By: Cameron Allan
The original Gears of War is a game that transcends memorability; it has gone down in history as a milestone timeless classic in the gaming industry. When it was first launched, it exceeded previously made expectations and absolutely blew away its competition; it changed the world of video games for years to come and would become a template for developers to meet in exceptional quality.
It was unparalleled at the time in aspects of gameplay, graphics, story, style and multiplayer. Gears of War provided players with a gritty, gruesome and over all melancholy experience that paid homage to all things macabre alongside a host of vibrant and energetic characters that developed with each passing chapter of the campaign. Fans later dubbed “gearheads” hailed its exceptionality and knew that a legendary franchise had been born, one that Microsoft had faith in to be a major console seller, and that it most certainly was.
The game created a huge barrier for those who were caught between the trenches in the console war of 2006, it was a deciding factor for myself and many others to purchase an Xbox 360 and it is likely one of the underlying reasons why many have chosen to upgrade to the next generation Xbox console, as opposed to its PlayStation counterpart. Now after reaching meteoric success, having hundreds of millions of hours clocked in and several sequels, the original, the game that fostered the franchises now world renowned prestige is back at the fore, but I am reluctant to claim it has in a huge way. It pains me to say this, but the “ultimate” edition of the original version of this game is hardly that, in fact, I’d even go as far to say that it is quite inferior in some areas to the initial game that hit shelves nearly 9 years ago.
Now before we begin I would like to lay claim to a few facts. This review is written by a diehard fan of the franchise. I have played every release, excluding judgment, religiously for the 9 amazing years they have been in existence, clocking in an unhealthy amount of hours in both the campaign and multiplayer modes. I am actively involved in the games tight knit community, and deeply understand what it is that makes these games so special. As such, it is incredibly difficult for me to personally admit that the game was heavily flawed, but alas, I must remain unbiased and honest. From my personal experience of playing through the campaign a full two times, this game was a huge disappointment, on many fronts and I must refrain from stamping on a seal of approval or quality on it.
A word that fans constantly heard being reiterated prior to the release of the game was painstakingly, a term that is not meant to be taken lightly in the slightest. It implies that a ridiculous amount of care, diligence and effort were invested into creating something that is on the verge of utter perfection, quite the bold statement as you can imagine. Anyone who plays this game will come to the almost immediate realization that those principles were not followed through with in many areas; the word was merely used as a marketing ploy, tantamount to an empty expression. Now with that being said, this new installment in the Gears franchise did have its fair share of pros mind you, but they were unequivocally outweighed by its larger amount of cons.
Gears of War is a household title, everyone is more than familiar with the original story by now and my even repeating it would be wholly redundant, regardless, it needs to be briefly mentioned.
The game is set on a planet identical to earth called Sera and documents the strife between two warring military factions, the Coalition of Ordered Governments or COG as it is abbreviated, and the Locust, a subterranean species of ferocious mutants bent on reclaiming the world above them for their own. Throughout the game you play as Marcus Fenix, a decorated, battle scarred, all around bad ass cog soldier who finds himself broken out of prison and forced back on the battlefield a whole 14 years after the locust emerged from the depths of Sera. Alongside his formal military group delta squad, he is charged with mapping out the extensive locust tunnels underground using a high frequency resonator and deploying a series of light mass imulsion bombs to obliterate the locust threat from its very source, but things do not go exactly as planned.
The games poignant story is illustrated gorgeously and is met with graphics that look absolutely astonishing, with remodels displaying that which gamers would expect in a next generation title. Every piece of armor worn by the cog, every locust creature, every last one of the vast arsenal of unique weapons and every cinematic moment has been remodeled and polished to the point where the player will have their hand placed firmly against their mouth in bewilderment for the majority of the game.
Players can effortlessly visualize cinematic crispness; every bead of sweat, wrinkle, scar, flesh wound, pour and action from each character in the game is highlighted beautifully. Color palates have been given that darker, gloomier feel to them that fans are used to and there is an extensive amount of detail in the atmosphere itself. You can feel everything has been provided with intensive care and polish, and has been entirely re-authored, featuring massive towering buildings and expansive environments where you can gaze as far as the eye can see. Everything is absolutely decimated, grimy and war torn, and yet the player is still able to bask in its beauty which is something that truly outlines graphical prowess.
