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Platform: Xbox One
Reviewed on PC

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition Review

The game that ushered in a new era of gritty shooters is back and more epic than ever

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Gears of War is one of those series that never seems to age, both in terms of its gameplay and its aesthetics. Perhaps this is because it was so ahead of its time when this gory, testosterone-driven third person shooter series had its breakthrough release almost a decade ago. Or perhaps The Coalition, the new developers picking up the reigns left by the franchise’s original creators at Epic Games, has reminded us that true quality is timeless. The Gears of War revamp entitled Ultimate Edition has certainly shown that it is not always necessary to fix what ain’t broke - looking at you, Gears of War: Judgment.

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition

If you are looking for a groundbreaking leap or complete overhaul to the Gears franchise, well, you won’t find it here. That will, at least to an extent, likely be saved for the next true sequel, due out next year. However, if you are an oldschool Gears diehard like myself, seeking that warm and fuzzy nostalgic experience from, what many believe to be the greatest Gears of War entry, and injecting it with a graphical and mechanical boost of roids, you will be extremely pleased with this honed and refined upgrade.

It is no secret that the original Gears of War had its share of flaws, despite coming with arguably the most memorable campaign, the most enjoyable multiplayer stages, and an overall nice balance in weaponry that wasn’t not too overpowered. The Ultimate Edition on Xbox One has thankfully rectified the majority of these blemishes, making for perhaps the most polished and solid Gears experience yet. Some of the improvements and adjustments from recent entries have made their way into the original classic, taking an already superb gaming experience and raising the bar even higher.

Subtle, but nonetheless useful mechanics like tac-com and the ability to spot your enemies, add a bit of ease to the gameplay and make communication amongst teammates flow more smoothly. You can also now revive enemies while still in cover, which, considering covering behind obstacles is all but essential, is far more useful than you would think. Other gameplay refinements include being able to swap your weapons with the d-pad, as well as making a quick about-face while roadie running.

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition

There is also an additional easier difficulty added to the campaign, which is called “casual,” while the original casual has now been deemed “normal.” This should prove a welcome addition to those Xbox One newcomers looking to delve into this epic experience (no pun intended) for the first time, as the hardcore and insane difficulty modes in particular feel more challenging than I remember. Even a Gears veteran like myself struggled mightily with Ultimate Edition’s version of hardcore mode. This may simply be because of some admitted Gears of War rust I was quickly forced to shake off upon being thrown into the action, or it could be because I had grown used to the much more effective AI controlled COG comrades at my side during the more recent Gears titles.

This is one of the very few true blemishes amongst an otherwise magnificent remaster. The AI is bad; really bad. Upon playing the latter two difficulties, there were several instances of my comrades dropping over and over again, sometimes even from minor skirmishes with grenadiers. This is what makes the aforementioned addition of reviving while covering so useful, though it also makes apparent the relatively stretchy and primitive gameplay mechanics during the campaign. Not only is the player not permitted to crawl while down, but the original Gears of War had also not yet offered the ability of AI controlled teammates to revive the player - and this feature was sadly not added. This leaves very little room for error and brings the frustration levels of the higher difficulties to near unbearable heights.

Also, still missing are the ever-enjoyable variety of different curb stomp/finishers that correspond to different buttons, mantle-kicking, and the meat shield - though these are merely smaller novelties that are not particularly significant either in the campaign or in multiplayer matches anyway. Thankfully, two of the biggest appeals of the game are still in place - the original curb stomp, and the oh-so-satisfying lancer chainsaw finisher.

Speaking of the chainsaw, the well-crafted Xbox One controller offers a nice improvement when it comes to tactile feedback in this regard, and other in-game actions, when it comes to trigger vibration. Upon hacking your unsuspecting opponent with a chainsaw, for instance, your triggers vibrate more violently than the original version. When performing the damage-boosting active reload, your triggers now provide you with a subtle, but noticeable rumble, which does not occur upon a normal reload. These aspects, while minor, provide a nice pseudo-simulation of the weapons and, along with the improved aesthetics, make for a more immersive experience.

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition

The visual and graphic overhaul is not exactly an enormous leap - as the original Gears was already pretty cutting edge for its time - but, much like the gameplay itself, it takes the original foundation and subtly polishes it up to near perfection. The dark, gritty look that is rife with greys and browns is still prevalent, though the color palette has gotten noticeably more diverse this time around. Everything just seems to stand out a bit more and it feels less dull, though this is in part thanks to the new 1080p support, which help make these wondrous post-apocalyptic environments truly shine (literally and figuratively), and gives them the justice they deserve.

The visuals are also enhanced nicely via the improved lighting and particle effects, as well as the far more clean and crisp textures. This combination of graphical upgrades, performed admirably by the now somewhat dated Unreal Engine 3, help to bring out the grittiness and destruction from a land scorched by locust pillaging and endless war, and brings further cinematic value to a franchise that has always thrived on this characteristic.

Adding further to this cinematic experience is the makeover of many of the campaign cutscenes. While the scenes previously made it more apparent that you were merely looking into some premade animated scenes within a game engine, The Coalition has made improvements here and there that give that more epic movie feel during those cinematic breaks dispersed in between the in-game action. There is more variety and a quicker pace to the cuts and the camera shots, in addition to some cooler looking Michael Bay explosions and spectacle, all of which helps add to the overall intensity this game does so well. And of course, the overall aesthetics have been greatly improved during these cutscenes, in much the same way as they had in game, making for a true cinematic next gen experience that could compete with the best the next generation and its fancy Unreal 4 engine has to offer.

Gears of War
Gears of War box art Platform:
Xbox One
Our Review of Gears of War
Reviewed on PC
Game Ranking
Gears of War (PC) is ranked #152 out of 1971 total reviewed games. It is ranked #5 out of 13 games reviewed in 2007.
152. Gears of War
153. Sims 3
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