Dust off the old Lancer, Delta Squad is back.
By: Corey Dirrig
Xbox Gamertag: RogueSpartan4
When I first saw Gears of War in my buddy’s dorm room in 2006, my mind was blown away and I instantly knew the franchise was going to be something special. It pushed me to make the decision to move from PlayStation 2 to the Xbox 360 that Christmas instead of asking for a PlayStation 3, and the franchise has been a consistent staple in my gameplay sessions ever since. The game looked amazing; the pop-and-shoot cover-based mechanics were very different from the other shooters that were prevalent at the time like Halo, Counter Strike, and Call of Duty. Epic made everything count within the technological restraints of the Xbox 360 with it’s Unreal Engine 3, never straying from its vision for the game. Gears of War instantly sat itself comfortably next to Halo, Fable, and Forza, becoming a top Microsoft exclusive without even flinching. Nine years later, The Coalition, headed by the original game’s producer Rod Fergusson and made up of a lot of the original team, has done an Epic job (pun totally intended) remastering the title that changed the landscape of third person shooters.
The campaign starts out with the main protagonist, Marcus Fenix, being broke out of prison by his best friend, Dominic Santiago. Everyone else had been pardoned except Fenix, but we won’t get into why as that spoiler plays a roll in the overarching story. The team is rounded out by fan favorites Augustus “Cole Train” Cole and Damon Baird, among a few others that play key rolls in the adventure. Playing through the campaign offers an entertaining, excellently paced adventure, each act adding something new and unique to keep players guessing and adapting to the new enemies and environments. One of my favorite moments is the fight against the first Berzerker, a blind monster that relies on smell and sound to fight, making the player have to shoot, dodge, and set up distractions for the beast to lead it out into a courtyard to finish it off with the Hammer of Dawn. Fans will also be pleased that there is an extra five act chapter available that previously only released in the original’s PC release, which includes an awesome set piece encounter with a giant Brumak, instantly becoming one of the more memorable moments in the remastered campaign. With major textural upgrades, new character models, a more vibrant color palette, and a remastered musical score, Gears of War Ultimate Edition’s campaign is an audio and visual treat. The campaign runs at one of the smoothest 30 frames per second I have ever seen, making set pieces and battles stand out that much more.
There has always been weird mix of dramatic storytelling and sense of devastation within the Gears universe, and it’s most prevalent in this first game. The mix between some seemingly heartfelt conversations between the squad mates and shouts of profanity during battles seems like they should be part of two different games. Storytelling and character development in the last nine years has come a long way in video games, and this is a prime example. Some of the dialogue during combat is outright laughable, but within the context of the game, somehow it fits.
The cover-based mechanics are still solid enough, though the tweaks made in the sequels are quite missed. Though the controls in Gears of War 3 are tighter and the best overall in the series, but Ultimate Edition still feels good. Curb stomping a downed enemy is so rewarding and chainsawing a locust rounding a corner feels so good as the camera pans up close and personal with the gore. There are other minor tweaks from the sequels that have been added, such as swapping weapons while running, ally reviving, and reviving while in cover, that add to the game without taking away from the overall experience and vision of the original game.
The active reload mechanic still offers up one of the best ways to refill your magazine in any game, allowing a more powerful magazine of bullets for a limited time with the correct timing of a second press of the reload button. Landing that active reload in multiplayer could mean the difference between a down and a kill especially when sniping.
The layout and level design are strong, going from an open arena to fight enemies to the narrow maze-like alleyways and hallways. However, the enemy and ally A.I. are not so strong, being the weakest of any element in the game. The enemies are often just staring at you until you walk up into their radius, even on Insane difficulty, while A.I. controlled teammates often make the worst choices, often running in front of your fire. This however can be avoided somewhat by playing Gears of War in it’s best form: two player cooperative. Co-op can be played in either split screen or via Xbox Live, the latter also being drop-in/drop-out at any time. Both versions of co-op run flawlessly, so there are never any hiccups in visual quality or frame rate.
Unlike the campaign’s almost purely aesthetic overhaul, multiplayer has been created from the ground up to deliver what I think is the definitive Gears of War competitive experience, running at a flawless 60 frames per second and with all of the visual fidelity of the single-player. The best part of the multiplayer is the over-the-top violence and gore with every death, even your own, feeling satisfying and disgusting. Whether it’s being chainsawed in half, watching your foe’s head rupture from a sniper shot, or being shotgunned into pieces, every death feels very gratifying. The one thing multiplayer does however is discourage the great tactical cover-based shooting the game is supposed to be designed around. You find yourself diving around to avoid shots, wall-hoping, and shooting everyone with the Gnasher. If you are a newcomer to the series, you should definitely not approach this like the single-player. That said, it is still my favorite competitive multiplayer in any game franchise. I would have liked to have seen some sort of Horde Mode addition to this game, but I understand why they didn’t. All 20 maps, even the DLC and PC exclusive ones, are all included, so there is never the sense of playing the same maps over and over.
8.75/10 – The DNA Network
All in all, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a stellar appetizer for the full course meal that is Gears of War 4 next Holiday. With all of the previously PC exclusive content, the stellar co-op and competitive multiplayer, the amazing graphical overhaul, and the inclusion of all four Xbox 360 games as digital backwards compatibility in November, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a great refresher for fans and a great way to catch up on the series for new comers. I highly recommend this different approach on the shooter and is a must play for learning what the series did for the third-person shooter/action genre.