Although all that stuff looks fantastic, that’s all I felt the games story was, nothing but a graphical update. There were things that I was stand offish about, that depicted a lack of attention to detail, things that may have been excusable in the last generation, but are most definitely not in the current one, especially under the “ultimate” surname this game has been given.
Some of the physics and particles look dreadful and illogical, especially when rummaging your way through destroyed remnants of the environment, or when you drive your Junker through abandoned vehicles that hardly act as a blockade. I noticed countless elements that were in desperate need of a remodel and looked lazy and cheap. If you lightly explore off the beaten path, you will often come across humans who weren’t fortunate enough to make it out alive of the conflict, this seemingly saddening moment is now laughable because every dead person in the game has the exact same character model! Certain glass cannot be shot through with the exploding force of bullets, entering codes to open doors looks haphazard at best, pushing cars to provide movable cover looked jittery, spending whole minutes in the rain does not leave the luster of wetness on your armor and I noticed a couple occurrences of heavily delayed texture loading. Although the cinematic sequences look absolutely beautiful, moments where they directed your attention to upcoming locust approaching your position looked irrevocably choppy. These are just a few of the many noteworthy shortcomings that I noticed while playing, and if this game was designed to reinvigorate the spirit of gears to the next generation, they have not taken into account the shift in what gamers expect from their video games, especially ones of Gears of War’s magnitude.
The sounds in this game are positively spellbinding; the game has received well-crafted and updated sound quality which gives everything that much needed extra oomph. Whether it be the cracking pump action of the gnasher shotgun, the rattling fully automatic bursts of the lancer, the satisfying pop of locusts skulls being shattered clean off or the charging of the incinerating power of the hammer of dawn, massacring unrelenting waves of locust never sounded so pleasant, as sadistic as that might sound.
The dynamic, bravado themed relationship between characters is apparent and dialogue is organic and light heartedly humorous with all the cheesiness held intact, something that veteran gears players have become all too familiar with and have learned to love. Fans will revel in the fact that the story mode features the unblemished, perfectly delivered voice acting from the original game, which is sure to remind players of the reasons why they fell in love with the game and its characters in the first place. Marcus’ booming hoarse voice sounds just as badass, Dom remains as the perfect pessimistic personality of reason, Cole’s raw athleticism and energy is still just as entertaining to listen to and Baird’s hyper intelligent, vulgar and seemingly never ending rants are maintained in hilariousness.
This holds true for a long spanning portion of the campaign, but there were instances where dialogue made next to no sense in some of the latter chapters. The music itself is instrumental and up-tempo, outlining the discordant and frightening nature of the war. It featured fast paced orchestral pieces that perfectly set the frantic mood of the battle. Yet as the campaign dragged on, I became progressively bored and unenthused by them as I began to notice the same music had been recycled countless times during firefight sequences.
Ah the gameplay, the fragment that single handedly destroyed the possible memorable experience I could have had while playing this game. There are only a few gratifying factors within the gameplay that I could talk about, ones that had already mostly been done perfectly in the classic version, which is sad because it is the quintessential game making component for any title.
We are returning to the tried and true gears of war experience, closing emergence holes, an aura of difficulty and darkness and interesting level design, along with a few horror elements here and there to leave players on the edge of their seat. The game has and always will take the saying heads will roll literally and players will find that they become all too familiar with locust anatomy. Appendages splatter in explosions of blood and guts with a single well placed shotgun blast, grenade throw, or boltok pistol shot, and it is feels beyond exhilarating.
This is definitely not a game that emphasizes running and gunning, it requires strategic utilization of cover to gain the upper hand on the enemy. They reward the adventurous player, providing them with extra ammo, more high profile and heavy damage dealing weapons, grenades, and cog tags for you to collect. Speaking of which, they have included an interesting new feature that allows for the comic book series that accompanies the game to become entirely unlockable through the gathering of these cog tags that are strewn throughout the world, providing more depth and enveloping the player in the games previously hidden lore.
Anyone who has played the original can willingly admit that it was rather broken, the controls felt pretty unpolished and the animations were jerky and uncoordinated, but you could still give the game credit, especially when you look at the year of its release.
Now a whole 9 years later, the game falters in comparison to others that have been declared a next gen experience, it simply does not cater to the desires of the next generation of players who expect more from their video games than just pretty graphics. I really wish that they would have dedicated a lot more time on fine tuning the gameplay experience. Sure there were a lot of annoying bugs, like having no head shot registration on locust who manned the troika, or that mind numbingly annoying AI chainsaw bug, but that should be expected now a day with the ease of releasing launch day patches. Nonetheless, I found certain aspects absolutely irrevocable.
