When the original Gears of War launched almost a decade ago, it was praised for its style and criticised for its substance – throwing players into a war with next to no backstory. Despite the plot’s shortcomings and over-the-top grey colour scheme, it was a feast for the eyes with intense firefights and satisfying gameplay. It may have felt familiar, but Epic Games had injected something fresh into this genre.
Ten years on and with the help of The Coalition via the Gears of War Ultimate Edition, the satisfaction from the original version endures. This satisfaction takes many forms, from the game’s gory Lancer melee kills and splat-tacular headshots, to its snappy active reloads – it’s all still there and it’s never felt so good. The new-and-improved cover-based shooter that started it all fills in the cracks where, in the 2006 iteration, you may have turned away in dismay at the frequent sight of low-resolution textures. Here, everything is clear and crisp with a far healthier colour palette.
Speaking of which, the Ultimate Edition looks gorgeous. Chapters two and three – where Marcus, Dom, Cole and Baird escape the city to infiltrate a mining facility – do particularly fantastic job of capturing the game’s connections to the horror genre. Death is never far away as those pesky Kryll cast a black shroud over the night sky, where light is your only friend. The approach to the mining facility has also been well done and, with a revamped soundtrack, there’s more intensity and realism to the heavy rain as it’s accompanied by harsher, more brutal winds.
The first instalment has always stayed with me for being the darkest entry in the franchise but, not only that, the Ultimate Edition brought back just how scary Gears of War could be. Even though this feeling dissipated as the franchise transitioned into more action-based entries, that spine-tingling feeling of hearing a Wretch shriek for the first time was more than enough to feed my nostalgia.
Where greys and browns dominated the landscape, here, The Coalition have switched things up and the game is better for it. This is most evident in the cutscenes where some have been completely reworked from the original Gears. There are more, blues, greens, reds and yellows, resulting in those great filtering effects that made Gears of War 3’s picturesque scenery so good. Those moments when General RAAM struts onto the scene for the first time and the classic Brumak chase sequence are made all the more awesome thanks to The Coalition’s commendable graphical tweaks; upgrading the game to 1080p has definitely paid dividends.
If the updated visuals weren’t enough, the Ultimate Edition expands on the game from both a design and content aspect. For instance, Gears of War’s co-op campaign is now in a drop-in/drop-out style, where players can join and leave a session during the middle of any chapter. On top of that, The Coalition has opted for the approach taken by the franchise’s previous instalments, whereby co-op partners can select different difficulty settings.
However, the Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is headlined by several chapters in Act Five that were exclusive to the game’s PC port. It follows Delta Squad as they take a detour en-route to a train station through abandoned factories. Players trudge through agonisingly long checkpoints, one which sees you blast your way through an inner city theatre. These incoming sections are, by far, the most challenging portions of the entire game.
Traditionally, I’ve always played Gears with a buddy and continued that trend when playing through the Ultimate Edition. Another player is far more reliable, reactive and accurate than an AI companion and, with the difficulty cranked all the way up to Insane, makes for some entertaining and intense gaming sessions. It’s here that everything about Gears just clicks: Constant communication with a mate, timing the active reloads, leaping from cover to cover and not being afraid to use that classic chainsaw move. This really is testament for how far this franchise has come over the last nine years and it’s great to see.
Attention has also been given to Gears’ competitive multiplayer. On top of several new maps like Gridlock added to the mix, new modes like Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill add real bite to the Ultimate Edition’s online play. However, the addition of a special 2v2 mode built specially for shotgun fanatics reminds me how much I hate Gnashers. This weapon, despite its versatility, has filled Gears lobbies with players who’d rather dodge, roll around and destroy the core mechanic of the game – the use of cover. Needless to say, the rules have certainly changed since I last played.
So, all these highlights aside, what makes this an Ultimate Edition? There’s the predicament, as the game is available in both a Standard and Deluxe package – the latter containing a healthy supply of weapon and character skins – so it’s rather contradictory on that front. Furthermore, there’s no Horde Mode: The game type that gave rise to every other copycat wave-based mode we have today.
There are other hindrances, too. Despite the game’s multiplayer achieving 60 frames per second, the Gears of War campaign remains locked at 30fps. This particular game has remained at 30fps for so long that this extra kick to 60fps would’ve heightened the campaign’s enjoyment even further; the game would look even better and character movement would be a lot more fluid. Also, it would’ve been great to see The Coalition implement even more gameplay mechanics seen later in the franchise, on top of spotting enemies for teammates. I was most looking forward to seeing whether proximity mines could be used or if, like in Gears of War 3, I could revive myself without help from an ally.
Gears of War is an iconic series. It’s an absolute blast to revisit a campaign whose characters and their past maintain such anonymity amidst such adversity. Unfortunately, the plot is still relatively murky, as a short cinematic preamble covering Emergence Day – before being transported to Marcus’ dirty cell – would’ve done wonders for those invested in the game’s plot progression. Despite the absence of several gameplay inclusions, the Ultimate Edition has breathed new life into a classic title.
Gears Keep on Turning
This is a wonderfully overhauled remaster of the franchise's first instalment.