Gears Of War: Ultimate Edition Review for Xbox One
Words: Stephen Ashby
Do you remember that moment on Xbox 360 when you saw the opening level of Gears Of War for the first time? You know, the slack-jawed wonder you felt when the camera zoomed out to show the level before you? Never had a console produced graphics like that; it was an incredible moment.
Thankfully, the game had the gameplay to back up those amazing looks, and it went on to become of the most well-loved franchise of the last generation. Now, with Gears 4 on the horizon, Microsoft is dipping its toe back into the waters of the HD remaster pool to bring us the original in all its 1080p glory. And good lord, is it glorious.
It’s obvious from the first moment to the final cutscene that The Coalition has spent an outrageous amount of time remastering the original game for this Ultimate Edition. The level of polish on show is fantastic – every asset has been reskinned, every cutscene has been reshot using motion-capture technology, and every level feels familiar, but still has the graphical punch to make you ‘Ooh’ and ‘Ahh’ like you did nine years ago. Most impressive, aside from the refreshed animations, are the lighting effects, which do a wonderful job of making every area feel as close to real as is possible when you’re a bloke the size of a house carrying a chainsaw/gun combo. In the cavernous mines, the glowing Imulsion makes the dank rock glint and shine, while lamps reflect off your Lancer as you fire indiscriminately at enemies. More than once we stopped and just took stock of our surroundings. It might not have quite the same impact as when it first came out back in 2006, but it wasn’t far off.
Aside from the refreshed visuals, though, little has changed. We were a little concerned about this going into it – game mechanics have come an awfully long way in the last nine years, of course – but we were pleasantly surprised by just how well the game has aged. Sure, the crappy bits are still there (we’re looking at you, ‘Press A repeatedly to turn the valve’ moments), but the gunplay is still massively fun. You know what? We have really missed active reload. The mechanic which lets you get extra damage from bullet with a perfectly-timed reload still makes us feel like a hero every time we pull it off at a crucial moment of a boss fight, and curse like a sailor when we miss it by a split-second.
Plus, while the arsenal in the first game was never as diverse as that of, say, Call Of Duty, the weapons on offer are creative and all offer distinct advantages in single-player – picking your perfect loadout as you play still feels great. Plus, there are few greater joys in gaming than exploding an alien’s head with a sniper rifle blast as it attempts to gut one of your squad mates.
But it’s not all happy news. For a start, the AI is an absolute shambles; far too often, Dom will run in circles in a tiny room while you power ahead and take down every enemy. Instruct him to regroup on you with the quick command tool and you’ll get a “Negative!” in reply. What’s stopping you, Dom? Have I distracted you from your busy schedule of circle-running? Did you have plans for today other than shoot the shit out of the aliens that have invaded our planet? So sorry, please forgive my rudeness.
The plot is also full of holes. Best not ask why destroying an electrical station with a giant monster fixes the electrics in a mine, or why the invisible robot Jack isn’t mentioned until a few hours into the game when you suddenly need him to open a door. Got a question about where the Locust came from? Save it for Gears 2; here the only thing we care about is mowing them down.
Extra levels have also been added to Act V of the single-player campaign, fleshing out a section that sees you fighting a giant Brumak. It’s a fairly lacklustre boss fight, and doesn’t really add that much to the story, but it’s good to see the extra content finally on an Xbox console. Though, to be fair, the lack of story isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the lack of exposition saves you from confusion. Your mission is simple: kill the aliens, and have fun doing it. And, for the most part, you do.
The fun continues into the multiplayer, which adds a couple of extra modes and maps that console gamers didn’t get to enjoy the first time round. Sadly, little has been done to balance the game, meaning shotguns are without a doubt the key to success. Still, grab a few mates and dive into a game of King Of The Hill and you’re bound to have a laugh, just like you would have done in 2006.
And that’s kind of the point. This is the same game you played back then, with the same flaws and the same moments of excellence. But for a game to hold up so well nine years on is quite a feat.