It’s been almost 10 years since we first loaded our guns to fight the locust, and a generation later gamers get to revisit the original as The Coalition reworks one of Microsoft’s biggest franchises in the past decade. This is Gears of War: Ultimate Edition.
The story of Gears of War isn’t exactly one we haven’t heard before, but for newcomers to the franchise we’ll provide you with a small summary of what the world of Gears is all about.
“Gears of War” thrusts gamers into a deep and harrowing battle for survival against the Locust Horde, a nightmarish race of creatures that surface from the depths of the planet. Players step into the boots of Marcus Fenix, a disgraced former war hero who seeks personal redemption as he leads his fire team against an onslaught of merciless warriors from below.”
Source: Microsoft StudiosGears in essence is the definition of what we today would call a “bro-shooter”, which is basically a shooter with a testosterone and swear-filled narrative that in many ways stays true to what many people think of military storytelling, which can be more rewarding for some than others. The narrative does its work well, though arguably the first game has always seemed like one of the weakest when it came to storytelling, which in this formula isn’t really something you’ll be too bothered with as in exchange the game does do a good job at setting up the universe which we’ll definitely be revisiting in even more future instalments.Visually, The Coalition has done a lot to bring this 360 title to the next generation with brand new layer of fresh paint, which appears much fresher than a lot of remasters have done in recent memory. Whilst the original release was quite the looker for its day, time had obviously caught up with it as technology advanced within the hardware and gaming industry, but from the first chapter it’s quite apparent that The Coalition has done their best to make sure Gears of War looks as good if not sometimes better than its latter successors, which built upon the groundworks of the original. For the 10th anniversary of the game assets, textures and cutscenes have been redone. Many would expect this to simply be a port of the 360 version with assets from the PC version, but this is far from the truth.Whilst the game isn’t as far out as a lot of next-gen titles, the game definitely has improved to the point where it can claim a place beyond its successors when it comes to visual fidelity. Textures are sharper, models are more detailed and draw distances have been significantly improved. Edges are significantly more sharper than the original release, but when it comes to aliasing the game does have some rough edges (pun intended) here and there. Compression and artifacts on certain textures and the skybox are quite apparent in certain situations, which brings down an otherwise visually pleasing presentation, which is presented in 1080p at 60 frames per second, which the game maintains most of the time apart from a few instances that are luckily quite brief. Gameplay animations in general do seem untouched, though this also brings some problematic cases with it as certain animations really haven’t aged that well, which causes for some distracting moments throughout gameplay.
Cutscenes have also been completely re-done. Whilst they’ve obviously been reworked when it comes to models, The Coalition has also seen the remaster as an opportunity to make adjustments to the cinematography and general composition, which has made these sequences quite a bit more visually pleasing. Voice work and the soundtrack have been kept pretty much the same as the original release, albeit small pieces of voice work have been redone, though there’s a big chance you probably won’t ever notice these changes in question.The question whether the Ultimate Edition looks better can be up to two things: visual fidelity and artistic style. When it comes to visual fidelity it’s simply no match, but when it comes to color schemes and atmosphere opinions may differ for some. The original release of Gears had a presentation that was often void of color, showcasing a cold grey style that many had been known to love over the years. Gears of War 2 and 3 shifted the style of the franchise towards a more colorful presentation, which has also made its shift into the Ultimate Edition. In some ways it does change the original atmosphere, though it’s really going to be more bothersome to some than it will to others, which is often the case with artistic changes.How has the game changed since its original release? In many ways yes, in many other ways no. At its core the game essentially plays the same, though the product is much more refined when it comes to gameplay, performance and such. This all begins with the controls, which have been tweaked based on user feedback and the controls of Gears of War 2&3, which have essentially been combined in a way to create a much more focused and responsive control scheme that will probably be appreciated by a lot of returning players. Does this mean features such as chainsaw duels have made their introduction? That would be a no. Whilst the game now shares many characteristics with latter installments, the gameplay has been kept true to the experience that players experienced 10 years ago, with one or two exceptions.The first addition to the game is the extended fifth act of the game, which makes its return from the PC version of the game that was released later on. These levels were previously unavailable to Xbox players, but for the first time console players are able to play this excellent extension of the game, which in essence does create a fuller and more rewarding campaign experience in length and content, which is always a good thing. The following change would be the difficulty setting; which has seen an addition. The original casual mode of the game has been renamed normal, whilst the game introduces a more newcomer-friendly casual mode. Fans/returning players will want to stick to normal and up however, as half the reward of the game lies in the difficulty, which can vary from okay to insane.
Whilst the game is essentially just as good (if not better) than the original release, there is one front that does remain as problematic as it did in the original release 10 years ago. Friendly AI characters will often vary from static to utterly useless, which will sometimes leave the player in a frustrated state during key sequences in the game, in which the AI will often make decisions that’ll leave them in a downed state for most of the level, which makes playing the game in co-op a much more positive experience due to general interaction and difficulty. Bugs from the original are also still present at times, as the cover-system won’t always work as you want it due to its magnetic-like nature, which can make for some frustrating encounters when under pressure.Multiplayer also makes its triumphant return as The Coalition delivers a more refined, dedicated server-based and stable multiplayer experience. With 19 multiplayer maps (including all original DLC maps and three new multiplayer maps from the PC version), new game modes and unlockable characters from Gears of War 3 the game attempts to give us the definitive multiplayer experience of the original, which in execution is pretty successful. With the added gameplay features of the third game such as enemy spotting, tac-com features and improved sensitivity customization the game really feels a lot more well-rounded, and in many ways probably the best iteration of multiplayer we’ve seen in the franchise as of yet.
The Coalition has done great work in bringing Gears of War to a new generation, though it’s not always without its problems. Changes in general are welcome and well-executed, though some unkempt issues of the original and some compression artifacts do arise here and there. Some technical issues aside, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is an excellent ode to the original which along with backwards compatibility for the sequels will make for an excellent opportunity for new players to introduce themselves to the franchise, along with returning players who want to re-live this classic Xbox 360 title.