‘Gears of War: Ultimate Edition’ Review

Platform Xbox One

Developer The Coalition Publisher Microsoft

Genre Third-Person Shooter

Can you believe it’s been nearly nine years since Gears of War released on the Xbox 360? I was just a freshman in high school when Epic Games’well, epic game hit store shelves.

It’s also crazy when you think about how much gaming has changed in so many great ways since then, with some innovations tracing back to Gears.

With Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, players are taken back to a visually-amped remake of the first game where humans are in an ongoing war for survival against underground creatures called Locusts.

Players follow Marcus Fenix, a former Coalition of Ordered Governments – or COG – soldier who’s locked up in jail for treason. With the world in a rapid state of decay, Marcus is sprung from jail to fight and destroy the Locust Horde.

Gears veterans will know what to expect from Ultimate Edition: awesome weapons such as the Torque Bow and classic Lancer, great third-person combat – which, fun fact, was inspired by Resident Evil 4’s over-the-shoulder camera gameplay – nearly non-stop bloody action, lovable characters with enough bro-ness to go all around and an innovative cover system many games still try to mirror to this day.

While Gears still plays incredibly well for a modern nine-year-shooter, Ultimate Edition isn’t without faults. As the first game in the series, it’s noticeably not as fine tuned as its predecessors in the gameplay department. The controls sometimes don’t do what I intended, and things in general feel heavier. For example, instead of going into cover, I would sometimes roll out into hell’s cross fire only to be greeted with a brutal – and annoying – death.

Weapons from fallen foes would disappear often in the campaign. There were enough ammo boxes for normal weapons, but it was frustrating when I was using something uncommon such as the Boomshot.

Gears may be packed with enough explosions and action sequences to make Michael Bay envious, but it’s not a game where players can act as bullet sponges. One enemy is enough to end players if caution isn’t used.

Enemies are not slouches in tactics either. Some will keep their distance, while the menacing Grenadiers will charge at you with shotguns. Gears is a game where using cover is an absolute necessity, but it keeps players on their toes at all times, making nearly every moment exhilarating.

Friendly AI is certainly not judicious when bullets start flying, making them some of the dumbest bots I’ve played with in recent memory. Gears is one of the few games, if not the only, I play almost exclusively cooperatively, so it’s been years since I played any title in the series by myself, but I don’t recall the AI being so asinine. It’s as if the game gave them objectives contradicting my own: staying alive.

I appreciate the small changes and additions in Ultimate Edition, such as using the modern firing sound for the Lancer and target spotting introduced in Gears of War 3.

Although the aesthetics are reworked from the ground up, they don’t scream current-gen to me. It looks only slightly better than Gears of War 3, which isn’t a bad thing. If anything, it’s a testament to the great production values the Xbox 360 could produce and the many ways in how the original holds up.

Some may not like Ultimate Edition’s added colors though. The original release had a literal darker tone to it. With a planet ruined from war and weapons of mass destruction, it makes sense for the planet to look bleak, and it’s part of what separated Gears from other games, including its predecessors. Personally, I don’t mind the changes, and it certainly shouldn’t dismay anyone interested in giving this remake a try.

The cinematics have been reworked as well. While they didn’t have the same visual wow-factor as Halo 2 Anniversary, the small, yet noticeable alterations to each scene make the moments more meaningful and exciting.

There are also COG tags to collect during the eight-hour story. Picking up the tags unlock cool extras such as concept art and Gears of War comic books.

The most motivating factors to play Ultimate Edition – aside from tiding over fans until Gears 4 – are the extra 90 minutes of campaign, which were previously only in the PC version, and additions in the multiplayer.

Without mentioning too much, the new campaign content bridges the gaps between the end of Act IV and the beginning of Act V of the original. It turned out to be more exciting than I originally anticipated. This is partially due to it simply being new content I haven’t played in the franchise, so it was incredibly refreshing to play something new.

If you played the original, I wouldn’t say Ultimate Edition is an essential pickup for an extra 90 minutes of content, but players have something great to look forward to when they play through the campaign again – or the first time.

The multiplayer is the most changed component of Ultimate Edition. Players will immediately notice the 60 frames versus the campaign’s 30 frames, which is a strange design choice.

Whereas the original had only four modes to choose from, Ultimate Edition has nine total, including Gears of War 3’s Team Deathmatch and the new 2v2 Gnasher Execution mode, as well as 19 maps. Players also have more custom options with weapon skins and characters spanning the series.

I’ve never been good at Gears’ multiplayer, and it’s as much of a shotgun fest as ever, but I still had fun from what I played. However, whether it was in social or ranked playlists, it was quite difficult trying to find matches in anything other than Team Deathmatch, which is disappointing because 2v2 Gnasher Execution is fun when you find the right compadre.

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a good remastering for hardcore fans of the series, and perhaps those who have never indulged before. Exempting some gameplay mechanics, it still holds up incredibly well, and it’s easy to see where its seeds of influence grew in other shooters over the years. Even though I’ve played through the story numerous times, it remains a fun action ride made even better with the additional 90 minutes of campaign.

The visuals don’t reflect what the Xbox One is capable of, but it’s still easy on the eyes, and the minute changes to cinematics are appreciated. The multiplayer and its additions from the original will tide fans over for the next year, but good luck finding anything aside from Team Deathmatch.

Whether or not Ultimate Edition should be added to any Xbox One library is left to judgment, but those who wish to experience it will not be disappointed.

The Good

  • Campaign is still a blast to play through
  • Additional content not included in the original
  • Small changes, particularly to cinematics
  • Holds up well overall nine years later …

The Bad

  • … but some gameplay elements show age
  • Useless friendly AI
  • Multiplayer matches outside Team Deathmatch are difficult to find

The Score: 8.5