If you have followed console videogames for any length of time in the mid 2000’s, you might recognize a few feelings surrounding the period’s consoles. Be it Nintendo’s Wii being a perceived children’s console without substance; or Sony’s Playstation 3 being able to give you all the walking crab monsters you can handle. If one thing is undisputed though, it’s the Xbox 360’s early years were very much received as a frat boy’s dream box. Huge spotlights were placed on sports centric games like the popular Madden football franchise, or the hi-octane racing series Need For Speed. Of all of these polo collar popping titles though, Epic Game’s 2006 release of Gears of War solidifies that image forever into the twilight of “Dudebrodom”.
With today’s newer, faster, more beautiful consoles, you might think the old games we once loved would slide into your closet or ride into the sunset to the nearest Gamestop with the respect they deserve.
You would be dead wrong.
As with my earlier review, quick porting options and fast cash-ins have driven nearly all of the major publishers into a new realm of releasing older titles back into our lives as HD Remasters. With better performing engines and cheap prices tags, these games are often nicer looking recreations of our favorite classics. In this spotlight, possibly to gauge interest for an aging franchise without solid legs on a new console; or maybe to try and make up for a stoic and uninteresting reveal of the newest installment to the franchise, Microsoft thought it good to commission their studio \”The Coalition\” to release the classic shooter with a brand new “Made from scratch” update.
Quick and easy hit, right? Not so fast. Let’s see how it stacks up to its 9 year old counterpart.
In 2006, Gears of War set the stage for Xbox 360\’s first party development abilities, being the first game ever to spotlight what the (at the time) cutting edge Unreal Engine 3 could do on consoles. It set the stage by becoming the new standard for cover based shooting, and introducing exciting mechanics like the “active reload,” a fast paced meta command that might give you a slight edge on the enemy if done properly.
It was a beautiful (but often sluggish) journey into a story of humans vs aliens. On the planet Sera, humanity is at war with the Locust Horde, and they’re doing a poor job. In humanity’s last bastion of hope, massive dude Marcus Fenix and his ragtag group of roided out bros try and alter the course of a failing war. They\’re going to drive back an overwhelming threat, facing outnumbered hordes of bullet sponged snoozefests. What I’m trying to say here is the story is vague and over all uninteresting. A bland action packed venture into muscle infused sci-fi is all together forgettable at best. There is not a lot here, especially if you are a veteran to the series. Aside from a few exclusive missions to the later released PC version of Gears, the single player experience remains unchanged. A generic story often lulls you into just going through the motions and trying to progress to the end as fast as you can. Bland dialogue fails to keep your attention, and a dull plot that eventually fades into a sequel setup leaves you feeling like you haven’t actually accomplished much. That all remains intact here. Take it or leave it, Gears has never really been a game you latch onto for the lore. Even trying to hype it up with a recreation of that sad version “Mad World” won’t save your poor plot.
Another issue I have with the game is the performance for the single player experience on a technical level. Poor AI decisions will leave you scratching your head as to why your buff teammates are making poor strategic choices. You’ll routinely find yourself put in harms way to rescue them. Poor hit boxing will have you emptying an entire clip into an enemies back with little to no effect. A handful of technical issues hold this game back in a severe way. The puzzling thing about these issues are their persistence in a game that\’s been around so long.
I will hand it to Microsoft owned studio “The Coalition,” they have made a beautiful game, especially when compared directly to its older brother; but to say you’ve remade the single player experience from the ground up, and to deliver a game that could have belonged on a last generation console still feels like a misstep. The single player campaign runs at 30 frames per second, which, when compared to the multiplayer portion, which runs at a steady 60fps feels disappointing and slow. I have no problem with a lower frame rate, but consistency makes or breaks your immersion, and it definitely shows here.
The multiplayer is where this title shines. It is easy to see that a bulk of the studio’s effort went into this portion to make it shine. A smooth running experience, a fast match making system, and all sorts of customization options will be there to try to entice you back for more. The only problem I’ve found with the multiplayer, which may speak more to my skill as a shooter enthusiast, is the game’s audience itself. As it has been an ever persisting issue with the Gears franchise, it is a title for the hardcore audience. While other people left to experience other titles, the loyal stayed and became better than the rest. Unless you are one of these loyal patrons, you may find yourself feeling like a turtle fighting a gorilla. In a game where you die one time and then wait out the remainder of the match, this is discouraging to say the least.
My biggest problem with the game is how much it shows it’s age. Sure it’s a recreation of a decade old title, but the franchise has taken leaps into new offerings since that time. Gears Of War 2 had the fantastic introduction of horde mode, and 3 gave you the ability to tag enemies, making the AI focus their attention to your struggles. All of these advancements are disappointingly absent. Leaving us with nothing more than a slightly better looking version of a game that once shined.
So, should you play The Coalition’s version of Gears of War?
If you are new to the series and want to find out what all the fuss is about before the newest member of the family drops, I would say sure. If you are a multiplayer admirer of the series, I would say sure. Everyone else? I’d save the cash for something more interesting.