Gears of War: Ultimate Edition features ample improvements made to the original game throughout, making it a familiar but fresh trip down memory lane.
As soon as Microsoft purchased the rights to Gears of War, gamers began chomping at the bit to see what the deal would bring. While an Xbox One installment seemed an inevitability, many still hoped that the franchise would see something akin to Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Although that may not have been the case – thanks in part to the forthcoming backward compatibility update – Gears of War: Ultimate Edition seems to be a very worthy addition to anyone’s games catalogue, offering fans an updated version of the classic Xbox 360 title.
Admittedly, gamers could be pardoned for initially thinking that this take on the first installment in the once Epic Games-owned property is just a simple port, but the developers at The Coalition have taken steps to insure that it goes much further than that. The end result is a very familiar third-person shooter that plays even better than the original, thanks to several key updates that make Gears of War: Ultimate Edition feel more modern in an industry that’s only grown in the nine years since it initially reared its head.
One of the first aspects of the title that fans will want to jump into is undoubtedly the campaign, and it definitely feels good to get reacquainted with Marcus Fenix and the rest of Delta Squad – or perhaps even meet them for the first time. Once firing up the story, players are immediately introduced to entirely revamped cinematic portions that help convey the story of Gears of War in a significantly enhanced way. While capturing facial expressions and gory action on-screen was much more challenging back in 2006, The Coalition has ensured that players are further immersed in in the story thanks to impressive graphical updates.
While the presentation has been upped significantly, it’s the gameplay itself that’s been treated to several important overhauls, although those can be easily overlooked by anyone that has forgotten how the original played. These aren’t radical changes, mind you, but they do help the game feel more fluid. Now players are able to target enemies, utilize the Tac-Com to see where their allies are, revive teammates while behind cover, and stick to cover much more easily thanks to these tweaks. These are present throughout the campaign and online modes, but these changes really become noticeable once in Gears of War: Ultimate Edition‘s multiplayer mode.
All 19 maps from the initial Gears game have returned, which includes all of the once-downloadable areas as well. Each battleground has been touched up to bring it in line with the rest of the game, so fans needn’t worry about a visual disparity between “new” maps and old, like we saw in Halo 2 Anniversary. While the maps will bring about a sense of nostalgia for those that spent hours revving their Lancers across the various in-game landscapes, they look and feel much more approachable thanks to the aforementioned revamped mechanics.
Of course, there are also a pair of multiplayer modes present in the game that weren’t featured in the Xbox 360 original, and they appear in the form of Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill. These make for enjoyable changes of pace from the tried and true Execution multiplayer, but the real hook of this iteration is the leveling system. Much like later iterations of the series, leveling up one’s online profile will earn them unlockables. This ranges from characters that appear later in the series to funky and fun-filled takes on classic characters in different attire, and longtime fans will appreciate the challenge of earning them.
Fortunately, the most redeeming aspect of the entire game, its online multiplayer, operates with little to no issues whatsoever. Users can tear through any of the many offerings once online with relative ease, and the game even managed to perform well on the lacklustre internet connections present during the matches played for this review. With a level cap of 100 set for those willing to reach it, and the option to “re-up” once that’s been hit, there’s enough content here to keep players’ chainsawing through friends and foes alike for countless hours.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is an extremely familiar game that manages to feel new thanks to The Coalition’s vision for a fresher Gears. Just when something begins to feel stale the game changes and provides players with a wholly unique task or a gigantic set piece to draw them in to the action once more. Whether tearing through Locusts in split-screen co-op, gathering COG tags to unlock comic panels, or trying not to get outmaneuvered by the cover-weary A.I., there’s something solid here that newcomers are sure to enjoy and longtime Gearsheads will nostalgically cherish.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition arrives for Xbox One on August 25, 2015. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for this review.