Gears of War is one of my favorite franchises.  My buddy Mike and I have played through each game twice, on normal difficulty and again on insane, and we’ve found all the collectible COG tags in each game.  I mentioned in my Xbox One unboxing article that the remake of the original Gears of War game with my console, so naturally we played through it.

In short, I enjoyed it.  I wouldn’t recommend playing it alone, but if you have a friend you can co-op with, give Gears a chance.

Marcus and Dom - bros til the end
Marcus and Dom – bros til the end

  • TL;DR: An HD upgrade a classic co-op shooter
  • Platform: Xbox One
  • Hours Played: 11
  • What I Played: Co-op campaign on insane difficulty, found all COG tags
  • Should You Play It?: If you have a friend to tag team with, then yes.

Humans on the planet Sera were surprised on Emergence Day, or E-Day, when the underground-living Locust horde burst through and attack.  The Coaliation of Ordered Governments, or COG, is the military force standing in their way.  A crew of four soldiers — Marcus, Dom, Baird, and Cole — are on a mission to stop General RAAM and the Locust once and for all.

Gears of War has a lot of memorable items and systems in it’s now 10-year-old (has it really been that long?) life.  First and foremost, Gears is a cover-based shooter.  It wasn’t the first, but it’s certainly the most impactful.  Using a single button to take cover is something a lot of games do nowadays, but Gears of War really started the fire.  You can also use the A button to run while ducking, or roadie run.  Roadie runs are fun in that they give you a sense of the danger Marcus and company are in, camera shaking and equipment rattling as they move.

While running between cover spots and popping in and out to fire are integral parts of playing any Gears game, the brutality of the weapons themselves play just as big a part.  To start, the standard Lancer assault rifle has a chainsaw attached to it, for God’s sake.  There is a satellite-linked gun called the Hammer of Dawn which calls down a fiery death ray.  Then there’s my personal favorite, the Torque Bow, which shoots arrows that explode after sticking for a few seconds.  Each weapon has a reload progress bar which can be cut short with a timed button press, called an active reload, which gives a damage boost for a short time.  Messing up an active reload causes your gun to jam, though, leaving you with your pants down for a short time.  All of these weapons cause incredible messes with limbs flying, heads rolling, and blood all over the place.  Just landing hits on enemies gives a slightly squishy sound.

Squad up
Squad up

Let’s get back to the crew.  Gears of War features a squad of four main characters.  Marcus is the leader, with his gritty voice and clouded past.  I always play as Dom, Marcus’s main man, who wants to both help his friend and find his lost wife.  Baird is the brains of the group but also an arrogant asshole.  Cole, though.  Oh man.  Anyone who’s played a Gears game will tell you that Cole is the man.  Voiced by Office Linebacker Terry Tate, he’s a former Thrashball (Sera’s version of football) star with an … energetic personality.  He’s awesome.

Gears of War really is the co-op/bro shooter to end them all.  Honestly, it beats you over the head with the sense that these four guys are in this together and will get through it together.  It’s got a similar feel to the Army of Two games: tight friends against impossible odds with insane weaponry.

The main group of four is almost always together throughout the ~10 hour campaign, which is split into roughly 30 chapters.  Every mission is essentially the same: move through a setting, stop to wipe out enemies, repeat.  There isn’t much in the line of puzzle solving, but there are collectibles to find.  The bloody skull Gears of War logo can be seen nearby each COG tag, but some of them are still pretty tough to find.  Pro tip: there is a level near water with a very long dock.  One of the COG tags is at the end of that dock.

Behold the dull tones!  Embrace the brown!
Behold the dull tones! Embrace the brown!

A common knock on the Gears franchise is the overwhelming amount of browns and grays.  I can’t argue with that.  The world after E-Day is a very bland place with burning wreckage usually being the most exciting thing to see.  The new Ultimate Edition is certainly prettier than the original, with more detailed character models and less Muppet-like facial movements, but the color scheme is the same.  Also, if you’re big on the realism of characters, this may not be a game for you.  While they are pretty highly detailed, remember that Gears of War is based on the Unreal Engine and the characters all look like the characters from other mid 2000s Unreal games — enormous linebackers with huge armor and tiny heads.  It’s definitely over the top, but it adds to the charm if you ask me.

While I appreciate some of the touch-ups in the Ultimate Edition, I’ve got a few annoyances to lay out.  The first is around COG tags.  Any tag that I pick up, I could no longer see while playing with other people.  This is a pain when I was further in the story with my friend than I was with my wife, as I would have to try and remember where a tag was after finding the skull logo so that she could pick it up for us.  Secondly, certain scenes of Marcus and Dom talking to HQ would keep on talking even while under fire when clearly the video portion of the scene ended prematurely.  C’mon now.

Gears of War has a small but dedicated multiplayer base.  I absolutely love playing the wave-based Horde mode, introduced in Gears of War 2, but it is unfortunately missing in Ultimate Edition.  There are the standard deathmatch and king of the hill modes, though.  I’m not big on standard Gears multiplayer because, at least in my short experience, it boils down to diving and shotgunning 99% of the time.  It’s not really for me.

It wouldn't be Gears of War without a chainsaw strapped to an assault rifle
It wouldn’t be Gears of War without a chainsaw strapped to an assault rifle

I’ll always have a spot on my heart for any Gears of War game.  Objectively, though, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition probably isn’t a game you want to play solo.  The AI has enough personality to be interesting, but I think most of that fun comes from talking about them with a co-op partner.  The color pallette is primarily gray and brown, so if you only like to look at the prettiest of games, you may want to steer clear.  But, if you’ve got a friend who wants to team up for some overly gory, almost cartoony violence, give Gears of War: Ultimate Edition a shot.  In the words of Augustus Cole, “that’s my kinda shit.”


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