Gears of War Ultimate Edition Review

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Gears of War is one of my favourite franchises, I love the gameplay, the games look great, have varied and interesting enemies and they have always had small but innovative gameplay features such as the chainsaw bayonet and active reload, all of this forgets to mention drop-in drop-out co-op and horde mode too.

Gears of War was, in my opinion, a title game that absolutely nailed almost every aspect of what Epic were going for, to say improvements weren’t possible would be a mistake as they keep improving with future iterations but for what Gears of War was it did it all: the world was great, the premise and enemies were compelling, the scope of the project was big, multiplayer was great with some awesome maps, co-op added a lot to the game and was implemented in a way that would become the standard and the franchise carried that on in Gears 2 and 3, but this is about Gears of War 1.

The only thing that was underdeveloped for me was the story itself and this was somewhat of a theme all the way through, whilst their definitely seems to have been a plan for how the story would unfold going from Locust to the Lambent (as seen in Gears of War 1 wretches) Rod admitted that they didn’t really have the resources to fully dive into the lore and back story as they wanted to and things were made up a bit as they went along.

I also felt the game had a big influence on other games last-generation too, whilst its story was undeveloped and was unlikely to win any awards as I said, it was cinematic and “blockbuster” in style – and by that I mean it very much looked and felt like playing a film in terms of pacing, improved presentation for games and along with its features like the execution of the co-op play had a lasting impact.

What stood out to me the most was that with only a new coat of paint it relied on its mechanics and gameplay to hold up from 9 years ago to be worth playing and personally I thought they held up better than most games that released in the many years after, the cover technique doesn’t get old and was only tweaked in somewhat minor ways for  later releases.

And this forms the backbone of why Gears of War Ultimate Edition was a great remaster/re-release/remake (delete as you consider appropriate) because despite how old it is, I really didn’t feel like that was the case at all. The art style has changed because it removed the moody grey and replaced it with much actually detailed environments thanks to the extra power available, providing more atmosphere and a better depiction of a world in pieces, not switching between the different graphics (like Halo 1/2 Anniversary did) gave The Coalition a license to push more detail and it looks great, well in keeping with the art style of the games throughout, just with more detail.

The campaign includes 5 acts I’ve never played before in the PC exclusive content which focused on being chased by a Brumak and trying to get to Timgad train station to set off the lightmass bomb, I was curious to see how good the extra content was, whether it was somewhat recycled content put in just to sell the year delayed PC version in 2007 but the levels themselves are just are well designed as the rest of the game and I thought they were great, it’s a shame they never came to 360 back in 2007.

I played the campaign in (online) co-op with a friend on insane, the difficulty achievements stack and as two Gears pros [citation needed…!] we thought we could handle it and we could for the most part although there were few places we got stuck on and unfortunately there are some issues with the game that could and probably should have been fixed, namely the partner AI and a few places where extra checkpoints would have been very useful.

Playing solo Dom’s AI in particular is dumb as hell, he’s utterly useless and not only that but he is a hindrance, often bumbling around like an idiot before getting downed, contributing nothing, this isn’t so bad as I’d expect the player to be capable of handling the game by themselves generally speaking but it doesn’t help. Cole and Baird are also not particularly helpful either, in sections on co-op where the two players are split up and each are assigned an AI buddy they also don’t help, it’s a shame The Coalition/Splash Damage weren’t able to do something about this, if they had at least just increased their health amounts so they didn’t get downed so much that would have probably been enough for most players.

In terms of checkpoints in the theatre level (part of the original PC exclusive content) there is a big section on insane where it feels very cheap with the way enemies attack you, wretches come out of hiding behind you, locust chasing you down in a spot where you are unable to help or be helped by your co-op partner which was particularly frustrating as well as another section in Act 4 I believe with some seeders, adding in checkpoints somewhere would have been nice to avoid doing big sections over again.

Those issues aren’t really to do with how the games aged either though, more balance issues that were (thankfully) addressed in the sequels. The game was great in 2006, it still holds up incredibly well for me, its impressive how well Halo Combat Evolved had aged when Anniversary released in 2011 and I think the same thing really applies here too.

Gears 1 has some great moments, from the prison to the lambent wretches, the mansion and so on, I had a blast playing through the campaign and often found myself almost in awe at how great it looked with the remade graphics, it really was a job well done and I think it’s a good start for The Coalition with Gears of War 4 coming next year.

On the multiplayer side they chose to go for 60fps and I get why they did it for the esports push they announced shortly before release and that did have some impact on the effects that were changed/reduced in the multiplayer maps and that didn’t bother me but I didn’t really like the switch between 30fps in the campaign and 60 in the multiplayer, moving between them feels weird and awkward. I really hope that The Coalition pick one for Gears of War 4 and just go for that especially as I assume they will keep the campaign arcade mode and Horde, switching between frame-rates for those will be incredibly annoying.

The multiplayer is enjoyable still though, the maps look great and in-line with the campaign as you’d expect, there were some issues with the gnasher spread but that has since been patched to be more consistent which fans were asking for, it’s a good time although as I preferred Horde mode there was less staying power for me to keep going back to it.

It’s a great game that has held up incredibly well, it’s a great package as it includes the Gears 4 beta access and 1-J on Xbox 360 backwards compatibility and I think for the work that was done to the game itself we should definitely be encouraged for what is next to come from the new Gears of War studio, it shouldn’t be long now until we start hearing about their Gears of War 4 multiplayer plans too.

Likes:

  • New graphics are great
  • Bringing PC-exclusive content to console
  • Mechanics have held up well
  • A great game overall and this in particular offers a great package to player

Dislike:

  • Some AI and checkpoint balancing issues persist
  • 30fps campaign, 60fps multiplayer switch is a bit jarring

Developer: The Coalition/Splash Damage
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Formats: Xbox One (Played)/PC
Release Date: 28/10/15 (Xbox One), “Holiday 2015” PC
Genre: Third-person shooter
Price: $39.99/£29.99
Website – Xbox Store