You never know what to expect when you revisit an older game; especially one that's almost a decade old. Many games don't tend to age well, either because of its aged graphics or dated mechanics. Suffice it to say, the original Gears of War finally gets the remake treatment 9 years later and I'm quite surprised. Not only by how well the game has held up after all these years but with how fun it was to revisit Marcus and shoot some Locust; all with a new coat of paint to put it over the top.
+60 FPS multiplayer
+The Cole Train credit song is intact
+A slew of small but important improvements
+Previously PC exclusive maps and campaign levels are included
+New multiplayer progression system
-The odd glitch and bugs
-Some purists might not like all the 'improvements' and changes in multiplayer
-Only multiplayer is 60FPS, not campaign.
Gears of War was one of the titles that really helped push the Xbox 360 to popularity and 9 years later we get to revisit the inaugural title that started the franchise, helping make the 360 not just a 'Halo box'. Gears of War was a groundbreaking title at the time, it introduced many mechanics that other games use today and was one of the first games to use the newest Unreal Engine at the time of release. It's no secret that remakes, remasters, and reboots are commonplace today so for one to stick out it needs to do something special aside from a simple up-res to 1080p 60fps, especially if you want to label it an 'Ultimate Edition'. Launch issues aside, the Master Chief Collection -- specifically the work done on Halo 2: Anniversary -- was an epitome of what a remake should aspire to be.
So, does Gears of War: Ultimate Edition measure up in that department? Pretty much. Ultimate Edition isn't just a simple up-res as it is utilizing new textures, models, animations, cutscenes, lighting, effects, gameplay mechanics and tweaks, plus a slew of additions that only PC players previously got to enjoy. So, for the first time, Xbox players will finally be able to enjoy all those PC exclusive levels, maps, modes, and more that really do make this feel like the 'ultimate' edition of the game.
If you're new to the series you're in for a treat, not simply because of the new and improved visuals and mechanics, because the series has a great story, voice acting, and cinematic feel that many games don't possess. Gears puts you in the oversized boots of Marcus Fenix, a former war hero that's been locked up, who finds himself leading newly formed Delta Squad in hopes to stop the Locust from destroying their planet Sera. Delta Squad needs to map out the Locusts' underground lairs and tunnels so that they can detonate a massive bomb and stop them once and for all. Doing so however, isn't as easy as it's made out to be.
If you've not played Gears before, or simply forgot much of it in the past 9 years like myself, it's still an absorbing story and although the final chapter in its original release seemed to jump around a bit, due to cuts because of limited time before launching the game, this has been remedied by including the levels that were eventually added into the PC version. Xbox players will finally get to play out the full plot in chronological order without wondering 'how' or 'why'. If you've not played Gears on PC, I'll leave the extra missions as a surprise; there is some awesome content included here. Best of all, it's not treated like a standalone add-on like on PC as the levels are simply woven into the campaign, where they were originally intended to be.
Gears had a lot of innovation, ideas, and many mechanics that it introduced or improved upon and are still used today in many other games. While it may not have been the first, Gears really was one of the first to nail the cover system and make it one of the core mechanics, basing the bulk of gameplay around it. This cover system allowed you to 'stick' to many walls, ledges, or pieces of cover very easily so you could peek out and fire, or shoot blindly behind your safe protection.
Holding the 'A' button allows you to 'Roadie Run', which is a low crouched sprint, allowing you to run from cover to cover while making yourself a small as possible target. Lastly was the active reload system. Instead of simply pressing a button to reload and wait for it to finish, you could time 'RB' at precisely right moment so you would not only reload much quicker but bullets would deal extra damage as a reward for doing so skillfully.
So you're a Gears vet, I get it, so let's go over what's new in this Ultimate Edition that makes it worth the purchase. The game really has been rebuilt from the ground up and not just a simple resolution boost (though it does boast the 1080p now). Almost every facet has been improved, from the lighting, water effects, characters, models, animation, cutscenes, massive gameplay improvements, tons of multiplayer map additions, and more. I was excited to play through the campaign again so, as mentioned above, the inclusion of the PC exclusive missions were very welcome but there's been so many more tweaks and mechanics to better the game as a whole.
