In the first few years of the Xbox 360’s life, few games stood out as much as Gears of War. It represented almost everything gamers wanted from a new console generation. Its visuals were top of the line, several gameplay elements had either never been seen before or were still relatively fresh, and while it wasn’t the first cover-based third-person shooter, it was one of the first really good ones, and it would go on to spawn a glut of other games trying to capture the same kind of success.
Fast forward the clock nine years and several iterations later, and we’ve got Gears of War: Ultimate, a shiny remastered version of the original campaign and an overhauled version of its competitive multiplayer for Xbox One – and later on PC. Also included in this edition are all the multiplayer map packs that were added to Gears post-launch, and a short section of the campaign that was originally exclusive to the PC version.
The first thing you notice when you boot up Gears Ultimate is that all the cutscenes (including the intro video) have been completely re-done. They now look like something more akin to what you’d see from the current generation of games. The Coalition also took the time to re-record most of the voiceovers in the game. These changes make sense as the story was one of the weakest aspects of the original game, but neither the new cinematics or the new voicework really do much to change that. The Gears of War universe remains interesting, but the way the story unfolds is still flawed and doesn’t match the quality set by most other aspects of the game.
Thankfully, the work the developers did on the visuals and audio really does make a difference. Most of Ultimate is just a re-skin but it’s very well done. From the characters to the foliage and the background and lighting, it all looks wonderful. And while there are a few technical hiccups, most of the game performs very well. A lot of the audio also sounds re-tooled, with the soundtrack and the bassy explosions and gunfire matching the on-screen action perfectly, both really adding something to the experience.
The game’s mechanics seemed to be mostly untouched, and it moves every bit as well as it did back in 2007. Snapping in and out of cover is quick and easy, popping up to riddle the bullet sponge enemies with hot led is still great fun, and utilizing the staple weapons of Gears of War such as the chainsaw lancer and torque bow is still a blast. Indeed, the combat has aged quite well, and the developer’s decision to leave the core mechanics mostly intact from the original appears to be a good one.
Unfortunately, if we’re going to praise the developers for not overhauling the gameplay, we have to take the bad with the good, and the AI companions are still quite poor. They charge headlong into battles, get themselves into tight spots and then require your assistance in getting back to their feet. Yet, by design, they’re incapable of offering the same assistance to you, and are often just in the way, particularly during boss fights when they kept dying and forcing you to start over. I lost count of how many times I bounced a grenade or boomshot round off their backs as they ran directly into my line of sight, and they were almost never able to offer any real help when I got myself into a pinch.
If you remember back to the launch of Gears of War on PC, you might recall that it had an exclusive section console owners never got to see. This piece of the game – which has players fighting a Brumak – is in the Ultimate edition and you don’t have to go anywhere to find it. It slots right into Act V and I didn’t even realize they were steering me toward something new until I got there. This special event isn’t very long, but the fight itself is done well enough and fits organically into the events of that act.
On the multiplayer side of things, significant changes have been made. Gone are the days of bad netcode and a terrible peer-to-peer hosting environment, and in come the dedicated servers which have been used since Gears 3, and offer a silky smooth gameplay experience that’s pretty much the polar opposite of what we had for multiplayer in the original game. Paired with ranks, challenges and a boat load of character/weapon skins, there’s a lot to like and a lot to do. All 19 of the original Gears of War maps are here, and they’re all mostly untouched in their design, aside from a few tweaks to the backdrops and aesthetics. Most of the original modes return as well, along with a few from later iterations such as the highly requested standard Team Deathmatch.
How much mileage you’ll get out of Gears of War: Ultimate really depends on what you’re aiming to play. There’s very little you haven’t played before in the campaign and the new cinematics and voiceovers do little to assist the bare story, but the gameplay is still great, it looks and sounds fantastic, and fans will no doubt enjoy playing the formerly PC-exclusive section they missed the first time. Pair that with an overhauled multiplayer that packs all the maps and modes you could want, and there’s enough here for a pretty easy recommendation, especially if you’ve yet to experience the Gears of War universe.
Version tested: Xbox One