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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

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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

by Brian Dumlao on June 18, 2015 @ 2:00 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 wasn't much of a secret prior to E3 2015, but Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is still a welcome addition to the Xbox One library. The franchise remains beloved by the Xbox fan base, and it's a nice release since the game is about to hit its 10-year anniversary. While there was mention of big single-player additions that owners of the Xbox 360 version have yet to experience, most people are going to check out the multiplayer mode. Thankfully, Microsoft opened up a multiplayer beta, and if you're thinking that the experience is going to be exactly the same as the original release, think again.

The first and most notable thing you'll see when you get into a match is the improved presentation. As promised, Ultimate runs at 1080p with 60fps, and as nice as the former is, the latter makes a big difference in terms of the feel. It's still a slow-paced game when compared to other shooters, but the increase in frame rate means smoother movements, thus making the reaction times feel faster. The framerate never drops, and that also helps.

Aside from that, the textures have been remade to compensate for the more powerful hardware, and the color balancing has been redone to make everything more vibrant. There have even been changes to the lighting, particularly with the water reflections in the Canals map, and little additions to the Gridlock map, like crashing waves. The only flaw thus far is the texture loading, which creeps up in the background of the opening scoreboard when players start to load up. It never happens during gameplay, so the issue doesn't affect the game much.

The beta isn't static, since the plan is to feature two maps each day, with two modes available for the duration of the beta. That's still enough to give you a good idea of how the multiplayer is going to be. Thus far, the network code looks good. Matches have been pretty easy to get into, and lag has been mostly nonexistent. Granted, this is using a small base of players compared to the entire Xbox One population, but the game seems to be avoiding the online issues that Halo suffered at its launch. If this keeps up, there's a good chance that online play for day one will be fine.

The overall vibe and general mechanics of the multiplayer largely remain the same. Multiplayer is still a 4v4 affair, and despite your armor, you can be downed quickly by enough bullets or a point-blank Gnasher shot. There's a chance that someone will rescue you, but it's likely you'll die from continued bullet exposure, a curb stomp, or even a chainsaw attack. Roadie runs still happen, and taking cover is emphasized, even if it comes off as a bit exaggerated. Active reload is still a powerful tool when used correctly, and smoke grenades are good diversions, but overall, it's your teamwork and use of guns that will bring in the wins. Don't expect some of the changes from later games to make it in here, such as using meat shields before executing someone.

While the core remains the same, there are a good number of small and large changes to the game. Weapon skins are in use, and those participating in the beta each day get a new skin that'll be applicable to the main game once it launches. Character leveling is also present and applicable to all match types, though ranked matches get more XP than player matches. Also, both King of the Hill and Team Deathmatch modes are present in their Gears of War 3 iterations, so your team runs on a stock system for Team Deathmatch instead of the one-life-per-round system from the original title. The game is now being run on dedicated servers, so playlist changes can be done on the fly, and connections should be smoother and more reliable.

Actual gameplay reveals more changes. There are now colored team indicators when friends or foes are a certain distance from you, so blending into the background is going to be much harder. As cool as the various executions are, you're no longer invincible when performing them, so you can get pumped full of lead while sawing someone in half. You have a self-recover method, so while being revived by teammates is faster, you now have a chance to fight on if you're alone.

The shots from the Gnasher are somewhere between that of the first and third Gears games, so they're still good enough to blast you to bits if you get a direct shot with perfect aim. To that end, aiming has been tweaked, so you'll have to adjust before you can hit people without the aiming reticle again. The developers have promised more changes, but there are enough here that the game feels fresh again. Most of our encounters thus far haven't had people dominating as much as the launch audiences for the GoW sequels.

Though it's changed up a bit, the multiplayer portion of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition serves up the same kind of slower, more impactful shooting that fans expect. The gameplay tweaks take some getting used to but are more in line with the recent series entries, and the presentation is boosted tremendously by the frame rate alone. The beta lasts until Tuesday, but Xbox One owners won't have to wait long to grab the full version later this summer. For PC players, Microsoft has promised that an announcement will be coming soon.

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