Over the past several years, my gaming habits have changed.
As a youngster, the biggest thrill I got out of gaming came in the form of multiplayer. I could spend hours at a time online playing frantic matches of “Halo” or “TimeSplitters,” unblinking eyes glued to the television. Something about competing against actual players across the globe enticed me. While I've always enjoyed single-player experiences, for a while, nothing could match the fun I found in multiplayer games.
My love for digital competition peaked in 2010 with the launch of “Halo: Reach.” After its initial release, I spent all hours between my college classes playing that game. It didn't take long to burn myself out, though. I stopped playing almost as quickly as I'd begun.
It was a few years later that I realized I hadn't really enjoyed many multiplayer games since.
I attribute some of that sudden change to a shift in how I'd come to enjoy games as a whole. When I was young, I could not have cared less about stories or characters. I was that impatient twerp who'd skip cut scenes and dialog in an anxious frenzy just to retake control of the main character and start saving the world again. Multiplayer provided that feeling nonstop, so it was there I found my fix.
As I aged, though, I came to appreciate video game stories as much as—and, in some cases, more than—a good book or movie. Games such as “Metal Gear Solid,” “BioShock” and “The Last of Us” instilled in me a fondness for video game storytelling and characterization. I suddenly began basing my purchasing decisions on a game's potential for an engaging tale, often ignoring its multiplayer components altogether.
Around this time, I found out that I'm not that good at video games, either. I can beat most single-player games on the hardest difficulty with enough patience, sure, but the moment I step online, I'm mediocre at best. Maybe I was a better gamer as a child. (Perhaps my reflexes were more fine-tuned back then.) Maybe online connectivity now makes it easier to be matched against supremely talented opponents. Either way, I no longer sit at the top of leaderboards like before.
Now that I've beaten “Gears of War: Ultimate Edition,” I recently decided to check out the multiplayer. “Gears” multiplayer has always been different from most competitive shooters. It's slower, more methodical and focused on teamwork, all of which is right up my alley. I remember enjoying multiplayer in all three main “Gears of War” games when they originally released for the Xbox 360 years ago.
I expected to play a few matches and have my fill, but that's not what happened. One week later and dozens of matches in, I can't get enough “Gears of War” multiplayer. My passion for competitive gaming has been rekindled.
The first thing I noticed stepping into a “Gears” multiplayer match is the fluid framerate. Online “Gears of War” matches run at a smooth 60 frames per second, which is something I'd never experienced before. My mouth fell open as I simply rotated the camera and moved around, marveling at how beautiful everything looked.
Then somebody promptly killed me, but I digress.
Another remarkable thing about “Gears of War's” multiplayer is, sadly, that it simply works. Too many games today launch with buggy or broken online components, requiring downloads and patches before they work as intended. It took months for “Halo: The Master Chief Collection's” multiplayer to function properly.
“Gears of War: Ultimate Edition” has basked in flawless online support from day one. Despite the negative things it says about the industry, that alone begets some attention.
Another thing I love about “Gears” multiplayer is how fair it is. Everyone starts with the same weapons, and no one is given any special advantage through extra perks or abilities. Kill streaks don't earn you special rewards. Everyone knows where each power weapon is, even if it's their first time on the map, thanks to each item being marked for all to see. The difference between a win and a loss comes down to the players' skill and teamwork, not cheap perks that change the tide of battle.
Speaking of weapons, “Gears of War” features one of the most unusual weapons in any game I've played: the Gnasher shotgun. Despite it being a secondary weapon to the Lancer assault rifle each player starts with, the Gnasher is a favorite among all Gearheads. Multiplayer matches quickly turn into Gnasher battles as players dance around each other, shotguns in hand, shooting at each other from the hip until someone is blasted into gooey bits. There's no other shooter quite like it.
Other weapons on the maps only add to the chaos and fun. The Torque bow is a crossbow that shoots glowing bolts into opponents that quickly explode. The Longshot is a sniper rifle that's actually fun to use considering the game's slower pace makes nabbing a headshot easier without making it effortless. The Hammer of Dawn calls down an orbital blast capable of wiping out an entire team in one shot. No matter what weapon you're using, it's been crafted with care to make gameplay fun while remaining fair.
“Gears of War: Ultimate Edition” has reignited my love for competitive video games. I'm not that good at it, but “Gears” knows how to make multiplayer fun, even when you're losing. That's why I'll be playing for weeks to come.