When the original Gears of War released in 2006, it helped provide a finite starting point for next-gen gaming at the time. Even though the Xbox 360 had already been out for a year, none of the first year games had done much to differentiate themselves from games that were playable on the original Xbox. Epic Games took the power of Unreal Engine 3 and married it with a solid cover-based shooter, likeable characters, an unrelenting enemy and an addictive multiplayer experience. Now almost ten years later, and only one year after the lovingly-built but ultimately-broken re-release of another high-profile, Microsoft console exclusive in Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Marcus Fenix and company have gotten a facelift in Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. Now, just like its original release, Gears of War draws a line in the sand and provides a new starting point of sorts for the Xbox One as it signals the beginning to what Microsoft is touting as its greatest holiday lineup ever.
While most will immediately notice that the Ultimate Edition has been remastered to 1080P, 60FPS goodness, developers The Coalition have done much more than give Gears of War a nice, new paint job. Lighting, environments, characters and cut scenes have all been recreated for the game. There have also been many other improvements made, both small and big worth mentioning.
To begin with, the Ultimate Edition includes five campaign missions that were only previously available on the original’s PC release. Three PC exclusive multiplayer maps have also been added bringing the total multiplayer map count to 20. Multiplayer modes from later releases in the series like Team Death Match and King of the Hill have also been included. There is even a 2v2 mode for Gnasher enthusiasts that was designed specifically by the Gears of War community.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition has also gotten quite a few tweaks in its gameplay through what Microsoft is calling “modernized controls.” While some might view these as “small” changes, these “small” changes could prove to be most significant to hardcore players of the series.
The biggest on the multiplayer side of things is the added ability to spot enemies. This feature was not present in the series until Gears of War 3 and is certainly welcome here. Also, you now have the ability to revive teammates while in cover as well as the ability to change weapons while roadie running or evading. There is now an alternate control scheme as well as new tournament controls for the hardest of the hardcore.
As for the story experience, there is now the ability for drop-in, drop-out co-op through the campaign. Each player can also have a different difficulty setting and splitscreen co-op is now possible. The checkpoint placement has been altered slightly to make it a bit easier and a Casual difficulty level has been added.
Five Gears of War comic books have also been added as unlockable items in the game. This is a nice addition for mega fans who want to get a glimpse into Hoffman’s doings during the Pendulum Wars or Marcus’ early time as a soldier. Each is unlocked by collecting all the COG Tags of fallen Gears in each Act of the Campaign.
While I think The Coalition has done a fantastic job of updating Gears for the current-gen, there were a few things from later games in the series I wish somehow could have been included. The ability to place frags on walls and floors creating a proximity mine was added in Gears of War 2 and fundamentally changed how the multiplayer of the series was played. It enabled the ability to play more defensively if needed. Ultimately, not a huge deal but for someone who has played a lot of Gears 2 and Gears 3 multi since the original’s release, its a bit odd to go back to that way of thinking. Also, the inclusion of ink and incendiary grenades would have been welcome as well. But the biggest is the absence of any sort of Horde Mode. As the series that popularized the wave after wave, enemy killing co-op experience, it’s exclusion is jarring but also understandable.
As with most remastered versions of games, your enjoyment of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition relies heavily on your fondness for the original. Most people don’t buy an updated version of a 10-year old game if they didn’t play it and enjoy it when it was originally released. However, Microsoft has done a great job of gearing this for a new crowd of gamers. By offering up all the previous games on Xbox 360 through backwards compatibility later this year and including early access to the Gears 4 Beta for purchasers, the Ultimate Edition is a great starting point for those who have missed out on the series altogether. The overall gameplay still holds up and the small tweaks that were added to the multiplayer should keep it relevant on Xbox LIVE for a while. The Coalition has begun their time overseeing the Gears franchise nicely and hopefully this is a great sign of things to come for the series.