Gears of War | Was it really worth it?

Gears Of War is a third person, cover-based shooter and believe it or not in 2006 that was a real novelty. Its simple, intuitive cover system has been copied a hundred times over since the original’s release, and not just in other shooters. It was never a cosmetic feature though and Gear Of War’s overpowered enemies demand the constant use of cover rather than the usual circle strafing, ensuring that the game feels very different to Halo.

As a result much of the game involves running from rubble mound to burning car, and while the amount of waist high objects to cower behind does occasionally seem unlikely the cinematic set pieces are extremely well designed. Enemies burrow up from the ground to get you, and there’s a particularly memorable Pitch Black-inspired segment with flying photophobic monsters and a chase involving an invulnerable but blind nasty.

Original developer Epic Games (from whom Microsoft has now bought the rights for the whole franchise) were wise to keep shaking up the formula in this way, because as solid as the core gameplay is it’s not particularly nuanced and the enemy artificial intelligence is unremarkable. Instead, curb-stomping a downed enemy or firing up your chainsaw bayonet are the most memorable elements of Gears Of War’s combat. Although there are other minor innovations, such as the unusually hands-on ammo reloading that gives you a small boost if your reactions are sharp enough.

Tonally Gears Of War is a peculiar mix of gruff space marines and relatively silly sci-fi enemies. The original pitch was Band of Brothers in space, but while many expected that to be the route Gears Of War 4 would take there seemed to be no indication of that in the game’s E3 reveal. Instead it seems to feature the same cheesy brand of machismo as the original. That’s not a complaint though, and it certainly provides the series with more memorable characters than most similar games, but it’s definitely not what you’d expect if all you know the game from is the moody Mad World trailer.

There are no brand new chapters for the Ultimate Edition but the original PC version did feature around 90 minutes of extra gameplay, centring around an extended encounter with the giant Brumak enemy. This lengthens the game’s running time to around nine or 10 hours, which at the time didn’t seem that much given the original’s fairly limited multiplayer. In fact that only helped to emphasise and popularise the game’s co-op features.

But it’s here that the majority of this remake’s changes have been made, with the Ultimate Edition pulling in elements from all the other games to make a sort of Gears Of War multiplayer medley. There are many more game modes and customisation options than the original version, plus dedicated servers and proper skill-based matchmaking. You also get features only introduced by Gears Of War 3, such as enemy spotting and multiplayer Tac-Com.

Of course whether the multiplayer actually works when the game is released to the public is anybody’s guess, but you’d have to assume Microsoft is well aware of what will happen if they repeat the debacle of Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

Naturally, the remake runs at 1080p and 60 frames per second, with particularly notable improvements to the lighting. The art style is still fairly bland, and the colour scheme nothing more than 50 shades (or more) of grey, but while here its influence on the rest of gaming is less welcome that’s, again, no fault of the original’s.

The question many will likely be wondering though is that if the Xbox One is now (or at least soon will be) backwards compatible with the Xbox 360 then why not just play the original? That’s a perfectly reasonable attitude but this is a remake, not a re-imagining, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a much better-looking version of the first game. But the additions and refinements go well beyond most similar releases and for once the term ultimate edition is not an exaggeration.

Play the campaign in co-op has received improvements too: the screen is divided horizontally, your partner can enter and exit the campaign without problems and there are individual levels of difficulty, so you can teach your brother, nephew or cousin how veteran you Madness to play while the battle with the new Casual difficulty.

In addition to the art gallery, the game includes 5 comics that must unblock progress in the campaign and collecting classic gear of fallen soldiers that are hidden in unlikely places. I also noticed that some save points were placed at a better time, so it will be rare that repeat sequences of dialogue or walk a long stretch before returning to get to the action. My idea to enjoyGears of War: Ultimate Edition is playing in madness (difficulty which is available from the start and if you need to complete the title first) because that way you have to cover yourself, think about your positions and be a strategist, more to run around the stage with Gnasher flying brains.