Hands-on with the rebuilt Gears of War
Gears of War was not alone in ushering in an era of grimdark, of repetitive third-person cover-based shooting, but it ground our faces deepest into the dirt and grit.
At one point an officer yells at prison-broke Marcus Fenix, “you’re not fit to wear that uniform,” yet the army had no qualms about leaving him conveniently locked up in jail in that same armor. Why? The newly redone cutscenes don’t answer this. The dialogue is all the same, but story segments have been otherwise re-directed, re-edited. None of this props up what is a lacking story and unintentionally funny characters, but I’m sure the people who made Gears of War: Ultimate Edition had fun making the original entry look its best.
Well, Rod Fergusson did. I can’t imagine too many studio members of The Coalition, formerly Black Tusk, took a particular nostalgic pride in completely re-doing over 3,000 art assets after the studio canned the original IP it had been working on for near two years. They get to make Gears 4, at least.
Fergusson calls Ultimate Edition “the first at its best.” The team didn’t want to update the gameplay to reflect every change brought about by the second and third sequel. It’s a “balance between modernization and breaking Gears 1.” You still can’t move while downed, for instance, but you can spot enemies. Still, the ten-year-old game could use some cleaning up. Fergusson has talked about the slapdash putting together of the original. He noted that, “When you look at Gilligan’s Island today, it’s a terrible show that should never be watched.” That it isn’t really funny, “but Mary Ann was hot.”
This comparison doesn’t make a ton of sense because Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a tech overhaul. It’s a shot for shot, line for line remake, like that Psycho with Vince Vaughn. An HD, visually remastered Gilligan’s Island would still be Gilligan’s Island.
I played some Gears Ultimate last week in San Francisco. For shock value, they had Xbox 360s set up to play one round of multiplayer in the original. It is gritty and monotone. Characters feel appropriately like tanks and I struggle to discern between human and alien bug ground monster. This problem didn’t go away completely when we switched over to Xbox One, but we can chalk that up to me being not particularly great. I think my team only lost one round, though the win piles were not me carrying folks.
Here’s a more important question: why is the gruff marine third-person cover shooter the thing that feels most copied from Gears and not active reload? Active reload is still so fucking good. It engages the player when they’d otherwise be waiting for an animation to finish, it has practical advantages, more button presses (in repeatable timing instances) makes for more rhythmic and fluid play. Why didn’t everyone do this?
The rest of it is still fun, too. The insult of walking patiently up behind a sniper and casually chainsawing them dead. The hulking movement and exploding heads. That one level with a killer train in between halves. And there are new additions like TDM, differing “competitive” and “social” matchmaking, 4K displays if you buy it on PC, additional content if you never played the original PC release.
Playing Gears Ultimate will net you the previous Gears games when Xbox One sorts out its backwards compatibility, too, and you of course get early access to Gears 4 down the line.