The defining mechanic of gears of war, its cover system, felt awfully choppy at times, there were given moments where you would be stopped dead in your tracks while traversing along a wall or barrier, and other times where you were not given the prompt to run around cover, which meant I was missing that edge against the locust like I had in previous installments. I also found that level design in the heavily advertised 2 hours of additional campaign content was non innovative and highly repetitive. Restoring power to things, having to kill seeders to restore com link with control, it all was just something I seriously could have done without.
I could have forgiven them for all that, and believe me when I say my inner fanboy really wanted to, if only it weren’t for the mind bogglingly unintelligent friendly and enemy AI. They do not react to being placed in dangerous situations and effectively ruin the intensity and suspense of momentous parts in the game. You will particularly notice this during climactic points like boss battles. Your main AI partner Dom will walk around as if he is enjoying his Saturday evening stroll directly toward perilous foes, allowing for their swift and powerful attacks to down and kill him almost every single increasingly frustrating time. Apparently, they also have no problem with forcing you to enter into the frontlines alone, outmanned and outgunned, instead they’d rather stare blindly at walls whole miles away from your position and then appear randomly out of thin air upon your reaching of the next checkpoint. Independence is not their strong suit either, they lack any sort of problem solving skill whatsoever, darting back and forth uncontrollably like headless chickens until you get out of the way of their preset paths.
They seem to wander about aimlessly, and provide the player with nothing but a laughable hassle. If you are looking for actual companions, look further, they are indistinguishable from poorly designed robots. Enemy AI was correspondingly terrible as well. They are not very responsive, perhaps that may have had something to do with my difficulty level, but I could honestly peer at them for what seemed like minutes through my iron sights and with enough time they would frantically burst into action, or they would do nothing at all, generating an awkward time void until you finally decide to put them out of their misery. Enemy AI does not move very fluidly, and at times they couldn’t hit me if their lives depended on it… and their lives do depend on it! Or even worse other times they would walk right past you, completely oblivious to your presence. All of the buildup of this camaraderie between downtrodden, hardened soldiers and the treacherous enemy they are tirelessly fighting against is thrown to the wayside and I personally was left not taking them or the game’s campaign in its entirety, very seriously.
Be all that as it may, the multiplayer functionality in this game is unquestionably phenomenal, dramatically increasing the games shelf life, and adding an ambience of ripe, fast paced competitive play. I have always commended Gears of War for providing the player with an unmatched, cutthroat multiplayer experience. It has come a long way from just being a last minute addition to fulfill obligations for Microsoft back in 2006. You were placed within a variety of 20 amazingly designed maps with the exact same weapons as everyone else, competing in an assortment of different unique game types to create a fast paced and fair online game time after time.
There are no kill streaks, perks, customizable weapons or score streaks here and that revitalization of classic third person shooter gameplay was just how I liked it. They have taken advantage of the capabilities of the new system, allowing for its graphical improvements to be met with an excellent frame rate speed and higher resolution all on dedicated servers, no more host advantage! It allows nostalgia to reemerge for dedicated gears of war fans yet includes some of the useful mechanical changes like grenade tagging, and spotting, and noteworthy game mode inclusions like team deathmatch found in future iterations that make for all-around far better matchmaking experience. I was actually fortunate enough to participate in the beta for the multiplayer and even in that early stage of development, it still looked and felt absolutely astonishing. It will perfectly capture everything fans know and love about the series and I am veritably excited to pop some more heads and body people all around the world into juicy little giblets.
Overall the fuel that drove the fire for this review was frustration and disenchantment. The campaign mode functionality was just not up to par with what I personally expect from a Gears of War title, especially one in this current generation. Although the overarching graphics and sounds will leave you having to pick your jaw up off the floor, individual details that made the first installment so troublesome were not nursed back to next-gen health. The game felt slightly broken and unpolished, and they should not have placed such a tight time constraint on themselves so that they could really secure the game as a memorable next generation experience in elements of the story mode. It’s major saving grace was its outstanding multiplayer, that has managed to keep pace with the times and exceed expectations. My final review score for this game is a firm 6.5/10.