Like a well oiled machine, Gears of War is back and ready to lock and load….and roadie run. Keeping in tact everything that made the original great while adding in various graphical and technical improvements, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is more than your average remaster: it has been fully rebuilt from the ground up to take advantage of the power of the Xbox One. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the original voice over work, which still holds up nearly a decade later.
Before I get into describing my experiences in the beta compared to those of the original release almost a decade ago I do need to provide a warning: GoW:UE is not intended for those under 18 years of age. Explosions easily decapitate players or make them disintegrate into a pile of gibs. Close range shotgun blasts will blow characters apart and the chainsaw bayonet will sever opponents in half for an instant kill. This level of violence in Gears should come as no surprise however, considering the original was made by Epic Games, the same people who brought us the ultra violent Unreal Tournament years prior.
The first thing I noticed upon diving into GoW:UE is that the game manages to retain the same brand-new feeling as the original game when it launched back in November of 2006. Simply put, there is still nothing else quite like it on any other console. Sure, The Last Of Us: Remastered has a multiplayer mode that plays very similarly to Gears of War but the methodical back-and-forth, cat-and-mouse gameplay of Gears is missing from Naughty Dog’s hit post-apocalyptic romp.
I felt a euphoric rush of joy in my first match of the beta which currently has both Ranked and Unranked play options. Going toe to toe with opponents in that familiar shotgun vs. shotgun ballet has always been one of the highlights of Gears of War multiplayer. Two equally matched opponents step into the ring…only one comes out alive.
King of the Hill is the gametype available for ranked play, while Team Deathmatch is available for unranked player matches. Unlike in the Xbox 360 version, GoW:UE has respawns in team deathmatch. Each team has a pool of ten lives and when all those lives are lost the surviving team wins the round. New to GoW:UE is a persistent leveling system that follows you through each match and tallies your overall score. Players will lose points if they rage quit out of a previous match. Playing consecutive matches and even after suffering repeated losses nets extra points toward your level. While weapon and character skins are handed out freely during the beta, the leveling system look to be the primary method for unlocking these goodies in the final release.
GoW:UE brings Gears fans back to the simpler days of 4 vs 4 squad-based multiplayer mayhem. The same four basic starter weapons return: the Gnasher Shotgun, Lancer Assault Rifle, Smoke Grenades, and the tiny but powerful Snub Pistol. The familiar back-and-forth tug of war over the powerful weapon pick-ups including the Sniper Rifle, Boom Shot (Grenade launcher) and Torque Bow (an explosive bow and arrow combo) is still very much the heart of each multiplayer match. Gone are the poorly balanced Mortars and the One Shot (a Sniper Rifle that blows opponents apart in just one shot to the body) of yesterday’s Gears of War as the Ultimate Edition takes us back to the basics.
For the uninitiated, Gears of War is a game where two teams of four face off in mostly symmetrical combat arenas with each team spawning relatively close to one of two power weapons, which are often the key to pulling ahead and dominating a match. However, players who have perhaps never played a Gears of War title before will find that they start with plenty of weapons to even the playing field. 90% of kills in the game will likely be earned from Gnasher vs. Gnasher showdowns. Another 5% will likely come from the chainsaw bayonet attached to the underside of the aforementioned Lancer Assault Rifle. The remaining 5% will likely boil down to whoever can dominate with the power weapons early on.
Despite the great nostalgia trip the Beta took me on, I was a little disappointed that the same inconsistencies with the effectiveness of the Gnasher Shotgun in the original Gears of War are still present in the Ultimate Edition. Sometimes it will down an opponent in one shot from mid range; other times it takes four or more shots to do this. While this certainly could boil down to lag or server strain due to the beta test, these inconsistencies with the weapons are some of the most glaring flaws of the original release. There seems to be some issues with teams not being balanced, as I played many games that were 3 vs 4 or 5 vs 4 due to wonky matchmaking. Hopefully, The Coalition (formerly Black Rock Studios) will be able to squash these issues before the official release.
It remains to be seen if the full game will keep the familiar Warzone (one life per round) and Execution (players must be finished off with an execution move or headshot for it to count as a kill) modes from the original release. Though, a very empty looking main menu hints that many modes and options will be available for returning Gears fans. Here’s hoping for the return of the Wingman gametype from Gears 2 and 3. Wingman features four teams of two battling it out for dominance.
Unlike in the first Gears on Xbox 360, all players can now select their loadout which consists of a weapon and character skin. The Ultimate Edition comes with nineteen maps for multiplayer out of the box, five of which I recently played in the beta. The game will even include the previously unreleased maps that were exclusive to the PC version. The Coalition has also added in some minor gameplay elements from Gears 2 and 3 such as the ability to mark enemies for teammates while aiming your weapon and an improved Lancer Assault Rifle.
The beta, which ran from 6/15/15 until 6/23/15 saw new maps and skins being added daily. Playing the beta each day or for a specific time period during the day allowed participants to unlock these skins for use in the full game.
Despite the minor setbacks, however, The Coalition is on the right track to reviving the Gears of War mania that started with the original game. Anyone who is a fan of fun, skill-based, multiplayer shooters owes it to themselves to check out Gears of War if they have not done so already. It’s tight, frantic, overly-aggressive cover based gameplay is some of the best in the industry and has spawned many copycats since the original release in 2006. I hope to see everyone join the fight against the Locust when the game launches on August 25th.