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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


XOne/PC Preview - 'Gears of War: Ultimate Edition'

by Adam Pavlacka on Aug. 3, 2015 @ 6:00 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.

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition hits Xbox One consoles later this month, and in anticipation of its release, Microsoft held a small get-together in San Francisco, showing off both single- and multiplayer gameplay.

Before we jumped into the game, Rod Ferguson ran through some of the feature highlights for Ultimate Edition. Graphics are the most obvious change, with all 3,000+ art assets in the game having been rebuilt from scratch. This includes the cut scenes, which were also redone, keeping nothing but the audio. The campaign runs in 1080p at 30fps, while multiplayer runs in 1080p at 60fps.

In terms of campaign content, Ultimate Edition contains all of the missions included in the original game, as well as the expanded Delta Squad Brumak content that was previously exclusive to the PC. COG tag collectibles now unlock digital comics. There are a total of five different comics to unlock. A new casual mode has been added to bring the difficulty modes in line with the other games in the franchise. Casual in the original Xbox 360 version is now normal in Ultimate Edition.

Playing through the campaign in Ultimate Edition immediately feels familiar to anyone who experienced the original back in 2006. The gameplay hasn't appreciably changed, which is a very good thing. Gears of War may be a third-person shooter, but it is slower and more deliberate than most. Rather than focusing on twitch gameplay, Gears of War requires a measured approach and heavy use of cover if you want to survive. Campaign can be played solo or in co-op.

The visual differences between the Xbox One and the original Xbox 360 versions were immediately obvious. Yes, the geometry is more detailed, and there are more little bits to the world, but it is the color range that stands out the most. Ultimate Edition isn't exactly a bright and happy place, but it is a more vibrant representation of Sera than the muted colors that we saw on the Xbox 360, resulting in a world that feels more realized. Moving through the world was smooth and seamless, with no obvious frame dropping. Cut scenes also benefit, as the original game had them in a lower frame rate than what is seen here.

While the campaign revamp will provide a reintroduction to the world, it is the multiplayer aspect that sees bigger changes. We covered some of the multiplayer highlights in June, and the game has progressed since then. Multiplayer benefits from the improved color range seen in the campaign mode, as well as bumping the frame rate up to 60fps.

Multiplayer in Ultimate Edition includes remastered versions of all of the DLC from the original Xbox 360 version as well as the original PC version. This means you're getting 19 maps, each of which has been rebuilt with new assets. Multiplayer supports dedicated servers as well as full LAN support for local matches.

Some tweaks were made to the multiplayer mode to ensure improvements to the series weren't discarded just for the sake of the remaster. For example, King of the Hill, which originally debuted in the PC version of Gears of War, appears with the Gears of War 3 rule set. Team deathmatch is also here, again with the Gears of War 3 rules.

Further updates include enemy spotting and tactical communications, making it simple to call out targets on the field. Spectator mode is available, which will be great for tournaments and stream commentators. Split-screen support is in, and the matchmaking system is focused on player skill rankings when assembling pick-up groups.

Playing a few rounds of multiplayer took some adjustment (just like the campaign, it is more deliberate than most shooters today), but once we got into the groove, muscle memory returned, and the joy of blasting someone in the face with a Gnasher or getting a chainsaw kill with the Lancer was in full force. With lives coming from a central pool, you can't really go off on your own here. Team communication is essential.

New to Ultimate Edition is a 2v2 mode, playable on the custom map Boxes. This is a mode that originated in the community and focuses on direct conflict with the Gnashers. The map is small and constrained, with nowhere to hide. Gnashers are the only weapon in 2v2, and the first to 10 wins.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to check it out the PC, but Ferguson did confirm that the Windows 10 version of Ultimate Edition is built on DX12 and features an unlocked refresh rate as well as supporting resolutions up to 4K. Keyboard and mouse support will be there, along with extra options for customizing the display quality.

Specific to the Xbox One, Ferguson confirmed that all four of the Xbox 360 Gears of War games would be coming to Xbox One via Xbox 360 Backward Compatibility. That means you'll be able to play both the original version and Ultimate Edition on the same console. Even better, Ferguson announced that anyone who purchases and plays Ultimate Edition on an Xbox One before the end of the year will get BC digital copies of all four Xbox 360 Gears of War games for free. That's the entire franchise for $40.

Although we only got to play with the final build for about two hours, both campaign and multiplayer appear to be rock solid. Going back to the original Gears of War after playing Gears of War: Ultimate Edition actually did feel like a step back, and not just from a graphics perspective. We'll have a final review later this month, but for now, Ultimate Edition looks to provide more than enough reason to revisit the "Mad World" of Sera.

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