Following the success of Halo: The Master Chief Collection in November 2014, the rumour mill was rife with reports of a similar bundle for the Gears of War series. While much of the hearsay pointed towards “The Marcus Fenix Collection”, Microsoft set the record straight during their E3 press conference in 2015 with the announcement of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition – a remastered version of the original title for the Xbox One.
Upon its initial release on the Xbox 360 almost a decade ago, Gears of War was well ahead of its time with cutting-edge visuals and audio, as well as innovative cover-based mechanics that were brilliantly suited to the controller. In fact, you could even go as far as saying it one of the best third-person shooters in history. For this remaster, The Coalition has given the title a complete overhaul to bring it up-to-date with the high expectations of modern gaming.
For those unfamiliar with the series, the story revolves around Marcus Fenix, a former COG soldier, who is reinstated into the military after spending four years in prison for abandoning his post. Fenix, along with his best friend Dom, regroup with Delta Squad as they attempt to overcome mankind’s struggle against a dominating Locust Horde, by delivering a bomb deep within the creature’s underground home.
Returning players will be fuelled by the sense of nostalgia throughout Delta Squad’s intense adventure, which runs smoother than ever before at 1080p and 30fps. Whether it’s being hunted down and chased by the Berserker, avoiding the bat-like Kryll or evading the wrath of the oncoming enemies during the mine cart set piece, the action sequences are still as fresh and exhilarating as they were back in 2006.
As a bonus, the campaign contains five extra story chapters (totalling approximately ninety minutes of additional content), which have been ported to the console from the PC version. The bonus story chapters provide some of the campaign’s best action sequences and are a welcome inclusion, especially for gamers (like myself) who didn’t have the opportunity to play through them previously.
Once again, players are able to tackle the campaign on the varying difficulties, ranging from Casual to Insane, although Ultimate Edition’s biggest challenge is dealing with the ally and enemy A.I., which is extremely unresponsive for the most part. One of the ways in which this problem can be overcome is by playing the campaign co-operatively with a friend over Xbox Live or split-screen, which remains the best way to play through the story mode.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition also embraces the multiplayer aspects, which has also received a significant overhaul. In addition to the existing collection of game modes from the original, Ultimate Edition also features two modes from Gears of War 2 and Gears of War 3: Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill.
The multiplayer action takes place over twenty maps in total, including fan-favourites Gridlock, War Machine, Fuel Depot and Mansion. The line-up also includes Boxes, a special community map, which has been incorporated especially for close combat battles. Even a decade on, each map feels extremely well designed, forcing players to work as a team to utilise the cover, space and weapon roster available.
The sheer amount of maps and unlockables within the multiplayer alone offers a stagnated experience, which results in endless replayability. Not to mention the return of “Seriously”, an achievement obtained by racking up ten thousand kills in the multiplayer. Expect to be grinding that one for some time.
In terms of weaponry, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition retains the same arsenal, which boasts the likes of the Lancer Assault Rifle, the Gnasher Shotgun, the Boomshot, the Hammer of Dawn and the Longshot, among other offerings. The balance of the weapons is about right (although some may argue that the shotgun is overpowered). Needless to say, there’s still something particularly satisfying about chainsawing an enemy into multiple pieces or executing your opponent with a crunching curb stomp.
As part of the renovation, The Coalition also introduced a number of small changes to the gameplay. These include the ability to revive allies while in cover, and being able to toggle weapons while roadie running, both of which will be well received by returning players.
It wouldn’t be a remaster without graphical and audio enhancements, something that has been implemented brilliantly. Animations are nice and crisp, cutscenes are sharp, the sheer amount of details in the environments is remarkable and the Ultimate Edition sounds brilliant with the rejigged Dolby 7.1 audio.
Nevertheless, despite the significant improvements, some of the original title’s issues still creep in. In addition to the aforementioned flawed A.I., there’s a heavy reliance on the “A” button, which is used for multiple functions including running, rolling, taking cover, vaulting over cover and moving from one cover to the next. This frequently leads to players doing something unintentionally which, more than not, results in their own death.
For those new to the series, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition provides the perfect platform to get to grips with the third-person shooter for the first time, whereas returning players will relish in the nostalgia, which will tie them over until the release of Gears of War 4 next year. Either way, this is a must buy for any Xbox One owner.