When Epic Games was busy working on the first Gears of War, the developer probably had no idea that it would spawn into the massive franchise that it is today. The knew they had something special, sure, but did they know they were creating a bona fide monster?
The first game in the series was arguably the title that popularised the cover system in third-person shooters, and it became something of a Gears trademark – every game that involved chest-high walls and cover-based-shooting couldn’t escape comparisons.
Nine years after its initial release, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition seems to be targeted at those players who want to enjoy Microsoft’s other flagship shooter franchise on their Xbox One. However, original developer Epic Games is no longer involved having passed on the well-lit and somewhat worn-out torch to The Coalition (although some personnel at the latter studio were part of the team that created the first Gears Of War back in 2006).
The new developer has been tasked with producing Gears Of War 4, so the Ultimate Edition could be seen as it establishing its credentials as the franchise’s new caretaker – much in the same way 343 Industries did with the release of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.
However, if this edition of Gears Of War is aimed at creating the sort of excitement the original release did, it faces an uphill battle.
Gears Of War: Ultimate Edition is essentially a new gen remaster of the original, so naturally it could be argued that if you have played the first game, it may hold little interest for you. Second, beyond a visual scrub, one has to wonder what the Ultimate Edition boasts to earn the rather bolshy adjective in its title.
The most obvious new feature is that the graphics have been given a significant bump in quality, and we wouldn’t expect anything less. We knew from the start that the graphics have been optimised for this generation’s Xbox, but is it enough?
Well, it turns out that it is still a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. It’s slightly difficult to explain, but everything close to the camera has been retextured and smoothed out. However, the further one delves into the background the less detailed it is.
Character models and facial expression are much better now than they were back in 2006, but there were instances during cut scenes that looked as though they could have benefitted from a little more polish.
In short, the graphics have been updated to bring it in line with what is considered normal for the Xbox One, and while it does look much better than the original game, it’s still missing the quality that could make it truly pop.
Gear Of War: Ultimate Edition – New Content
The problem with playing a game nine year after was initially released is that there are lot of the details – plot points, level design, dialogue – that you may be hazy about. This is both a good and a bad thing.
On the positive side, the title can feel like a new game (and in this case, Gears Of War: Ultimate Edition certainly has the graphics to make this case). But The Coalition has stated that the Ultimate Edition features five never-seen-before chapters, and, given the distance between its release and the original – and the fact that Gears has never really been renowned for its narrative or plot – it’s easy to mistake the new content for old unless you replayed the original game recently.
With that said, there were plenty of times Ultimate Edition will prompt a wry smile of nostalgia; it’s hard to forget, for example, one of the best lines in the game when Baird asks Marcus Fenix when the last time was that the wind whispered ‘hostiles’ him as the group makes their way down some caves.
Gears Of War: Ultimate Edition – Mechanics
Before its release, The Coalition also said that there will be a “refinement of the control scheme.” We probably missed what they meant by the word “refinement”, as the controls felt exactly the same as they did in the original game nine years ago.
And when we say “exactly the same”, so there’s no misunderstanding hear, by that we mean that the control scheme feels identical. That having been said, the core mechanics are still rock solid; intuitive and easy to get to grips with the UI is as slick as all get out.
However, when a game gets the remaster treatment, one would also hope that the current developers would at least add a couple of features that would improve on the original, but Ultimate Edition still suffers from the same issues that the first Gears Of War did.
The AI characters in the squad like Baird and Cole (and we assume Dom – we played the review copy through in co-op) are still not the cleverest bunch. More often than not they’re simply in the way when a fire-fight breaks out, and on more than one occasion, they’d block a doorway or thoroughfare, preventing us from moving forward.
With that said, you can play the entire campaign in co-op – as we did – and we highly recommend it. Not only does it make things easier, but at least you can co-ordinate with your buddy on a strategy.
Another aspect that’s been changed (for the better), is when a team mate goes down in the campaign, they no longer bleed out – but they can’t crawl either. Other small aesthetic changes include COG tags to glow bright blue.
Away from the single-player and co-op mode, Ultimate Edition contains a scrubbed version of the multiplayer from the original Gears. There are a couple of new match types – King of the Hill (from Gears 2) and the new 2v2 Gnasher Execution – and a new map, but everything else will be familiar to players. Sadly, the much-loved Horde Mode isn’t in this version of the game; we suppose players will have to wait until Gears Of War 2 Ultimate Edition comes out in order to play it on an Xbox One.
Gears Of War: Ultimate Edition – Verdict
In conclusion, the Gear of War: Ultimate Edition could be recommended as essential… with one or two caveats.
If you’re a die-hard fan of Gears, you should definitely invest some money in this iteration. If you’ve never played a Gears Of War game and the Xbox One is the only Xbox you own, then by all means pick up a copy. Everyone else may struggle to justify the expense.
Gears Of War is still a good game, nine years on from its release. In its current state – improved visuals, extra content and all – it almost manages to stand shoulder to shoulder with a lot of the current crop of shooters, even those that latter iterations of Gears Of War influenced.
It’s a shame that it doesn’t come packaged with the other entries in this series – which would truly earn it the ‘Ultimate’ moniker – and a few of its bugs could do with being ironed out. But right now, it’s still the only game on Microsoft’s latest console that allows players to wield a chainsaw/bayonett and that has to be a worth a look, right? Right?
*Oh, and we forgot to mention that if you buy the Ultimate Edition, you will be able to play for free the Xbox 360 versions of Gears of War, Gears of War 2, Gears of War 3 and Gears of War: Judgment when they are released with backward compatibility for the Xbox One.