Besides a brief stint playing the opening of Gears of War 2 at a friend’s, and Gears of War 3 multiplayer for a bit at another friend’s (I was terrible at it), Gears of War Ultimate Edition is my first proper attempt at getting into the Gears of War series. After getting an Xbox One, it only seemed to make sense to get some Xbox exclusives under my belt, especially when buying it within the period in which I did netted me the Xbox 360 Gears of War quadrilogy (1, 2, 3, and Judgement as downloads) for free. While excellent value, I didn’t end up being too fond of Gears of War Ultimate Edition. Though, I think it’s mostly down to it being a bad remaster.
I may as well start off with what I liked about it. The story, while a big gung-ho, isn’t as bad as some people made it out to be. The stages, and the narrative with them, don’t stick around too long to get boring, and for the most part keep things varied with their gameplay, introducing interesting locations and mechanics fairly regularly, though it does become a bit of a grind in the two acts of the game’s five. There’s some really great worldbuilding at play in the story’s construction, painting an intriguing picture of a future gone wrong without ever giving away too many details. Contextual environmental clues and bits and pieces of dialogue are the best you get, and it’s handled very well.
The structure of the game does feel a little bit dated now compared to when it first came out. But that’s hard to hold against it, and in some ways it feels refreshing these days to play something that knows it’s a game and is throwing stage after stage at you. Some of the choices when you can choose one of two paths to take feel a little pointless as they’re not very different, and only ever deviate from each other for quite a short time, there not even being very many instances of this. Some of the more gimmicky chapters wore a little thin, such as the krill chapter where you need to stay out of the dark, and the other krill chapter with the not great tank section. Also the mine cart section was a little weird. But, it keeps things a little interesting, as I said.
Some of my issues with the last couple of Acts of the game could be down to the extra chapters added into the Ultimate Edition, which were originally exclusive to the PC release of the game. While it’s nice to see these back, it’s probably not unfair to say that they are weaker than the rest of the game, and end up making the ending a little bit unnecessarily long. It’s nice to have an actual fight with the Brumak, though it’s not a very good fight.
It’s strongest then when you’re shooting at locusts, the underground alien type things that are ravaging the human world. The active reload still feels like an innovative system — a well timed second tap of reload performing a quicker reload, and an extra well timed press then increasing the damage of those new bullets. Enemy waves can be punishing, but on the normal difficulty at least, rarely feel unfair in their numbers or enemy types. Though I literally only just found out that the Normal mode in this version is actually the Casual mode from the original game, with the new Casual mode being even more Casual, so now I feel really bad at video games of whatever.
Sometimes though you can’t hit enemies in cover that you really should be able to as you get sights on them, and there were also some cases of locusts moving erratically in a way that they clearly weren’t meant to, continuously climbing up and over walls and that sort of thing. And don’t get me started on the teammate AI.
There’s just a bunch of stuff in the so-called “Ultimate Edition” that just feels really shonky. At first I put it down to it being an older game, but I heard from some people that some of these issues weren’t in the original version. Having received a free copy of the original with my purchase of Ultimate Edition I loaded it up and played through the first Act. I didn’t notice any big weirdness with the enemy AI, though I imagine it’d be less obvious early in the game, but the rest of my squad were definitely considerably more helpful. In Ultimate Edition they will frequency run stupidly at enemies, dying immediately, putting a lot of pressure on you as a player to clean up their messes. I had no such problems with the Xbox 360 version. At one point in Ultimate Edition Dom for some reason ran down a long dark corridor we weren’t meant to go to. He got ravaged by krill half way down, then decided to come back, continuously dying and reviving every few paces.
Also the sound mix is sometimes atrocious. I encountered this less in the 360 version, but it was indeed present in both. Sometimes when you die or the enemies die the volume can shoot up like you’re watching a YouTube poop of one of those Zelda CD-i games. I don’t want to be hearing that when I’m so close to the TV. Yeah, Gears of War Ultimate Edition looks quite nice, but it deosn’t really seem like a bit of a graphical upgrade is enough reason to get this over one that just works better.
It also seems a bit weird to me in 2015 to be releasing a remaster (or Ultimate Edition, fine) that’s just one single game. And then that remaster actually isn’t a very good remaster? Gears of War Ultimate Edition came out 25th August, just barely a month before the stunning Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, a superb remaster of all three of the currently released Uncharted games. Even taking the gameplay out of it, just looking at the remaster quality, Gears of War Ultimate Edition is absolutely trashed by Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection. It’s not even funny. Considering you no longer get the older Gears of War games when you buy Gears of War Ultimate Edition, it just doesn’t seem like a good deal no matter which way you cut it. I wrote about how great the remaster of the first Uncharted is right here.
It’s a little bit shameful, and I honestly find it hard to believe a bunch of people gave this version very high scores, when it’s quite clear to me, picking this up for the first time and only very briefly playing the first one, that the Xbox 360 version was just a better game. Just buy that one instead. I see it in Xbox digital sales sometimes, and I see it absolutely everywhere in the shops for sub £5.
I did kind of end up liking Gears a bit more than I expected, but that like only began to fuel my dislike for the Ultimate Edition. When there are some great remasters out there, these low quality cash grabs just leave a bad taste in my mouth. Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is a pretty high bar to set, but not insurmountable with time, love, and care. For a flagship Xbox exclusive IP it boggles my mind how this happened. I guess at least the online multiplayer is now on current gen and people seem to be having fun with it, though as I mentioned I suck at it.
Gears of War Ultimate Edition was developed by The Coalition, who are the devs taking over the Gears of War series from Epic Games for the current generation of consoles. Unfortunately I can’t say I’m particularly looking forward to Gears of War 4 based on their work on this version. I still have 3 whole games in the Gears series to go through on Xbox 360 by Epic Games, and if I do pick up Gears of War 4, it will definitely be based on enjoying their work rather than anything The Coalition has done so far. And I’ll likely just end up disappointed.