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Gears of War: Ultimate Edition

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: The Coalition
Release Date: Aug. 25, 2015

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Xbox One Review - 'Gears of War: Ultimate Edition'

by Adam Pavlacka on Aug. 31, 2015 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Gears of War blends the best of tactical action games with the best of survival horror titles, thrusting gamers into the harrowing story of humankind's battle for survival against the Locust Horde.

It's been nearly a decade since the original Gears of War debuted on the Xbox 360. A masterpiece for its time, Gears of War established drop-in/drop-out co-op play as a viable option for a third-person shooter. Yes, you could play through the campaign solo, but doing so with a partner was the ideal way to experience the story. For Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, the Coalition essentially rebuilt the entire game from the ground up, only keeping the original audio. With its new coat of paint, Gears of War holds up surprisingly well.

When you first start playing Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, it's natural to think, "Yep, this is Gears of War." Going back to the original Xbox 360 game and comparing the two side by side is a wake-up call. Yes, the game plays the same, but the Ultimate Edition has received quite the visual boost. Not realizing so at first is due to what I like to call the "nostalgia filter," where we remember things as looking better than they are.


The most noticeable change to the visuals in Ultimate Edition, aside from the more detailed geometry, is the inclusion of color. The original version was heavy on muted browns and grays, whereas Ultimate Edition really does go all-in with the "destroyed beauty" concept that drove the world design. Gears of War may have been a technological achievement when it launched, but it's easy to believe that what we're seeing in Ultimate Edition is what the original design team had in mind back then, if only the hardware had let them render it.

If you did play Gears of War on the Xbox 360, gameplay in Ultimate Edition is nearly identical. This keeps the feel of the original but also does a great job of showing how well designed the game really was. Some bits do feel dated, such as the gated encounters, but by and large, Gears of War is just as much fun today as it was in 2006. The biggest part of that is the way the game isn't afraid to challenge you. Enemies pack a punch, and if you don't make smart use of cover, you'll get blown to bits.

Still, this is Gears of War, which means your default gun has a built-in chainsaw, so there is always the temptation to charge an opponent and saw them in half. It's not always the smartest move, but it can be incredibly satisfying — doubly so if you manage to do it in versus multiplayer.

Even if you know Gears of War inside and out, there is still a good reason to make your way through the campaign if you only played it on the Xbox 360. The five previously PC-exclusive campaign levels have been included in the Ultimate Edition. As someone who never played the PC version, the additional levels felt like they slotted seamlessly into the game and the story. These aren't random bits just thrown in to extend the play time. They work with the context of the overall story.


Multiplayer was the bread and butter of Gears of War, and that remains true in the Ultimate Edition. After all, you can get all of the campaign achievements within a day or two, assuming you make your first run through the game in co-op on insane difficulty. Multiplayer takes a little more work to master.

Unlike the fast-paced combat of something like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Gears of War features a more deliberate type of fighting. It's not about rushing into battle and killing someone in seconds. Rather, you need to have a bit of map knowledge and know where your enemy is located if you want to be successful. Strategic positioning is just as important as having a big gun.

All of the maps from the Xbox 360 iteration are here, as are the previously PC-exclusive maps. They've gotten the same remaster treatment that the campaign got, so they're visually up to par. More importantly, multiplayer runs at 60 fps, which is a step up when compared to the campaign's 30 fps.

Playlists are split into casual and competitive, with some of the playlists only appearing in one of the two types. The main difference between the two is how fast you earn XP for your character. XP is used to unlock new character skins, and it also serves as a rough estimation of how long you've been playing the competitive multiplayer modes.


In order to keep the games competitive, Gears of War tries to match individual players of like skill. Over the course of the past week, it seemed to handle matchmaking well as long as all players were individuals, but when parties were brought into the mix, it was easy for matchmaking to get confused. For example, in one match, I found myself in a pickup group, while the opposing team of four had three players from the same clan. No matter what your skill level, players who are used to working together will always have an advantage.

Aside from the party issue, matchmaking was otherwise a fairly quick affair. Trying at different times of the day, I was almost always able to get into a game rather quickly. My skills with the Gnasher weren't quite up to par (as I often lost when going one-on-one in a shotgun battle), but I never had to wait ages to get into a match.

Speaking of the shotgun, Ultimate Edition includes a playlist called Gnasher Execution. This is done on a custom map named Boxes and is based on a community-designed style of play. Two teams of two drop into a small, confined area with nothing but shotguns at hand. Kills are quicker than normal deathmatch, but the deliberate pace of play is still present. Gnasher Execution can be more tense than the other versus playlists, if only because you always know exactly where the other players are located. It's all about timing your shot and getting the kill first.


As a remaster, Ultimate Edition generally does the job well, though it does have a few quirks. For example, the campaign is supposed to be locked at 30 fps, but more than once, the frame rate noticeably dropped, especially when the action got particularly heated. Given that Ultimate Edition can maintain 60 fps in versus, it was surprising to see any moments below 30 fps in campaign.

At one point, I found myself unable to progress in Act II because the door at the start of Grist failed to register as one that could open. Thankfully, it just took a checkpoint reload to resolve the issue, but it did result in some mild confusion. In one of my co-op games, all of the enemies failed to load in one act as we approached the Fenix estate.

Another minor issue has to do with the UI. Although the majority of Ultimate Edition was crafted to match the original experience, small tweaks to the controls in campaign (so you are less likely to get "stuck" on cover accidentally) and in versus (tac-com, spotting) help prevent it from feeling completely dated. The Coalition missed a chance to do the same for the main UI. Whereas later Gears of War games showed your achievement progress, here, things are just as they were in the original. You either have achievements or you don't. Partial progress is indicated by a pop-up when you reach an intermediate goal, but that's it. For example, knowing which weapon you still need to kill an opponent with would be useful.


Even though they aren't available quite yet, one nice bonus to buying the Ultimate Edition is the fact that anyone who plays it on the Xbox One before the end of the year will be granted digital copies of all four of the Xbox 360 Gears of War games once Xbox 360 backward compatibility officially launches on the Xbox One. This means you'll be able to directly compare the original Gears of War to the Ultimate Edition and jump into Horde mode, which wasn't in the original and isn't in the Ultimate Edition.

It may not be perfect, but Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is certainly a game worth playing. There is plenty of value to be had, no matter if you are a Gears fanatic or someone who is brand new to the series. Just make sure to experience it with a friend at your side.

Score: 8.7/10



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