Gears of War Ultimate Edition: 2015 catchup review

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Gears of War is the ultimate brom-com, a game that runs on pure testosterone and is impossible to satirise; it’s simply not possible to make this look any more ridiculous than it already is. It was ripe for the remastering, certainly. One of the Xbox 360’s flagship titles, it proved oddly successful and spawned three sequels (with a fourth on the way for Xbone). This new-gen re-release however proves that, no matter how pretty it may now be, time has not been kind to the experience.

Pretty this game indeed is, even if the application of such a light-hearted and quaint word may be somewhat ironic here. Extremely detailed and featuring intensely high-res textures, the Ultimate Edition looks like a title that was built from the ground up for the Xbox One. You’d never guess it was made in the early stages of the previous generation. Well, you know, apart from the fact that it’s one of the most successful and famous Microsoft exclusives of all time.

Does the base experience need a full explanation? Well in case you missed it the first time around, Gears of War is a third person shooter with a heavy emphasis on taking cover. Oh, and ripping aliens apart with the chainsaw built into your gun. There’s also the signature ‘roadie run’ where, when moving at speed, your character hunches down and the camera shakes around in a slightly annoying manner. That’s an accurate (and depressingly thorough) description of the vast majority of the game – shoot things, hide behind stuff, occasionally split squishy things in half, run, rinse, repeat. Oh – and sometimes you get to turn valves!

Doesn’t this look, er, exciting.

The ‘story’ concerns nasty monsters that come out of the ground. It is your job to shoot the nasty monsters and help make sure they stop coming out of the ground with a big bomb. That’s it, really. Not exactly His Dark Materials, is it? To be clear, there are plenty of brilliant games with shoddy narratives. When this game was first released, that was pretty much the norm. The preposterous atmosphere of a game dreamed up by a sweaty fourteen year old boy who’s failing at school bleeds out of the cutscenes, though, and into gameplay.

You and your team of monster fighters are, in a word, ridiculous. Inhuman collections of walking muscle that appear to gorge on a year’s worth of steroids every day, they attempt to compensate for having little to nothing in their pants by killing as many things as possible and grunting ‘witty’ banter at each other.

You may have seen the phrase ‘brown shooter’, or something like it, in use over the last few years or more. This arguably started with Gears of War, which is the epitome of such a thing. As previously mentioned, the graphics have been given a very impressive upgrade – but the colour palette has not. The graphics are technically impressive, but the game remains ultimately (ha!) very dull to look at. Although the controls are fairly solid, it’s often very dull to play, too. The monotony alluded to earlier isn’t helped much by the slightly rubbish driving section, or even by the fact that – even with the sections previously exclusive to the PC version – it’s a fairly short campaign.

AI remains embarrassing and hideously out of date. An enemy and an ally will often take cover virtually side by side, usually blissfully unaware of one another’s existence. Your allies are the real dimwits though, as they’ll happily stand right in your way temporarily making certain doorways impassable. More than once, we watched a highly-trained musclehead spend minutes trying to run through a wall with no signs of stopping. At one point, an ally spent a full five minutes shouting and shooting at a locked door with no sign of enemy presence. Eventually, we discovered that the area we thought we’d cleared had one final enemy who had for some reason failed to leave his spawn point, politely waiting behind a table for us to find and kill him.

Doesn’t scream “must buy” at you, does it?

As for online, it’s difficult to imagine anybody but the sociopathic teenage boys the game was clearly designed for sticking with it for long. It may run at 60fps (why the heck not do that for the campaign?), but there are a hundred online shooters running at 30fps which are infinitely superior. It’s a train wreck of game design. The assault rifles which you rely heavily upon offline are essentially useless online. Seriously, they deal only negligible damage, which is why nobody who’s been playing multiplayer for more than five minutes uses them. The servers are crammed full of people who, regardless of level, stick almost exclusively to the shotgun as this is the only decent weapon. Other weapons usually come out only as an insult to finish you off if you’re bleeding out on the ground. Oh, and if you’re playing King of the Hill (with no time limit)? Beware tedious players who guard objectives with the sole intent of farming the opposing team for killstreaks.

The Ultimate Edition was the perfect opportunity to fix the original, and this opportunity has been well and truly squandered. It serves to prove only that the industry should be learning from the many mistakes of this game, not celebrating them.

critical score 4

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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