Note: This review is simply about the campaign, and not the multiplayer. I’ve yet to play the multiplayer, thus cannot comment. I will try and update once I’ve had more time with it
It’s always advisable to approach video game rereleases and refurbishes with some trepidation. Games that were great a decade ago don’t necessarily transcend time and space in the gaming world. Video game trends flux and flow; titles and genres can succumb to the passage of time. As *the* defining title of ye olde Xbox 360 (sorry, Chief), Gears of War’s innovation could have been lost in translation. Thankfully, this isn’t really the case; yet it isn’t not the case either. Yes, this brings up a conundrum.
It’s not that the team did a bad job. Au contraire. As CliffyB and the gang over at Epic Games passed the Gears of War torch to The Coalition, their first mission was to introduce the original installment to this generation’s new Xbox-ers (and returning Gearheads) in preparation for Gears of War 4. The result is a stunning game. The mechanics are seamless, and the environment is detailed, haunting and gruesome. Better yet, Marcus Fenix and the Delta Squad have never looked better (work it, boys)! All of the cut scenes have gone through an overhaul, meeting the cinematic standards of today. If this is a glimpse of what the future of Gears holds with The Coalition, it’ll be mighty fine. Mighty fine indeed.
But what else was done to this game that blew away gamers back in 2006? Not much, to be honest. No new content was added (except for a few chapters that made its way only on PC), the guns are the same and the core gameplay remains intact. This is to be expected after all; it’s only a remastering of this third-person shooter. And what the game did well back then, still does well now. The cover and tactical aspects are still great: taking your time and planning your attacks, while ducking to perform the active reload is still as fun now, as it was then. It takes skill to map out your enemies, avoid being shot at and making sure your reload hits the sweet spot. Being attentive in this game is critical, especially when you play in higher difficulties (hardcore and insane). Even though you’re equipped to take a beating, thus giving you some room for error, if you’re slow to take cover you’ll be dead before you know it. Checkpoints aren’t that frequent, so if you die, you’ll more than likely have to restart a sizable chunk of the mission (especially compared to today’s standards).
Co-op campaigning -the pinnacle of the series- remains the very best way to enjoy the story. Whether you’re playing split screen or online, the graphics remain flawless and they’ve added a new feature to enhance the experience. You can drop in and out of someone’s game whenever, even if it’s in the middle of a chapter, or an act. The Coalition built upon an integral part of the game, and made it better.
The music remains as integral to Gears of Wars’ atmosphere now as it did then, with the tempo rising and falling depending on what’s unfolding. It matches the undertones of horror and desolation throughout the game, which are now even more apparent with the graphical overhaul. Take one of my favorite scenes for example. Early on in the game, during a scene where Fenix and Baird being snarky towards each other, you hear a shriek. You find out shortly that it’s a berserker and she is damn scary. In 1080p? She’s downright terrifying. Kudos to The Coalition for perfecting the setting and mood in this sci-fi epic.
As a remastered title, Gears of War Ultimate Edition is done right, very right actually. It’s nonetheless flawed. Funny enough, my qualms are not directed at the game that came out in 2006, but as a 2015 title. For those who have played it upon its initial release, and followed throughout the entire series, playing a vamped of Gears of War is both nostalgic and a breath of fresh air; a reminder of why this game made waves. But that feeling doesn’t last that long, and it’s likely due to the fact that nothing really changed. It’s the same game. And for those who have never played the series, and are looking forward to the next installment, it’s a great gateway into the Gears world. Then again, it might not. In 2015, the premise for Gears is formulaic at best: disgruntled ex-military soldier reenlisted to fight aliens with other men. The characters themselves don’t have much depth, and rely on stereotypical macho banter to drive conversations. The only female character is in a supportive role. To be fair, the series rectified this by adding playable female characters in Gears 3. And on the same note, the game shouldn’t be judged on not having female characters in its initial iteration. However, the gaming landscape is transforming and conversations about diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of game criticism. Take this title out of its remastered context, and its premise would fall flat today.
The Coalition Studio’s first foray into the Gears universe is promising. They did a great job at taking a revered title, and doing it justice. As a whole, the game is worth it as a package; once the Xbox One Backward Compatibility is fully available, you’ll get Gears of War 2, Gears of War 3 and Gears of War Judgment. That in itself can justifies a purchase, especially for those who’ve never played and want in. But to come full circle, I’m still undecided whether it’s initial innovation and brilliance shines through in Gears of War Ultimate Edition. In 2015, certain aspects of the game (notably the story and characters) just don’t have the same effect they once did, and serves to diminish its once bright image.