Almost a decade after it originally launched on the Xbox 360, the original Gears of War is back in remastered form for the Xbox One. And while I’m still only a short way into the single player campaign so far, this updated game is already providing a nice dose of nostalgia with a truly great story that has been reimagined with a superior presentation.
While comparisons to the 2006 release of Gears of War for Xbox 360 are necessary, Gears of War Ultimate Edition is in many ways really an updated version of Gears of War for Windows LIVE, the Windows-based Gears of War version that shipped two years later, in 2008. That version of the game featured a few new single player levels and one truly badass “boss” enemy, the Brumak, a Godzilla-like monster with a rider and mounted guns and rocket launchers.
Regardless of its heritage—and of the nicely updated presentation, plus some necessary fixes for multiplayer—the Gears of War value proposition remains the same as ever. In 2006, I wrote that Gears of War was “that killer, gotta-have-it game title, … the real deal, offering the best overall graphics and sound, and most immersive game play of any Xbox 360 game.” It was easily the best video game of that year, an instant classic, and “a stunning, epic masterpiece.”
“Gears of War is Art, with a capital A, a crowning achievement that proves, once again, that video games can transcend their humble technical lockboxes and achieve true greatness,” I continued. “Gears of War is immersive, gritty, and realistic, and offers stunning single player and multiplayer action, a plot that’d be right at home in a first class blockbuster movie, killer music and sound, and the best graphical presentation seen in any video game, on any system … It is, in short, the best video game I’ve ever played.”
Gears of War has been respectfully and wonderfully updated for the Xbox One. The graphics and sound are amazing, and the cut scenes in particular resonate as if seen for the first time. I was worried about replay value—after all, the Gears of War titles got less and less interesting as the series trudged forward over four games so far—but returning to the beginning has been eye-opening. It’s not hard to recall why I was so smitten by this game. It still works.
It’s not perfect of course, and some of the fixes that came in later games are in fact missed here. This original Gears game is a ground-level affair, with none of the vertical play elements that dominate more modern games such as “Titanfall” and “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare,” and your third person-controlled character rumbles along close to the ground like he’s bogged down by a full diaper. There is a decided lack of diversity in the enemies, which is amplified by having down this before. And it’s a rail game, where you just move from checkpoint to checkpoint with no sense of an open world.
I’ve not tried this yet, but one of Gears’ biggest strengths—cooperative single player—has been improved in a nod towards this more modern age. Now, players can drop in and out of cooperative single player campaigning, which is wonderful: you really want to play this game with others, preferably in the same room, if you can. And with the lights off.
Multiplayer remains mixed, despite my effusive praise of the original game in 2006. There are a few new game types, finally, including a desperately-needed Team Deathmatch, but that horizontal stickiness issue, and the slowness of movement hampers things a bit. Too, the games are small, as are the levels, with none of the wide open wonderfulness of modern shooters. The whole thing is a bit slow, in fact, including the act of starting a game, though I have to say that Gears multiplayer has never looked so good.
Should you get this game?
I suspect I’ll be compelled to see it all the way through the single player campaign, which for me has to be the umpteenth time—I finished it a couple of times each on 360 and PC previously, I’m sure—and I’m very eager to try cooperative play. Gears of War Ultimate Edition also includes some nice extras, such as the ability to rewatch the excellent cut scenes, a concept art gallery, and a set of Gears comics you can read onscreen after you’ve collected enough COG tags (a single player campaign in-game goal). The multiplayer, to me, is tedious and has been surpassed in the intervening years by any number of games. Fun for nostalgia only, I guess.
Overall, however, Gears of War Ultimate Edition looks pretty impressive. And unlike last year’s “Halo: Masterchief Collection,” I’ll actually keep playing it. Which puts Microsoft’s purchase of the Gears series in perspective: in many ways, Gears of War is truly superior to Halo. And I’m curious now to see what the upcoming fifth game, Gears of War 4, will look like on Xbox One as well.