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Gears of War: Ultimate Edition

Score: 85%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: The Coalition
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2 (Local and Online); 2 - 10 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Third Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Gears of War isn't the proto third person cover-based shooter, but it is arguably the first one to get everything absolutely right. For me, it's the game that defined the Xbox 360. I've made so many friends all over the world over Xbox Live, and it's all thanks to Gears. Its astonishing graphics, white-knuckle tactical action, and amazing arsenal of weaponry combined to deliver one of the best single and multiplayer experiences of 2006. A lot has changed since then, in the case of both the series and gaming as a whole. So a return to the original is in order, it seems; The Coalition, staffed with several longtime franchise veterans, aims to tide us over until Gears of War 4 with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. How thoroughly it accomplishes that goal depends entirely on what you want out of a re-release. If, like the rest of us, you wanted the complete (as of this writing) series in a shiny, cohesive package like Halo: The Master Chief Collection, you'll be disappointed. This series is absolutely deserving of such a treatment, and the reasoning behind it not happening (whatever it is) isn't good enough. Granted, this qualm will be rectified (somewhat) in the future, but all things considered, it still doesn't feel as "ultimate" as it could have (and should have) been. But hey, you're still getting the best possible version of a truly great original.

From a technical standpoint, Gears of War was probably the best-looking game ever made when it was released. In terms of sheer power, it didn't really leave much room for improvement. Artistically, Gears sported a motif of "Destroyed Beauty" (Epic Games' words, not mine); as your adventure took you across the shattered metropolises of Sera, you were always aware of the fact that billions of people actually lived and prospered here at one point. There's a shadow of architectural and cultural majesty lurking somewhere beyond the crumbling, hollowed-out ruins of Embry Square, East Barricade, and even the dilapidated Lethia Imulsion Facility. Let's not forget to mention the animation work and character design. Every single living thing in Gears of War is lavishly detailed, and not just on the outside. The gore factor remains almost unparalleled; everything, human and Locust, is capable of being shot, carved, and blown to pieces. Blood sprays, organs spill out, and limbs are violently torn off. And to this date, it still has the single best headshot animation in all of gaming. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition cleans up what little there was to clean up, and every cutscene has been remade from the ground up. It all looks fantastic, though as with literally everything else, Gears of War 3 remains the best-looking game in the franchise. But still, we've got 1080p and 60 frames per second...

Steve Jablonsky's work on Gears of War 2 and Gears of War 3 admittedly overshadowed Kevin Riepl's work on the original, but it's nice to revisit the soundtrack. While few of Riepl's motifs made it through to the end of the original trilogy, the orchestral score does a fine job of complementing the intense action. Voice work hasn't changed a bit, and that's a good thing. John DiMaggio's instantly identifiable growl has been consistent from the very beginning, and his casting as Marcus Fenix is pretty much perfect. Special mention goes to Carlos Ferro, Lester Speight, and Fred Tatasciore; though Dom, Cole, and Baird don't really get interesting until Gears 2, Gears 3, and Gears: Judgment respectively, they do a fine job of establishing their characters here. Rounding out everything nicely is an incredibly powerful variety of sound effects. All the explosions, gunfire, and rending flesh sound exactly like you'd expect.


As a whole, the Gears of War trilogy has a pretty decent yarn, though it wasn't until Gears of War 2 that things started to get interesting. Gears of War's storytelling isn't so great, from its conventional military/sci-fi setup to the actual narrative of the game, in which not much happens until the very end.

Sera, the Earth analog of this series, was a peaceful world until a race of subterranean monsters called the Locust Horde breached the surface and wiped out nearly all of humanity. In response, man destroyed all but one of their major cities in an effort to deny the Locust the fruits of their conquest. With its back against the wall, humanity developed a weapon of mass destruction capable of penetrating the Locust strongholds and delivering some well-earned payback. So it's the job of Delta Squad, led by disgraced former COG soldier Marcus Fenix, his best friend Dominic Santiago, the legendary pro athlete Augustus Cole, and the cynical Damon Baird -- to help deliver the package.

Gears of War is the third person shooter that all other third person shooters aspire to be. It's pure, fast, and visceral. You advance, take cover, pop out, take your shots, and repeat. Level design is fantastic, allowing for some excellent tactical options. With emergence holes sinking the ground and spewing forth Locust infantry, you'll have to think on your feet. A flanked COG is a dead COG, but the same is true of your enemies. The friendly artificial intelligence is kind of poor, so it's best to bring a friend along for the ride; cooperative play is as wonderful as it's ever been.

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition lengthens the original's five-act campaign and expands the multiplayer offerings to reflect five years of new modes and innovations. Considering that the original game's multiplayer component exclusively featured modes with no respawning allowed, this is a definite plus. Granted, the spectre of permadeath always made for intense matches, so it's nice to see that they haven't cut anything out.


Four difficulty levels govern the level of challenge that hits Sergeant Fenix and his motley crew. In my time with the game, I haven't really noticed any tangible challenge-related differences between Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and the 2006 original release. There are still some nasty spikes; particularly at the end of Acts III and V. The level design simply doesn't accommodate careful planning and execution, and you're left with very few defensive options against the Torque Bow-wielding Theron Guards. But these sections are few and far-between in what is otherwise a very well-balanced shooter.

Multiplayer is a different beast altogether, and the learning curve is a bit different. While cover and suppressing fire absolutely play their respective roles, many matches simply boil down to COGs and Locusts dancing around each other with the Gnasher, firing madly from the hip in the hopes of landing that perfect insta-gib shot. Later Gears games made that strategy far less viable, but it's kind of a hallmark of the original.

Game Mechanics:

Gears of War excels at pretty much everything, but if there's one thing it really knocks out of the park, it's gameplay. You may be controlling a giant hulk of a man, but mobility is a breeze. And it needs to be; Gears is a series that emphasizes location and tactics every bit as much as it does good aiming and heavy firepower.

Two things that make Gears particularly unique are the "roadie run" and the active reload. Simply pushing analog sticks around will have Marcus trot around at a fairly brisk marching clip, but hold down the (A) button, and he will tuck in for a low sprint. The camera shakes as if being held by a war reporter, which greatly contributes to the chaos. The active reload is a unique mechanic; in other games, reloading usually gives you a respite from pulling the trigger. Not so in Gears. A timing mini-game initiates once you push the reload button; if you press it again when the indicator passes over the white spot, you'll reload quickly and gain a damage bonus to the additional rounds loaded. Press it in the gray spot, and you'll reload quickly without the damage boost. Press it anywhere else, and your gun will jam on you. It's a great mechanic that keeps you involved.

Guns, guns, guns. Gears of War brings the guns, and they're almost all extremely fun to use. While much of the core arsenal is overshadowed in later Gears games, there's still no denying the appeal of the Lancer, the Torque Bow, the Boomshot, and the always reliable Gnasher Shotgun. Only the Snub Pistol feels underpowered, though that was definitely rectified in the sequels. Finally, getting up close and personal with the Lancer's chainsaw bayonet or sticking a frag grenade on a drone are still some of gaming's most gratifying and gory delights.

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition isn't the package that the fans wanted, but it's still a very compelling release, especially if you take into consideration the fact that, if you buy it between launch day and the end of 2015, it will include every other Gears game once Xbox One's backwards compatibility rolls out. Taking into account its value pricing, high quality, and modest quantity, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a blast from the not-too-distant past that is indeed worth revisiting.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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