Gears of War Ultimate Edition review

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Gears and Halo have a lot in common, and I don’t mean in terms of gameplay. Both titles made huge waves on the Xbox, which defined the console as something for shooter fans; they both garnered a huge fan base and even grabbed the limelight in the eSports scene. Halo has had its turn to ‘shine’ on Xbox One with the Master Chief Collection – now it’s Gears’ turn.

With the Gears of War license firmly in Microsoft’s hands, Black Tusk Studios were given the series and consequently rebranded as The Coalition. Former Epic Games’ Rod Fergusson heads the studio and in his hands one would hope that the future of Gears is a bright one.

The Master Chief Collection was plagued with problems so it’s no wonder that the much-rumoured Marcus Fenix Collection hasn’t been released. Instead The Coalition has lovingly recreated the first title in the series, with the help of independent UK Studio Splash Damage. Rather than just remaster Gears of War with a spit of HD polish, the Ultimate Edition includes reworked cutscenes, the missing chapters that were cut from the Xbox 360 version, and refined gameplay mechanics.

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Pick up the game between launch and December 31, and you will be able to download the full Gears of War back catalogue, via the Xbox One’s new backwards compatibility feature. You will also get early access to the Spring 2016 Gears of War 4 beta – surely this alone is enough to justify purchasing the Ultimate Edition, which can be bought digitally for £29.99/$39.99/€39.99.

Running at 60 fps and in 1080p, the Ultimate Edition looks absolutely stunning, you would be forgiven for thinking this was a brand new title for the Xbox One. However, I did suffer some minor texture pop that I caught out of the corner of my eye. I also witnessed several character glitches while playing campaign, with AI squad mates getting stuck in doorways, getting in my way or shooting at nothing.

They are also rather ineffectual at taking down the Locust (when they actually hit them), although equally, the Locust were often no better, paying me little to no attention as they walked up behind and straight past. For returning fans, it’s worth noting that the Normal difficulty is now the old Casual setting, so it’s a breeze to play, and the new Casual setting is somewhat laughable.

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It’s great to step back into the campaign of Gears of War and find that the emotion and tension of the game’s story still shines through even though I’ve played the original multiple times. The set pieces still deliver excitement, panic and sheer euphoria at beating them, and yes the Berserker encounter is still as dramatic as you remember. This in part is down to the stunning remastered Dolby 7.1 surround sound – making full use of my ASTRO A50s – the Corpser in particular sounds so much more intimidating.

The part I was most excited to play was the extra missions that were cut from the Xbox 360 release, which continue the story of the Brumak that rocked up at the end of Chapter IV. This totals around 90 minutes of extra Gears campaign goodness and it really cements the creature’s purpose as it gives chase to your escaping APC, rather than being resigned to a mere cutscene.

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COG tags are also given more purpose in the game, collecting them reveals pages in one of five Gears of War comics. Each of the five comics – Unseen, They Also Serve, Unsaid, Promise Me, and Harper’s Story – can be zoomed into and read just like any digital comic.

The biggest change to the gameplay though is the inclusion of Gears of War 3’s movement, cover and Tac-Com. Not only does the Tac-Com allow you to give orders to your AI teammates in campaign, but you can also tag enemy positions, which is carried into the multiplayer, great for teamwork, but I’m sure some Gears fans will accuse this of cheapening their beloved game.

The pressure from the Gears faithful has always been my problem with playing online – it felt very elitist – and something that was hard to get into. Multiplayer is focused on one-life combat, and if you are the weakest link, boy did you know about it – making online feel quite unwelcoming to newcomers, and with the absence of bot matches to practice on, my Gears career was resigned to campaign and co-op.

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I first began to gel with multiplayer when the second game released and I really hit my stride with the third title, so for me, bringing Gears of War 3’s movement and cover system into the Ultimate Edition makes it far more accessible than I ever found the original title. Don’t worry if you are a Gears purist, you can still wall bounce around the map and run circles around weaker players like myself, but for folk like me, you will find a far more accessible game – although there still aren’t any options for bot matches.

If you do need to pick up some tips, then you can join a match in one of the two spectator slots and cycle through the map or player cams. Spectators can’t communicate with players until they are dead, so unless you use party chat, there’s no advantage in having a friendly spectator onboard.

Even with the tweaks to multiplayer, Gears is still a tough game so don’t expect to be able to go in and rack up huge kill counts. The one-life team modes are certainly where veterans of the series will be lurking, but for those that prefer multiple spawns, there are a whole host of modes to choose from including the new fast-paced Blitz mode – an adaptation of King of the Hill.

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The beauty of Gears’ multiplayer though is the intense shotgun battles, which also have their own 2v2 mode that was created in conjunction with the Gears of War community. Get into a one-on-one fight and it will certainly be an adrenaline-filled battle.

Playing online has been the most intense multiplayer experience I’ve played in any competitive shooter – when you are the last man standing and triumph over three enemy players to win the match, boy what a great feeling, and something that no other game has ever come close to instilling in me.

The multiplayer of the Ultimate Edition is topped off with dedicated servers and all the original and DLC multiplayer maps. Similar to Titanfall, you can choose which server you play on, so no more blaming lag or accusing players of having host advantage – it’s buttery smooth and so much fun – it will certainly feature regularly in my online gaming sessions.

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I have fond memories of Gears, and I’m glad to see that the campaign not only stands the test of time, but the multiplayer is now something I can really get into – is this the Ultimate Edition? I would have to answer with a resounding “Shit yeah!”

With Halo and Gears set to battle it out for supremacy as the console’s lead title, it’s now over to Halo as it launches its first full Xbox One title. We will have to wait until next year for the first full Gears title on Xbox One, but the Ultimate Edition has already signed an eSports deal with ESL so the pressure is on Halo 5 to redeem the mistakes made with the Master Chief Collection… your move 343!

Thanks to Xbox for their support

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