When I heard Microsoft announce Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, I was excited at the prospect of playing the complete Gears of War series from the comfort of my Xbox One. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case as this “Ultimate Edition” was just for the original Gears of War, although Microsoft later revealed the entire Gears collection would be available for free through the Xbox One’s backwards compatibility. I guess it’s better than nothing as I’m able to at least play the game in 1080p and 60fps, then continuing on to the Xbox 360 versions if I choose to.
So -- what makes this the Ultimate Edition beyond 1080p/60fps gameplay? Well, the game includes all multiplayer modes and maps from the original game, new content like Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill modes, five campaign chapters that weren’t previously released on Xbox and more.
All Around Me Are Familiar Faces
Playing through the original Gears of War was a surreal experience after completing all of the games and reading all of the series' literature. I forgot just how intimidating the berserker was the first time you come across her, or that the Hammerburst shot in bursts rather than a semiautomatic as in later games. As I progressed through Gears of War for yet another time, I was impressed by how much The Coalition improved on the original material's graphics. The character models, weapons, armor, and special effects all look great in 1080p. If this is what the developer can do with a seven-year old game, I can't wait to see what it does with Gears of War 4.
My experience wasn't without a few minor blemishes here and there as there were times when the frame rate would drop when the Hammer of Dawn was in use. There were also instances when I caught some low quality textures slowly turn high quality while I was making my way through the game. Considering how much work The Coalition put behind the remastering of Gears of War, it's unfortunate to see these minor issues pop up.
One feature I certainly appreciated was making the collectible COG Tags actually do something more than reward players with an achievement as they’re discovered. I still received those achievements, but I also unlocked pages in digital versions of the Gears of War graphic novels. The graphic novels help round out the Gears of War story a bit more than what the player experiences within the game, so it’s an addition that Gears fans would certainly appreciate.
Bring it On, Sucka!
Gears of War Ultimate Edition’s multiplayer mode received a lot of love from The Coalition as it has its own dedicated servers, skill-based matchmaking, and new game types that were introduced in later games. The variety in maps from the get-go is impressive as there are a total of 19 multiplayer maps available out of the box, which includes all DLC and PC-exclusive content. There’s also 17 unlockable Gears of War 3 characters players can unlock through Multiplayer progression.
Playing Gears of War multiplayer in 60fps is a delight to experience. The action, regardless of game mode, has always been fast paced. To have the frame rate reflect the speed of the game was long overdue, and I’m happy The Coalition was able to achieve it on the Xbox One. Being able to play on dedicated servers means I didn't experience lagging or any other connectivity issues during my time with the multiplayer portion of the game.
The introduction of skill-based matchmaking means players will finally be able to either kick back for a “relaxing” Gears multiplayer experience or prepare for some more serious play. What I found to be strange was not all game modes were available in both matchmaking modes. The Casual Matchmaking mode only had three game modes to play, while the Competitive one had a total of six. I know The Coalition is able to dictate what game modes are available, so I would highly recommend having both Competitive and Casual offer the same ones. Just because I want to kick back doesn't mean I don't want to partake in a game of Execution or Assassination.
Worn Out Places
While the inclusion of all Xbox 360 versions of the Gears of War series could be seen as a sweet deal, I’m certainly torn by Microsoft’s decision to do this. It’s a nice touch to allow Xbox One owners to be able to play any Xbox 360 Gears of War game through backwards compatibility, but I feel this to be more of a cop out as The Coalition really should have offered the complete collection in what they consider to be the “Ultimate Edition” of the game. As a Gears Fan, I feel the series should earn a bit more respect from Microsoft considering how well its done for the company, and if you’re going to call this the Ultimate Edition, then it should feel like that. Unfortunately, this feels more like a version of Gears of War that has all of the refinements and features of Gears of War 3, but with as many maps, characters, and unreleased campaigns as possible to make it feel like more than it actually is.
I understand the logistics of actually remastering the complete Gears of War franchise may be too much for The Coalition to handle. But if I was a normal shopper and I saw Gears of War Ultimate Edition on a store shelf, I would think it would be a remaster of the complete series as well. The last thing I'd want is to pop in my disc to see I purchased a remaster of Gears of War and access to the last-gen versions of the series. This is still a nice trip down memory lane, but at the end of the day, the Gears of War franchise deserves something more comprehensive.
On the other hand, if you pride yourself in your Gears of War multiplayer skills, Gears of War Ultimate Edition will scratch your competitive itch. Just remember this is Gears of War, so there are some things you won’t be able to do like tag a grenade on a surface to create makeshift mine or stun an opponent by jumping over an obstacle they’re hiding behind.