Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: The Coalition
It’s a little hard to believe that it’s been 9 years since the Gears of War franchise launched on Xbox 360 with the release of the first Gears of War from developer Epic Games. But here we are, 4 games later, and looking at a modernized version of the first game redeveloped by The Coalition, the new gatekeepers of the Gears franchise for Microsoft. Releasing for Xbox One this week, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition sports some spruced up graphics, with a much steadier framerate on both the single and multiplayer sides of the fence. Is it a pretty clear step up from the original? Yeah, I think so. Will it blow you away in a manner that other remakes and HD ports haven’t? Probably not.
You’ll definitely notice the visual difference as soon as you load into the campaign and see Marcus freed from his prison cell. Textures are detailed in a way that the 360 version of Gears couldn’t do, and even the character models look pretty sharp. I’ve never been a big fan of the way faces look in the Gears universe, and I don’t think they transition well here. But outside of that, everything about this Ultimate Edition looks sharper and prettier than before.
This becomes even more noticeable when you hit some of the larger outdoor areas, and can really take in the broken down architecture and building design. While most of this looked pretty good in 2006, it certainly looks even better here. The color scheme hasn’t really been messed with or changed considerably which I think is a plus, as every facet of this world screams bleak and desolate. Overall, I think The Coalition did a pretty great job of building up and enhancing what was necessary, without going overboard and affecting the visual tone of the game.
That said, not everything is as smooth as you’d think a remake of a 9 year old game should be. There are a few moments here and there where the framerate stutters or skips a beat, noticeable because it’s generally pretty stable. It’s still a big improvement over the 360 version of the game, which had numerous difficulties in single player, but I expected a bit more out of this release. Also, I ran into a few scripted event issues, the first occurring when you meet and rescue Cole. I had to reload that checkpoint twice because my NPC partners wouldn’t open the door leading to the stairs. This happened a few times throughout the campaign, enough so that I imagine other players will encounter these issues too.
As far as multiplayer goes, if you ever enjoyed the original Gears MP, you’ll likely have a lot to love here. A huge selection of maps right out of the gate give a lot of variety at the start, with a decent number of competitive modes, featuring Execution, King of the Hill, Blitz, Team Deathmatch, Assassination, and 2 vs. 2 Gnasher Execution. There’s a decent variety of character skins to unlock as well, some culled from later games in the series, adding a few new bells and whistles to the original experience. The overall feel of MP compared to the original Gears doesn’t feel significantly changed, which could be good or bad depending on how much you enjoyed the evolution of the series between the last three Gears of War releases.
I honestly didn’t get to spend a considerable amount of time with MP prior to release however, so whether or not everything will work smoothly right out of the gate remains to be seen. What I did play ran pretty well, at 60 frames per second throughout, and featured minimal search times and connection issues rarely occurred. With a heavier player load that might change, but my initial experience here is pretty positive. Ideally Microsoft will want to avoid a Halo: Master Chief Collection scenario here, so I have some confidence that this launch will be pretty smooth.
All in all, I think Gears of War: Ultimate Edition owns up to its subtitle quite well. It’s not a perfect remake, but it’s enough of a step up to warrant a look, dependent on how much you enjoy the series as a whole, or the original game. While the campaign side is largely unchanged outside of visual enhancements, the multiplayer side of things feels more robust than the original, provided you didn’t buy into all the DLC when it originally released. It’s also been long enough that a lot of this content won’t be overly familiar and stale, and I imagine that multiplayer will keep most players interested and engaged in the coming months. There’s going to be a lot of shooter competition coming up later this year, but for the meantime, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition will certainly scratch that competitive itch.