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Gears of War comes to Xbox One

At Microsoft’s E3 Press Conference this year, I’ll never forget the audience’s enthusiastic ovation for the first official gameplay footage of Gears of Wars 4. The crowd emphatically voiced their elation and for good reason—Gears of War is one of the most beloved Microsoft franchises, and the game looked very impressive at this early stage of development.

To help make the one year wait for this much-anticipated sequel easier, Microsoft’s new steward of the Gears franchise, Vancouver-based The Coalition, has given us Gears of War Ultimate Edition. Available now on Xbox One, this fully remastered version of the original Gears of War has been completely rebuilt from the ground up in 1080p high-definition, with modernized controls and five campaign chapters never released on Xbox 360. Online multiplayer has also received significant attention with three new playlists, blistering fast 60 frames-per-second action, and a full suite of 19 maps (including all DLC maps, and three from the PC version.) Let’s take a look at each feature in detail; but first, a quick story recap!

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Platform: Xbox One

Developer: The Coalition / Splash Damage

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Release Date: August 25, 2015

Genre: Third-person shooter

Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer

ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

E-Day: the nightmare begins

The original Gears of War begins 14 years after the harrowing events of E-Day, or Emergence Day, when the subterranean Locust Horde launched their surprise, catastrophic, full-scale global assault on the fictional planet Sera. You play as Marcus Fenix, a disgraced former soldier for the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG), imprisoned for abandoning his post ten years into the war. With the battle not going in humanity’s favour, Fenix is reinstated back into the military to lead the Delta Squad on a desperate mission to deliver a bomb deep within the Locust’s underground belly.

Gears-of-War-Ultimate-edition-10.jpgA big graphical boost

It always amazes me how quickly gaming technology evolves over the years. I remember how visually stunning Gears of War looked on Xbox 360 back in 2006, being the first console game powered by the Unreal Engine 3. Now though, in comparison to the visually superior Gears of War Ultimate Edition, the original version comes off as washed out and muddy.

The remastered Xbox One version by contrast features over 3,000 redesigned, detailed art assets, a wider spectrum of hues, and advanced lighting techniques to bring vibrancy to the decaying world of Sera. Character models in particular have been beautifully refreshed, with more natural skin tones and a meticulous amount of facial details for the war-hardened COG soldiers. Not only can you now clearly see the pocks and battle scars that riddle the faces of characters like Fenix and Dom, but they actually appear more youthful with their lifelike skin tones. You can see a comparison below:

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Original and Ultimate Edition comparison: Left – Xbox 360 version | Right – Xbox One version

Much attention was given to the Locust Horde as well, and I was especially awed at how gorgeous the larger and more dangerous boss enemies appeared, like the rampaging Berserker or the huge spider-like Corpser. The enhanced graphics also up the visceral nature of combat, with enemies exploding into gruesome chunky bits after being shot, or splitting into a bloody mess when attacked with your chainsaw bayonet. Unlike the more action-oriented later entries in the series, the original Gears of War was practically a horror game at times, and that mood is amplified significantly in this high-definition version.

All cutscenes have also been given the full remaster treatment, and they look just as stunning as the work done in last year’s pristine Halo 2: Anniversary. There’s not a lot of character development in this chapter of the trilogy, so the story is still a weak spot, but the added realism does serve to heighten the intensity and desperation of this war.

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Original and Ultimate Edition comparison: Left – PC version | Right – Xbox One version

More Campaign chapters

Gears of War Ultimate Edition includes five late-game chapters that were previously exclusive to the PC version of the game. Amounting to about 90 minutes of extra content, these chapters follow the Delta Squad on their journey through abandon factories to reach a train station. Following them is a gigantic Brumak, a deadly and fearsome monster with wrist-mounted chainguns, heavy armour, and a back-mounted rocket launcher. I can see why these chapters weren’t included in the Xbox 360 version, as they do very little to progress the story, but the final boss battle confrontation with the Brumak is certainly one of the highlights of the whole game. Above you can see the huge graphical improvement of the Brumak in Gears of War Ultimate Edition.

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Original and Ultimate Edition comparison: Left – Xbox 360 version | Right – Xbox One version

Gears-of-War-Ultimate-edition-7.jpgBig improvements to online multiplayer

When you jump into Gears of War Ultimate Edition‘s online multiplayer, it’s easy to tell that more attention went into improving this mode. The graphics look even sharper than in the campaign, but the biggest improvement is the framerate: it runs at a silky smooth 60 frames-per-second (vs. 30 for the campaign.) The doubling of the framerate makes a huge difference, so much so that I found it hard to go back and replay the slower-paced campaign after being spoiled by the fast and polished multiplayer.

