surface that launched a planet-wide attack — during an event known as Emergence Day. This caused the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COGs) to create a military faction of bad-ass soldiers known as the Gears, who were then tasked with finding a way to destroy the Locusts. We are first introduced to series protagonist Marcus Fenix, a former Gear who is serving a sentence in prison for insubordination. With COG forces depleting quickly, it is necessitated that Fenix is broken out of the slammer by long-time friend and fellow Gear, Dominic Santiago, just as the Locusts launch an attack on the prison. After performing admirably and shaking off the rust, Fenix is reinstated and assigned to Delta Team. From here, Delta Team must carry out a series of missions that feature white-hot combat and well-designed boss battles in the hopes of eliminating the Locusts’ tunnel network running underground.
The thing that stands out the most to me about Gears of War is its overall tone. It’s a game featuring bad-ass characters and bad-ass (albeit dumb) enemies in a bad-ass post-apocalyptic setting. Delta team is basically the equivalent of the colonial marines from the movie Aliens; all they do is cuss, talk trash to their enemies (and each other), and kill everything in sight. It’s a game that never takes itself too seriously, with moments of levity sprinkled in through good writing and voice-acting. Even Baird, who clearly isn’t a fan of Fenix and was constantly bitching throughout the campaign, began to grow on me. I really enjoyed the comradery and banter back and forth between all of the characters. The main villain, General RAAM, however, was a bit of a letdown thanks to very little backstory or character development. I knew he existed, and I knew he was a bullet sponge during the final battle, but that was the extent of it. I wish he was as fleshed out as Marcus and company, because I think it would’ve made the final battle a little more exciting.
Graphically speaking, the game looks and runs very well on the Xbox One. Character models look good, and the level design and atmosphere is pretty impressive for a 10 year old title. As I alluded to above, I never played the 360 version of Gears of War, so I’m not sure how big of an improvement the Ultimate Edition is over the original version. As a standalone experience, I thought Gears of War: Ultimate Edition looked, ran, and sounded great. While the campaign only runs at 30 frames per second, it didn’t bother me much or hurt the gameplay experience. However, after seeing how the game looks running at 60 frames per second in multiplayer, I can’t help but wonder how much more impressive the campaign would’ve been had it received the same treatment.
Speaking of multiplayer, I spent about an hour or so with it and can confirm that the game runs smoothly at the aforementioned 60 frames, and the presentation is consistent with the experience I had during the campaign. I didn’t spend much time with the multiplayer because, after my time with the beta, I realized that I was completely out-matched against experienced veterans of the franchise. (Translation: I got completely annihilated by the competition.) This did not affect my overall experience with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition; I’ve just come to the conclusion that there are some filthy good players online and I’m nowhere near their level.
I’ve been very happy with the quality Xbox One exclusives I’ve played over the past 2 years. Games like Ori and The Blind Forest, Titanfall, and Ryse: Son of Rome have been fun, exciting experiences. That being said, I’m officially a huge fan of the Gears of War franchise now, and I anxiously await Gears of War 4 thanks to Microsoft’s decision to release the Ultimate Edition. Just about every aspect of this game encompasses what I love about action games and movies. The dialogue between the members of Delta team keeps things from becoming stale, and the excellent level design and exciting boss battles keep the campaign entertaining. The control scheme may be a tad dated, but after an hour you’ll be laying waste to the Locusts like it was 2006 all over again. The enemy AI leaves something to be desired, and the friendly AI beckons you to play this game cooperatively, which is something I hope to do very soon. These are minor issues in the grand scheme of things, and never once deterred my enjoyment throughout. If you’re an Xbox One owner who is new to the Xbox brand, and you crave high-octane action with solid controls, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not experiencing one of the finest games of last-gen.
- Camaraderie of the Gears
- Non-stop action
- Solid shooting mechanics
- Great presentation
- Typical third-person control issues in confined areas
- Friendly A.I. can be totally useless at times