A new Casual difficulty mode has been added for those people simply wanting to experience the story or wanting to quickly gather some campaign achievements. The checkpoint system seems to have been vastly improved, as dying won't put you so far back any longer, and there's even changes to the co-op system allowing each player to drop in and out seamlessly as well as setting your own individual difficulty.
There's also been a bunch of improvements in the controls and UI also. Keep in mind many of these improvements came later in the series' sequels, so having them here in the original does feel slightly different, and still improved. Toggling weapons while Roadie Running is a big one, as is being able to revive teammates while behind cover (a very welcome change especially on harder difficulty levels), and controls feel much tighter and more responsive as a whole.
The Coalition (formally Blacktusk Studios) also recently announced that anyone that purchases Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, and plays anytime up until December 31st 2015, they will also receive the entire Gears of War catalogue in backwards compatibility when it launches this fall. So for playing Ultimate Edition at some point this year, you'll also receive the 360 backwards compatibility versions of Gears of War, Gears of War 2, Gears of War 3, and Gears of War: Judgement. Oh, and early access to the Gears of War 4 Multiplayer Beta later in 2016.
Ultimate Edition definitely looks like a modern title with all of the graphical improvements, especially the vastly improved cutscenes. What surprised me when comparing the original version to Ultimate was how well the original held up, even by today's standards it honestly didn't look too dated. That being said, the improvements make everything stand out so much more.
Cutscenes look absolutely fantastic, especially the improved lip syncing, facial animations, and textures. Even the cutscenes weren't a simple reskin either, as Ultimate Edition utilizes similar but different camera angles and cuts compared to the original cinematics to add an even more movie-like feel to its campaign. The vastly improved textures, shadows, denser foliage, lighting, and rolling water really put it over the top for a remaster.
While the hidden COG tags may be in the same places you remember they now unlock pages from different Gears or War comic books which can then be read at your leisure. My only gripe is that there's no easy way to keep track of what COG tags you've collected in each level and section, so you need to manually keep track if you want to get them all without having to play a guessing game trying to remember if you've got the collectable from each section or not.
Last, but certainly not least, is the uber popular multiplayer mode that many fans will most certainly be purchasing Ultimate Edition solely for. Just like the campaign, multiplayer has seen a vast amount of improvements as well that should please series fans. First and foremost, the biggest game changer is the fact that multiplayer runs at 60fps. This makes a massive difference in gameplay and is quite noticeable if you were a fan of the original.
Ultimate Edition boasts a massive 19 multiplayer maps, all of which are remastered, and includes the three PC exclusive maps and a brand new one made specifically for a new game mode. Speaking of new game modes, new to the original Gears multiplayer (all of the original modes are intact) comes King of the Hill, Team Deathmatch, and a 2v2 mode as well.
On top of all of this, multiplayer now utilizes dedicated servers and LAN support, so tournaments and eSports for this game should be alive and well in the short future. The enemy spotting and awareness that Gears 3 introduced has also been included and while I understand some may not like the feature, I really enjoy the feature and calls for some strategic teamwork.
Lastly for multiplayer additions is the inclusion of a leveling progression system. Now you'll earn experience for games played, much like in the sequels and can level up to earn unlocks such as over a dozen characters from Gears 3 to play in multiplayer. So, if you didn't have a reason to continue playing multiplayer before there's now another reason to stick around, hopefully tiding you over until Gears 4 next year.
What really impressed me was how well the game has held up after almost a decade. As mentioned before not all games age very well. I enjoyed every minute with Ultimate Edition, the mechanics are still solid and it's simply fun to play. I really enjoy all of the additions, improvements, and changes that have been included, especially the PC exclusive campaign levels being slid into place. If The Coalition's goal was to capture the spirit of the original Gears of War and slightly improve in some areas with new technologies and mechanics, they've done so wonderfully, all while staying very close to the source material and not straying too drastically.