Gears of War: Ultimate Edition... you are so not what I expected. When you were announced I got really excited - could you be a compilation of all the Gears of War games ported to the Xbox One? Could you be actual remasters of them, bringing stuff from Gears 3 to the first games? Honestly after the release of Halo: The Master Chief Collection I was pretty sure that a Gears of War re-release was going to do something to be at least as impressive as that title.
Well double dumb on me in the end I suppose. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition doesn’t aim that high, instead it settles for just being a prettying up of the first game. Woo hoo. Well okay, that’s not entirely fair. The Coalition has put together a great remaster of a fantastic game but it’s still honestly a bit on the disappointing side.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock you’ve probably at least heard about the Gears of War games. These games cover the war between the humans of the planet Sera and the subterranean Locust. Humanity has been pushed to the brink in this battle with only a few large cities to their name, barring the struggling survivors caught in the ruins of the destroyed cities. The Locust have mastered a method of coming out of the ground wherever they choose, letting them emerge from anywhere and at any time to attack their foes.
It’s up to Delta Squad to figure out how to stop the Locust in a last ditch effort to prevent them from overrunning humanity. You step into the role of Marcus Fenix, freshly broken out of jail, and his buddy Dom Santiago, the one who busted him out to fight the Locust. It’s up to them to figure out a way to map the Locust tunnels and deploy a brand new weapon that will swing the fight against the Locust in favor of humanity. This takes them across the surface, into facilities lost to humanity and even into the subterranean tunnels of the Locust.
Gears of War is the codifier of the third person cover based shooter genre. It may have been used before in Kill Switch and WinBack but Gears of War really made the genre what it is today. You’ll smoothly move from cover to cover, firing on enemies or even just blind firing around walls. The original version of Gears of War 1 can feel a bit stiff these days so it’s nice that the improvements to the mechanics in later games have been imported into Ultimate Edition.
These improvements range from smaller ones, such as the controls being more responsive, to the larger, such as being able to dodge in all eight directions instead of just the four cardinal ones. Other things such as reloading while in the middle of a roadie run were in the original but it feels like it’s much easier to do now. Really it feels more like you’re playing Gears of War 3 or Judgment which is a great thing.
Another great addition is that the PC exclusive chapter have been brought to the consoles for the first time. On the PC I felt that this wasn’t much of a loss since the chapter felt seriously unoptimized, running slightly laggy and glitchy when the rest of the game ran so smoothly. But here it seems that these problems have been addressed, making for a much smoother and enjoyable experience. This means that you too will get to experience the joys of running in terror from a Brumak as it tries to chew you up with its arm cannons. It’s amazingly fun.
Personally speaking I think my biggest complaint with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is the multi-player. While Judgment may have completely dropped the ball with its lackluster multi-player options it’s surprising to see that this one doesn’t really do much with its opportunity. Basically all you have on hand is the multi-player from the original Gears of War with a few new characters and weapon skins. Woo-hoo...
While I’m not surprised that Beast mode wasn’t brought over I am absolutely gob smacked that Horde mode is nowhere to be seen. Considering that your only options here are Campaign and competitive Multi-player the addition of Horde mode would have added some much needed replay value to the game. This is also the first Gears of War game in seven years to not have at least one additional multi-player mode. I might not have cared for OverRun but at least it was something.
It’s probably not helped that my general feeling towards the multi-player of the Gears games has always been utter hostility. The idea behind the multi-player is great, with two teams of players moving carefully and covering each other as they try to take the other team down. That’s great and it’s a lot of fun to play with friends due to this setup. It would be awesome if the game was actually played like this though.
Most people online play the game like a giant game of bumper cars, bouncing around off the walls merely as a means of getting close to you to fire their shotguns. The more talented among them will sometimes use the sniper rifle with the aim assist to get snap head shots. That’s about it. If you dare to use any other weapons on someone expect to be complained at rather aggressively by your team or theirs. This goes doubly if you happen to use the Lancer’s chainsaw. For the most part I find all of this to be completely and utterly the antithesis of fun so this being the only multi-player mode left me feeling very uninterested in the game in the long term.
One area where there can be no doubting the effort put into Ultimate Edition is the visuals. Everything here just looks absolutely fantastic. The character models, the environments, the monsters and even just the animations have so much effort put into them that it’s honestly quite the visual feast. The only real hiccup here is in a few of the execution animations which don’t sync up properly. A quick example is the Lancer chainsaw kill on Locusts - your characters chainsaw is pushed into the enemy character model, then the chainsaw does its job and falls to the ground.
Do I think that Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is worth the money? Definitely if you’re a fan of the series. The extra chapter is a great addition if you’ve never played it before. But if you’ve already played it or just aren’t much for the series then it’s a harder sell. It’s still a great game but without Horde or Beast mode, or even OverRun, to add some real replay value then it’s hard to give this a 100% endorsement which is a huge disappointment for a fan of the series like myself.