With a new Gears Of War game still a long way off, Microsoft have filled the void for fans with a current-generation version of the game that started the franchise. Gear Of War: Ultimate Edition isn’t just simply a re-release though, nor just a graphical makeover, this is a full blown scene-by-scene rebuild with extras thrown in, it’s everything you’d expect and more.
Developer: The Coalition
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Release Date: Out Now
For the uninitiated, Gears Of War is a 2006 third-person shooter and one of the most successful Xbox 360 games of the consoles run. The original game was created by Epic Games, the developer famed for creating the Unreal engine, and received phenomenal praise from critics and gamers alike. I actually wrote a retrospective on the original just over a year ago for those of you looking for a bit more info on the game.
It’s safe to say that nostalgia plays a massive part in our perception of how good a game from yesteryear was, we look back with rose-tinted glasses and remember stunning looking graphics and amazing playability, but the simple fact is that time is not kind to most games, Gears Of War is no exception.
Nine years is a long time in the video games industry and cleaning the dust off my Xbox 360 for a quick revisit of Fenix’s first adventure in it’s original form proves that. The graphics are aged, the controls seem a little sluggish and to say there’s a glitch or two is an understatement. But these are all technical issues, caused by a development team attempting to push the boundaries of what the technology could do, these limitations don’t apply anymore.
Herein lies the beauty of the Ultimate Edition.
No longer held back by the technical limitations of a decade ago and building on the lessons learned from the two sequels (like many fans out there I’m going to pretend that Judgement didn’t happen) Gears Of War: Ultimate Edition is a masterpiece that reminds long-term fans of the series just how good the franchise opener really was.
The 2015 update brings with it everything that made the original so great. The excitement, joy and the satisfaction that playing through Gears gave us has transitioned superbly to the modern day. As for the gaming mechanics, having barely changed, you realise just how ahead of it’s time the game really was.
Visually, the new version is more than worthy of the Xbox One, the developers haven’t simply slapped a thick coat of makeup on and sent it on its way, the remastering has seen the game rebuilt from the ground up. In addition to the re-texturing and upgraded character models, the cut-scenes have been extended in places and look stunning on the new format. Had this been a new release and not a remaster it would still hold it’s own against it’s peers for looks if nothing else.
This isn’t just a like-for-like upgrade either, new content has been added. Xbox gamers will finally have the joy of playing the PC exclusive content from the original. This extra content extends the original campaign and offers a fresh new experience within your nostalgic revisit.
Where new offerings are at their most prolific, though, is in the multiplayer, the place that is likely to keep you coming back for more and justify the purchase overall. Much like Microsoft’s other successful sci-fi franchise, Halo, Gears Of War’s debut on the Xbox One has seen some major upgrades in its online experience driven from the later games in the series, Gears Of War 2 and 3 have really had a hand in shaping this new version and as a result this is the best Gears multiplayer to date.
A combination of the best of the trilogy make up the new multiplayer offerings, with 4vs4 gameplay still the highlight. Fan favourite ‘Warzone’ mode makes a welcomed return as well as all of the other generic modes you’d expect, Team Deathmatch, King Of The Hill. The main thing to say about multiplayer is that the Gears of War charm has not been lost, the multiplayer modes feel as mental as ever and insanely fun without the need to resort to the now painfully dull Call Of Duty template.
The great news is that you have every map ever made for Gears at your disposal, including PC exclusives and all of the later published DLC, this alone should earn the Ultimate Edition it’s title.
Sadly, even with all of this greatness one thing is missing, horde mode. The fan favourite co-op mode, which was introduced later in the series, saw up to four players taking on wave after wave of bad-guys and became incredibly popular. This will no doubt be disappointing to many fans and if the current forum rants are anything to go by, may hinder the sales.
Overall, though, Gears Of War: Ultimate Edition is quite simply a masterpiece of gaming, a worthy homage to the original that still finds a way to reignite the passion and excitement that game brought so many. The visual upgrades and new content only add to an already great experience and firmly establish the franchise on the current generation console.
As I said in my retrospective on the 360 version a year ago, the story and gameplay is as compelling as it was in 2006, now with modern technology behind it, the franchise is on the verge of a quantum leap forward, roll on Gears Of War 4.
It’s time to take off those rose-tinted glasses because nostalgia and reality are finally on equal footing.