It’s been almost nine years since the first Gears of War violently chainsawed it’s way onto Xbox 360 and into our living rooms. I remember working at EB Games (Game Stop if you are of the American variety) at the time of Gears’ launch. The store re-opened at 11pm and people lined up to collect their copy of the first true ‘next gen’ shooter at midnight, something of rare occurrence back in those days, so I knew it was going to be a big deal. At the time, Halo 3 hadn’t come out yet. In fact, Call of Duty 2 and Perfect Dark Zero were the only shooters out, however neither really brought anything new or exciting to the table in my opinion. Sure they looked good and played great but they were otherwise a little bit dull.
Gears was the first game I played on 360 that made me think “yes, this is the future.” The graphics were slick, the gameplay was fluid and there was a whole new universe to immerse myself in with incredible voice actors selling the story every step of the way. The multiplayer was a huge step in the right direction with split screen, LAN, co-op and online versus all being offered on the one disc. Needless to say, the game was a huge hit. For those of you that have been Lancing Locust Drones since day one, you’ll probably have heard of the latest last gen game to get the remastered treatment – Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, which was released on Xbox One this week.
The thing we are all wondering though, is does it hold up? Is it as good as we remember or has it become an archaic fossil of yesteryear’s gaming titans, only to be completely surpassed by the newer generation of games? Read on to find out or skip to the very bottom for the final verdict.
The Ultimate Package.
First off, let’s talk about what you get when you purchase Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. I’ve noticed a few people on the internet asking if it includes all of the Gears games or just the one. To clarify only the first Gears of War game has been remastered, but you do get a lot more than just the original game. What you get is the original Gears of War remastered in 1080p/60fps with 5 additional campaign chapters that were never released on console, as well as 19 multiplayer maps with 6 game modes. The game still has local split-screen multiplayer and co-op, with LAN and online matchmaking also returning. There is also some extras like a comic which you unlock pages of by finding fallen soldiers’ COG tags.
According to a post from Xbox earlier this month, those who buy Ultimate Edition before December 31st get the original 4 games for free when backwards compatibility launches later this year. On top of that you get early access to the Gears of War 4 Beta, as well as various editions (online, preorder etc) coming with a variety of multiplayer characters and weapon skins. The standard physical copy of the game came with Anya as a playable multiplayer character as well as some stickers, while the digital download I received came with Anya and Adam Fenix as playable multiplayer characters, as well as a glowing emulsion weapon skin for the Lancer and Gnasher.
All in all for $49.95 (AUD) I think that’s a pretty sweet deal. While I would have loved to have the entire original Gears trilogy get remastered, at least you get the others to use when backwards compatibility launches later this year.
For better or worse, the game itself hasn’t been changed beyond the remastering. For hardcore Gears fans this is probably a good thing, but to someone like me the game does show it’s age a little bit. I always thought the game felt very ‘designed’ and by that I mean it didn’t feel real or natural. You would walk into a room and it would be obvious that something was about to happen because there was a bunch of grenades and ammo, with conveniently broken set pieces that happened to form cover. The AI was also a source of frustration for me. Sometimes you could just walk up behind an enemy and hit them once, then they would dive roll out of the way to try get into cover, completely ignoring the fact that you just beat them over the head with a shotgun. The last issue I had with the game was that it felt very small. Considering there was only a handful of weapons and characters, combined with the less than subtle action moments, it never really felt like a real world to me. The later installments fixed this by taking you to other areas with different climates and terrain, but the original did very little to make me feel like there was more going on in the world besides what I could immediately see – perhaps this is the feel the developers were going for though.
Other than those minor gripes I really enjoyed the original game and the remastered version is no exception. The fast paced run to cover combined with the need to take your time before popping out to shoot at an enemy made for a very unique style of gameplay. Few games have managed to compete with Gears’ unique and frantic approach to a shooter, it’s one of the reasons it’s such a popular game.
The story is intact with the exception of five extra chapters being added. These extra chapters are a welcome addition to the game and provide a little extra something for fans of the original that played the story over and over. The voice acting is sharp with likable and believable characters steering the ship. You become quickly invested in the story and the characters because they are so well written. It’s easy to relate to Marcus for example, even though I have nothing in common with him, I was instantly drawn into his character and wanted him to win. Likewise with Dom, Baird and the larger than life, Cole. Even Carmine who *spoilers* dies pretty early on has a special place in my heart.
You really get the feeling that the creators made a world they cared about, filling it with characters that they also cared about. It all comes together perfectly and sells the story of desperation, friendship, war and struggle quite well, while peppering in some plot twists that left it wide open for multiple sequels. When you finish the game you are left with a feeling of satisfaction and success after killing the big bad boss and seemingly killing all of the Locust, but there is a scene at the very end which hooks you in and basically guarantees a sequel.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition stays true to what fans of the original game hold dear. If you’re one of the people who prefer the newer games (like myself) for things like Horde mode, smarter AI, a bigger world, more multiplayer modes and maps and chainsaw duels, then you will probably not find a whole lot here that is new and exciting. That said, the game is better than ever with the remastered graphics, frame rate and audio taking advantage of what the Xbox One has to offer. Online multiplayer seems to be working fine for most of the modes but did suffer some slight delays in some of the less popular modes like Assassination. All in all I really enjoyed revisiting Gears of War and with the addition of five new chapters (that don’t do all that much for the story but offer some nice action sequences) I’m definitely glad I got my hands on it.
The bottom line.
Do you need to go rush out and drop almost $50 on this game? Probably not. If you’re anything less than a fan of the original Gears then you should consider spending your money on something else – same with any remaster really.
If you’re a Gears fan and need something to tie you over until Gears of War 4 is released, or if you are new to the series and have always been curious about Gears of War, then this is a must have. Not only do you get the remastered first game, you get the entire Gears of War collection when backwards compatibility launches later this year, that’s a pretty great deal!
– Same great Gears of War you know and love, but much more beautiful!
– Local split screen co-op, versus and LAN all return
– 5 new action packed chapters
– Online co-op and versus modes have matchmaking and it works great
– Voice acting
– Graphically superb
– Good package when you consider all that you get for $49.95 (AUD)
– More of the same
– AI can still be a tad annoying
– Would have been nice for Horde mode to be included
– Some weapons are a little too overpowered in multiplayer (in my opinion)
– World feels very small and it’s obvious when something is about to happen
Check out my first impressions video below and let me know what you think! Add me on Xbox – Super Pikalew or follow me on twitter @pikalew