Gears of War: Ultimate Edition
There aren’t a lot of video games that are able to impress on the same level as the original Gears of War. Technical achievements aside, this is a series that epitomizes the term “blockbuster video game”. I like to imagine a lone tear sliding down the cheek of a pre-Transformers Michael Bay as he watches the essence of his career transcribed into a single beautiful and unapologetically bombastic video game.
Nearly a decade and three sequels have passed since we first wandered the Locust-infested planet of Sera with our Lancers in hand, trigger finger ready to rev up the weapon’s now-iconic chainsaw attachment at a moment’s notice.
That’s a long time for a game that strove for gritty realism, albeit with a side of added testosterone, as that style tends to exaggerate the already noticeable impact that time can have on what is still a very visual medium. Just take a look at a cel-shaded title like Okami, which released a scant six months before Gears, and you’ll see it.
Going into the Ultimate Edition, I knew some things would feel familiar. The way the Lancer tears through the soft body of a flailing Locust, the satisfying way the characters snap to and navigate around cover with the press of a button, the rewarding whoosh sound that plays when I’ve performed a perfect reload — all of these things feel just as good as they did back in 2006.
What caught me by surprise were the myriad smaller things that I hadn’t thought about in years. This game has a lovely soundtrack, now with added support for 7.1 surround sound, complete with sweeping orchestral tracks and other musical terms I’m not at all qualified to use to describe the music that forms the aural backbone of the Gears experience. It’s epic where it counts and haunting when it needs to be, but there’s another facet to it that I hadn’t thought of in a while, and that’s the soundtrack of your squad.
I forgot how much I missed the rhythmic thump, thump, thump of a quick roadie run across the battlefield to reach better cover or precious ammunition. I forgot about the grenades and the celebratory series of beeps that warn me to get some distance between myself and the guy I just turned into a walking explosive. I even forgot how satisfying the guns sound when I’m using them to pump unsuspecting Locusts with lead, or whatever it is bullets are made of in the Gears universe.
All of these wonderful things are back in the Ultimate Edition, and they’ve brought some friends in the form of all of the previously released content — including a comical number of weapon skins — polished up cinematics, vastly improved visuals and an array of welcome mechanical tweaks like additional checkpoints and improved aim-assist.
The greatly improved graphical fidelity is considerably more impressive than the usual swapping out of last-gen textures with higher resolution ones that comprise the bulk of the visual enhancements seen in so many other re-releases. It also comes in at a full 1080p and at 60 fps — the latter of which has a monumental impact on the much smoother multiplayer experience.
All of the above congeals in a way that makes the already epic scope of this grand series feel genuinely new again. Getting to play through it all again, along with five bonus chapters that were previously exclusive to the PC version, with the objectively superior Xbox One controller is just the icing on the bloody cake.
The Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is the perfect way to help prepare fans for the next installment, which will be coming from The Coalition, which Microsoft established to bring Gears to Xbox One. This game does enough to qualify as a remake rather than a remaster, so if the slew of HD re-releases we’ve seen since the new consoles launched has turned you off to the concept of remasters, you may want to reconsider checking this one out.
Reviewed By: Adam Dodd
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
This review is based on a digital copy of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition for the Xbox One provided by Microsoft Studios.