I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I adored the original Gears of War. So much so that, as soon as Microsoft and the Coalition announced Gears of War: Ultimate Edition was on its way this year, I knew it was time to open my wallet and finally pick up an Xbox One. And I’ve done just that, that’s the kind of selling power the Gears name has for fans of third-person shooters. Because let’s be clear, Gears of War was and still is the number one series in said genre, and any game that comes close to rivalling it tended to do so by copying a lot of what Gears did back in 2006.
So the key question is, how does the Ultimate Edition compare to the original, was it worth buying a console for, or have the rose tinted specs proved more opaque than I was expecting? The answer to the latter is an emphatic no, thankfully. Ultimate Edition is a well-made and faithful remaster that should more than satisfy series fans, and be enough to convince those unfortunate enough to have missed the original incarnation to finally get on board.
If you somehow weren’t aware of the Gears of War series in any way, shape, or form then you could quite easily believe Ultimate Edition was a brand new title, it still feels as modern and accessible as any game released this year. The level design in the main campaign set a benchmark in 2006, and with the remastering of the games visuals there’s virtually nothing that makes you feel as if Ultimate Edition is practically a ten year old game. The game’s flurries of brief but intense action spring upon you, before dissipating just as quickly as they had arrived. A pleasing rhythm, or feedback loop of satisfaction that’s so good at not wearing you out that the game’s six hour campaign can still be polished off in a single sitting. And with each chapter and act flowing seamlessly from one to the next it’s all too easy to lose a day to the Ultimate Edition’s charms.
Series veterans can remember parts they had forgotten and enjoy them all over again, whilst newcomers will no doubt be eager to jump from chapter to chapter getting stuck into the series’ most impressive moments. With the chunky but agile movement, the punchy and oh so satisfying weaponry to play with, and the stellar level design Ultimate Edition is an excellent tribute to one of the Xbox 360’s most distinguished games. And for any fans who may have missed a particular section of the single-player back in 2006, they’ll be happily surprised to get the chance to play through it for the very first time as the Ultimate Edition makes sure to include the chapter previously available only to those who owned PC copies.
However despite all that praise, there are still a few problems with the Ultimate Edition, most of which relate to the Coalition’s attempts to fix a few issues the original game had with features from later Gears games. The end results unfortunately have the effect of making the game feel slightly less balanced and will occasionally frustrate series veterans. One example of which was the apparent beefing up of the Theron Guard enemies that players begin to come across toward the later stages of the game. For some reason these enemies have become such ridiculous bullet sponges that any encounter with them (on either of the game’s harder difficulties) is now a genuinely terrifying experience. Being that most of the time they’re carrying the deadly torque bow and are able to kill players in a single shot, it’s baffling that they now require not one, not even two, but as many as three headshots from a sniper rifle to be put down. This and a handful of other minor bugs, such as being unable to switch weapons, or your character standing with his arms at his side monkey man style, will be familiar to series fans on account of them not being fixed in the Ultimate Edition.
Finally there is one other major bugbear that was present throughout the original game that really should have been attended to, the game’s agonisingly frustrating checkpoints. Which can be especially problematic whilst playing co-op during the points where players are required to split up, meaning if one person goes down, the other is obviously not able to revive them. When situations like this arise and you’re forced to make your way through three or four separate, tough enemy encounters, then too often players will be forced to repeat entire battles time and time again as a single slip up forces whole sections to be reloaded. If it’s any consolation this checkpoint issue is something that will generally only become a problem for those playing the campaign in co-op mode, as the A.I. teammates will not go down during these sections.
Elsewhere the game’s multiplayer has been brought right up to date, with matchmaking lobbies more reminiscent of later games in the series, and at sixty frames-per-second the Gears multiplayer experience is even sharper and faster than ever. Not only that, fans of the series will be happy to know that everything from shotguns, sniper rifles and lancers all handle and feel just as they did in the original. The only major gripe one could point at the multiplayer at this time is the obnoxiously long waiting times between matches. Gears of War 3’s excellent constant cycle of maps has been replaced by a system that, after every match takes players back to the menu screen before loading up another match. It’s something that needs to be addressed (and with any luck will be in a later patch) as everything about Gears should be fast and frantic. This hold up between games does nothing but frustrate and bore those eager to remedy the defeat they suffered in the previous match.
But waiting times and checkpoints aside Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is most certainly a game worthy of your time, and at £30 it’s probably one of the best bargains available to Xbox One owners to date. The game’s combat is as fluid and satisfying as it was back in 2006, and with the graphics being brought right up to today’s standards, and the reworked cut-scenes there’s really not a whole lot to complain about. The Coalition have delivered a more than worthy remaster of one of the Xbox 360’s most impressive games and one that still delights and excites just as much as it did almost a decade ago.