Gears-of-War-Ultimate-edition-9.jpgThe Ultimate Edition includes a good amount of multiplayer extras too. For starters, there’s a total of 19 maps to choose from, including all of the maps from the original game, plus its DLC maps, along with three brought over from the PC version. Next, there are also three new game types to choose from, ranging from Team Deathmatch, to a Gears of War 3 style King of the Hill, to the new 2v2 Gnasher Execution designed by the Gears of War community. Thirdly, you’ll find 17 new unlockable multiplayer Gears of War 3 characters, accessible by playing matches and rising in rank. Lastly, but certainly not least, the Ultimate Edition‘s multiplayer modernizes the gameplay by incorporating features from Gears of War 3, like enemy spotting, Tac-Com (shows locations of allies and weapons), and improved sensitivity customization.

Gears-of-War-Ultimate-edition-3.jpgA few drawbacks

I enjoyed my time with Gears of War Ultimate Edition immensely; however, there are some down sides worth noting. One recurring issue was the poor ally AI in the campaign mode. Far too frequently my computer-controlled teammates would do annoying things like walk right in front of my gun fire and block my shots, or step into the shadows during areas where you’re supposed to stay in the light. Other times my AI teammates wouldn’t come unlock doors blocking my path to trigger the next sequence, forcing me to reset the checkpoint and try again.

Occasionally, I also found the campaign to be a little glitchy, with the odd time finding enemies stuck in walls or textures taking far too long to pop-in. For a game that generally comes off as quite beautiful, seeing these visual hiccups can be a teeny bit distracting.

As for the multiplayer, I only have one complaint: far too many people still use the gnasher shotgun. As anyone who has played a Gears of War game online can tell you, when the majority of your opponents spend the whole match rolling around and blindly blasting their shotguns, it really isn’t much fun. That’s why I prefer playing Gears of War games online with friends, as we can agree to limit this kind of play.

Gears-of-War-Ultimate-edition-16.jpgGears of War Collection + Gears of War 4 Beta

To help sweeten the pot, Microsoft has some great bonuses for those who pick up Gears of War Ultimate Edition. If you purchase and play the game anytime between now and the end of the year, using Xbox One’s new backward compatibility, you can get the original Gears of War, Gears of War 2, Gears of War 3, and Gears of War: Judgment at no extra cost. Yep, four free games!

In addition, by purchasing Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, you will receive early access to the Gears of War 4 multiplayer beta in 2016. Another incredible bonus at no charge!

Final thoughts

For fans of the original, Gears of War Ultimate Edition is a gorgeous trip down memory lane that will remind you why this franchise has become so successful. The story might not have a lot of substance at this early stage in the trilogy, but the incredible graphics and thrill-a-minute action make this a must-play experience. If you’re new to the franchise, there’s no better entry point than this beautiful remastering of the classic original.

+ Gorgeous detail in environments and characters

+ Refurbished cutscenes look excellent

+ Impressive 60 frames-per-second multiplayer

+ Includes great bonus content like 5 extra missions and 19 multiplayer maps

– AI teammates sometimes get in the way

– Occasional glitching

– Gnasher Shotguns in multiplayer

OVERALL

Gameplay: 4/5
Graphics: 4.5/5
Sound: 4.5/5
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/5

Overall Rating 4.25/5 (85%)

2 COMMENTS

  1. The gnasher has been fixed in MP. Still not perfect, but much better since the last patch. As for its overuse, that’s unfortunately just the way this game series is. It’s not so much an issue with the game itself as it is with the people who play it. It’s become a pillar of the multiplayer, and even when Epic games originally tried to curb it by introducing new weapons and fixing the initial inconsistencies with those weapons, gamers still fell back on the gnasher. Even the sawed off shotgun in Gears 3 was meant to curb gnasher use and it didn’t work. I don’t see its overuse as an issue with the game.  

     

    The PC exclusive chapters make sense in that at the end of Act 4 you can see the APC being chased by the Brumak and then Act 5 started with the team arriving at Timgad station. There was nothing in the 360 version to indicate how the crew lost the Brumak, so they really do provide context that simply wasn’t there in the original.

     

    JB

  2. Hi @Juice0904, thanks for the comments and glad to see you’re a fan of the series.

     

    I definitely agree that the gnasher shotgun overuse has been somewhat mitigated by the last patch, however I do feel the overuse is very much an issue with the game itself (not the players). It was Epic’s, and now The Coalition’s, responsibility to ensure multiplayer is balanced, so when most players default to one weapon and one tactic, to me that’s a balancing issuing squarely in the hands of the developers to fix. Players will always tend to gravitate towards the strongest weapons and proven tactics, and for Gears, that means gnasher rolling to maximizes your K/D ratio.

     

    Regarding the PC exclusive chapters, when I wrote that they progress the story very little, I was looking at it from an overarching storyline perspective. They do explain how the squad arrives at the station (filling in this sub-plot hole), but in the larger narrative, I feel these chapters were added mainly to give us one more epic boss battle before the train showdown with General RAMM.

     

    Paul

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