“Brothers In Arms”
Gears of War is bold, simple and compromises nothing to maintain its signature style. That can’t be said for a lot of games of Gears’ likeness and Ultimate Edition successfully reiterates the original’s vision, which proves to be just as relevant today as it was back in 2006. Its influential cover-based combat, multiplayer offerings, and testosterone-infused campaign all share the same vision, even if various bumps along the way make it harder to enjoy by today’s standards.
Subtlety is the last thing on Gears’ mind and Ultimate Edition acts as a great reminder, as well as an introduction into a series that constantly prioritizes the player. Ultimate Edition is also a reminder of how fresh Gears was at the time of its release and how far the series has evolved for the better, since then. Its original take on third person combat via smart cover mechanics and strong tone seamlessly transfer over to a new generation, proving what once made Gears a standout game then, still does now. Above all else, Gears of War knows what it is and remains dedicated to its clear objectives throughout the entire experience. Gears of War opens during a time of war and conflict. The themes established in the opening hours act as prominent driving force of the series and the original game possibly encompasses them best. Rocklike alien creatures called Locusts have surfaced from beneath the planet and have begun to wreak havoc. The game picks up 14 years after the conflict sparked, with protagonist Marcus Fenix, being freed from prison. Accompanied by a ragtag group of brothers, Fenix and squad are tasked to aid in the delivery of a bomb with the potential to end the war. It’s a fairly simple and straightforward narrative with somewhat shallow characters eager to put their big guns to use. Their isn’t much depth or connection to be uncovered with them aside from tidbits of compelling backstory. The cast primarily serves as a vehicle for the brutal, masculine action and macho mentality of the game. Gears of War is about style over substance, and with it comes conflicting elements to what the campaign attempts. The strongest aspect of the Ultimate Edition’s campaign are the horror elements that occasionally break up the gory action. They come few and far between, but when they do appear, Gears flourishes. Dimly lit environments littered with the dead and erie corridors echoing with a sense of past standout amongst chapters filled with repetitious combat.
Ultimate Edition does a lot to clean up the original experience, erasing the muddy textures and somewhat bland environments with detailed and believable surroundings. The Coalition, formerly known as Black Tusk Studios, also does a lot to enhance cooperative play, with the addition of drop-in, drop-out functionality, as well as the option to fine-tune the difficulty settings for each player. Each cutscene has been remade, in addition the campaign now runs at 1080p and 30 FPS. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition accounts for the preservation of the original’s impact and conscientiously polishes the experience to suit the new hardware, in the same way it did almost 10 years ago. Also making an appearance in Ultimate Edition are five extra campaign chapters, which smoothly weave their way into act five, previously only available on the PC version of the game. The chapters encapsulate some of the game’s stronger action sequences and tense moments, as well as a boss battle that outshines most of the prior enemy encounters. The moment to moment gameplay in Gears is its primary upside, as combat is enjoyable, challenging, and brutally satisfying. All of this is a good thing considering that’s what makes up the majority of the game. Gears highlights cover-based shooting at its prime, with tense and grotesque shootouts to show for it. Gory exchanges with shotguns, chainsaws and long range snipers are where Gears is most at home with, and Ultimate Edition reinforces that comfort zone. Everything about the combat is engaging, from the act of flanking a group of Locusts to simply reloading your weapon, Gears is amongst a select few shooters that constantly stress the engagement of the player. Through these engagements is where Gears set itself apart from the pack, both at the time of its initial release and now. The gory chainsaw executions and satisfying shotgun finishers haven’t looked or felt better. The same can be said for the environments, whether it’s the cramped hallways of an apartment or the rubble of a broken down building. Gears’ set pieces are made memorable by the visual improvements. Ultimate Edition’s level design for both campaign and multiplayer also benefit from the remaster treatment. Level layout is strong and contributes to the pacing of each chapter, ranging from claustrophobic, close-quarters to sprawling, open streets.
While the various environments and action set pieces lend to the enjoyment of the campaign, the same can’t be said for the companion AI. Blasting my way trough waves of Locusts revealed that the AI partners made things harder than they needed to be, often to an infuriating degree. Wandering directly into enemy fire and remaining completely oblivious to the task at hand quickly became the norm, even at the game’s harder difficulties. By the time I neared the end of the campaign, I’d fully given up on relying on my companions to offer cover fire if pined down. Worse yet, cutscenes and prompts continuously failed to trigger, forcing me to reload checkpoints on multiple occasions. To reload at certain points in order to simply progress was frustrating, especially after clearing some of the game’s tougher sections. Other technical downsides, such as enemies disappearing, also went to hurt the experience; ironic considering the game presents itself as an Ultimate Edition. Some of these issues–mainly those linked to the bad companion AI–are masked when focusing on the game’s cooperative offerings.Both the online and split-screen options perform well, with a large majority of the combat sequences in the campaign playing out smoother than in single player. On the other hand, competitive multiplayer takes a lot of the campaign’s stronger elements and mixes them with its own robust offerings. Ultimate Edition’s multiplayer runs at 1080p and 60 FPS, which makes for some fast and furious action throughout its 20 maps. Gears’ multiplayer is all about outsmarting your opponents and the variety of maps come with plenty of ways to do so. The campaign’s rewarding style of violence also carries over into the multiplayer, with a breath of high-intensity encounters bound to be satisfying for someone.
Conclusion: Gears is one of the most unapologetic games I’ve ever played. Its simple and amusing story is full of strong ideas, even if they don’t all reach their full potential. Both the cooperative and competitive aspects of the multiplayer offer plenty of enjoyment to be had, forming a healthy suite of online options. The Coalition’s dedication to the franchise is at the forefront of Ultimate Edition, instilling a sense of hope for where they might take the series, next. While many of the original Gears’ elements come across as dated, there’s still plenty to the package that holds up. There’s no better place to jump into the series than Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, and in terms of a remaster, I’d say mission accomplished.
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