Monday, August 24, 2015

Review - Gears of War: Ultimate Edition


November 7, 2006, was the first day that Gears of War hit the Xbox 360. It brought with it an intense storyline, a pretty revolutionary cover system and the Lancer--an assault rifle with a chainsaw affixed to the end in lieu of a bayonet. The game was a smashing success, prompting three sequels and is the latest to receive the remaster treatment. The main thrust of that remastering is scaling the visuals to 1080p/60 FPS and modernizing the game for Xbox One. While the gameplay is largely the same, it's the modernizations that fans familiar with the series will most likely be drawn to most.

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is developed by The Coalition/Splash Damage and published by Microsoft Studios. Omnicomic reviewed the game with a pre-release review code provided by Microsoft Studios.


Gears of War is back and it's returned in an--ahem--epic way. True, it's no longer in the hands of Epic Games, but The Coalition/Splash Damage have done an admirable job of remastering the game to look pretty spiffy. The original, Xbox 360 version of the game has been rebuilt from the ground up. That rebuild touches everything from lighting to environments to characters and cinematic scenes and the results are pretty breathtaking. Many of the cutscenes are gorgeous and really do add another dimension to the experience, but unless you're a die-hard Gears fan, it'll be difficult to really discern any major differences from the original. That is, it's been so long since the original came out that a lot of the details of the plot are a little fuzzy. Still, what's there is beautiful nonetheless.

The graphics wasn't the only component to get an overhaul. Added to the experience is five new campaign missions previously unreleased. These missions follow Delta Squad as they battle their way to Timgad Station and face off against a Brumak. That means fans get a little more of Marcus Fenix, Dominic Santiago, Damon Baird and Augustus "Cole Train" Cole (WOOOOOOOO!). These missions are offered in addition to improved checkpoint placement, Casual difficulty and drop-in, drop-out co-op, all of which are pretty refreshing additions. Gears of War is a game that relies on careful reloads and shot placement, so making it slightly more forgiving with checkpoints and a Casual mode will definitely appeal to more gamers. Numerous other additions have been made to improve the core playing experience, including the ability to revive teammates in cover, toggling weapons while roadie running/evading, improved controller sensitivity and alternate controls (and new tournament controls). These tweaks definitely go a long way to improving the experience, as it likely addresses some of the game's more notable deficiencies.

The cover system of the game remains largely unchanged, which will likely please some and infuriate others. At the time Gears of War was released, the cover system was pretty groundbreaking. It offered gamers a chance to play a shooter in a way that wasn't Halo or Call of Duty (two of the burgeoning console fighters at the time). In 2015 though, the cover system shows its age. There are still moments when an attempt to move across a gap from one wall to another results in Marcus rolling forward into a hail of gunfire. That's not to say that The Coalition/Splash Damage could've done much to improve the cover system; rather, many of the frustrating aspects of it still remain.


Aside from the single-player gameplay, there are other features mixed in with multiplayer. First and foremost, multiplayer matches now run at 60 FPS, which is more or less the expected standard these days with just about any game (shooters in particular). New multiplayer modes have been added, including Team Death Match, King of the Hill and a special 2v2 mode designed by the community. And if that's not enough, there's also dedicated multiplayer servers and LAN support. It's pretty apparent that The Coalition/Splash Damage recognized one of the enduring traits of the game was its multiplayer and they put a lot of attention into improving that experience. Mix in 19 classic maps (War Machine, Mausoleum, Escalation, Clock Tower, Fuel Depot, Rooftops, Canals, Gridlock, Mansion, Tyro Station, Old Bones, Raven Down, Garden, Subway, Bullet Marsh, Process, Courtyard, Sanctuary and Gold Rush) remastered as well and the multiplayer experience is every bit as remastered as the core game.

Much like the cover system in single-player though, there are facets of the multiplayer that still persist. The most notable is the community's preference for the shotgun. Again, there's probably not much that could've been done to "remaster" that component of the game and it's likely that many of the shotgun users are fans familiar with the series to begin with. In that case, they're essentially jumping back in with what makes them most comfortable. The multiplayer experience continues to proudly fly the Gears of War flag that made its multiplayer styles unique. And for a little cherry on top for players, fans who purchase Gears of War: Ultimate Edition will also get early access to the Gears of War 4 multiplayer beta.


Remasters and re-releases are becoming all the rage for video games nowadays and Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is really no exception. That's not to shortchange what it accomplishes, in that it's absolutely gorgeous, the sound is improved and the gameplay is familiar but tweaked in positive ways. The new missions are a welcome breath of fresh air for a game that's nearly a decade old and really gives old fans a new incentive for picking it up. It also offers an experience that gamers new to the Gears of War franchise will likely find appealing, the most prominent feature of which is it's really one of the few third-person shooters available. Despite the clear love put into the remastering, the cover system does show its age at times. The game is every bit as enjoyable the Xbox One time around though and fans both new and old will likely find something that will draw them to the game.


Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is available August 25 for $39.99.

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