I distinctly remember the first night I played Gears of War. My roommate and I snagged it and a second controller for my Xbox 360 on its release date. We got back to our apartment, and we blazed through the campaign in one sitting.
Then we went back through and beat the game on Insane.
We loved the original Gears of War back when it first launched. The title set the bar really high for third person cover shooters. While mechanics in the franchise and the genre in general have been shaped into much smoother experiences, the original game stands tall as the clear decider for the genre.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, then, is a celebration of that fact. This isn’t a completely necessary remaster, as far as I’m concerned, but it is a great reminder of what was as it rides in with nicer graphics than it had before.
This is Gears of War
Make no mistake, this is the original Gears of War. The Ultimate Edition tagline really only indicates the inclusion of a few new things, as important or throwaway as they may be.
First, the game has been entirely remastered. It looks way better than it used to, and you can even see that in the official comparison shots Microsoft released a while back.
A few campaign missions that were only found in the PC version of the game have been added to the mix, too. These missions, while interesting for the die-hard fan, don’t really do much to elevate the experience to the echelon of “must-have.”
The multiplayer is back with all the maps, and a few new modes have been tossed in for good measure. The good news? As of launch day, the servers work and players are playing. It’s classic Gears of War multiplayer with a better look and a ton of very silly colored guns. The bad news? Horde Mode was an invention of Gears of War 2, and that means it’s not here.
Horde Mode has become a staple of the Gears franchise, and it went on to push almost every other major multiplayer shooter on the market to do a take on the idea. It missing from this “Ultimate Edition” makes the ultimateness of it a little, well, not. Sure, it wasn’t in the original game, but it would have been nice to see it built in.
It plays better than we remember
Honestly, I was expecting to fire up Gears Ultimate and run into a wall of archaic design. This is an older game by today’s standards. The original version released back in 2006. That’s nearly a decade of game design advancement that’s been left behind.
A few minor tweaks, like the ability to switch weapons during the roadie run, make this game feel a touch more modern, but the core feels like our brains remember it should.
The crazy thing? The gameplay of Gears of War has aged really, really well. It feels a little bulkier than its modern equivalents, but the popping in and out of cover, shooting and movement hold up really well. Maybe nostalgia is throwing a few layers of shade on this for us, but I expect new players won’t immediately feel like they’re playing a decade old game in a new suit.
Active reloading, snapping into cover, clearing emergence holes and choosing paths in cooperative and single player? All of these things were a bit revolutionary when Gears of War originally launched. They remain intact here, and they feel as good as we remember.
The game is not without bugs
I don’t think this would be an official modern release if it didn’t ship without at least a few bugs. Most noticeably? The AI is terrible.
Design wise, the AI was always mediocre in Gears. Dom, Cole, Baird, Kim? They were a mess in combat, rarely actually helping the fight in solo play. They’d get dropped, you’d either ignore them or pick them up, the mission would roll on with you blasting most of the locusts on your own.
That continues here, sure. What’s new, as far as I can tell, is how broken they can be at times. Dom will stick to cover well behind the front lines of battle, stuck on a cycle of popping in and out over and over and over again. Cole will run in circles around a wretch that’s doing nothing but swiping at him while making silly noises.
Then we get to the enemies. Sometimes locusts will get stuck on objects. They won’t notice you, other times, making it so that you’ll walk right up on them and notice them stuck in a waiting animation. They find themselves caught in loops just like your COG partners, too, and that’s rather silly.
It’s weird that all this is happening. I definitely don’t remember the train of broken enemies and friendlies in the original launch of the game, though nostalgia could once again be blocking my view of the past a bit. As far as I can tell, a lot of these weird issues sprung up in the process of remastering the game.
They don’t break the experience, unless you happen to get stuck during a boss fight, something that actually occurred with my play. They’re just sort of there, annoying the remastered nature of the experience, and they make Gears of War: Ultimate Edition feel far less ultimate with every passing moment.
In spite of some minor flaws, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a solid remaster with incredible value.
Should you buy this game? Yes. If you own an Xbox One, it’s almost a no-brainer. First, the original Gears is, as far as I’m concerned, the best in the series. Others might disagree, but I love the way it handles characters and flip flops between serious and silly at the drop of a hat.
Next, this remaster stands as a really good pillar for the history of the third person cover shooter. Gears defined the medium for a while. It and Halo were really the two biggest definers of the Xbox 360 generation, in fact. It’s a history lesson in gaming, and it’s actually fun to play.
Finally? The value here is tremendous, especially during the first holiday. The game itself is selling for $39.99. That’s cheap in and of itself. If you play the title before December 31, 2015, you’ll be able to download Gears of War, Gears of War 2, Gears of War 3 and Gears of War: Judgment on the Xbox One. Each game is in 360 form, though, as this just unlocks the backwards compatible files for you to play.
You get four games for $40 in one of the best Xbox exclusive franchises. Gears is good fun, especially if you can run cooperatively.
Disclaimer: We received a code to download and review Gears of War: Ultimate Edition from Microsoft. We are waiting until launch to try out the online component before finishing our review.