Gears of War: Ultimate Edition
Platforms: Xbox One (tested) PC
Developers: The Coalition, Epic (original)
Release Date: 28 August
Gears Of War is dumb. It's a game about enormous, muscular, arsehole space marines and over the top hyper-violence with a b-movie grade script and a basically non-existent plot. The confidence it has in pursuing the knowingly ridiculous is part of the series' enduring charm, but that same stupidity is why nine years later Epic's defining game has become somewhat underrated.
With Gears, Epic produced a masterclass of design and perfected the third person cover-based shooter. Nothing since has come close. It is a joy to play - the tightness of its controls accentuated by the satisfying arsenal of weaponry and the legions of meat-bag foes eager to explode in a chunky shower of claret. Plentiful chest-high walls be damned. Chainsaw bayonets, tag grenades, close range shotgun blasts and the brilliance of active reloads made Gears a classic.
For Microsoft it makes perfect sense to remaster the original for Xbox One given that Gears 4 is still at least a year away. Likewise it also makes sense for new series developers The Coalition to get to know Epic's work with a remaster – much like 343 Industries did with Halo.
A lot has changed in the nine years since Gears was first released, so there are elements that feel understandably dated. Environments tend to be quite confined, there are many invisible walls and the colour palette is dreary. It is interesting to revisit the game after so long and judge it against the modern industry, but of course holding that against a remake would be unfair.
What a remake can address has been addressed well. As one would expect, the visuals have been updated, but the extent of the work done by The Coalition is particularly noteworthy. The vast majority of the game's assets have been completely rebuilt – character models, weapons, the lighting, textures, cinematics and so on. Even the motion capture was re-done to bring the animation up to speed.
It's still not a spectacular game aesthetically (the original was always a technical achievement rather than an artistic one) but The Coalition has done a fantastic job here and the result is a huge leap over the original. Perhaps the best indication of their good work is that this remake fits with how you remember the game looking nine years ago, even though the side-by-side difference is stark.
The control scheme has been improved with the inclusion of refinements brought in by later games in the series and the campaign is meatier, with five additional chapters console owners will have never played before. There's multiplayer too of course, with unlockable characters, dedicated servers and all the DLC maps. New modes have been added too – there's a 2v2 Gnashers-only mode, Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill.
What lets Ultimate Edition down is a litany of bugs and glitches. There are clipping issues, jumpiness going into and out of cutscenes, a tendency to get stuck behind cover, and on a couple of occasions I had to restart from the previous checkpoint because my AI squad mates were stuck shooting at a non-existent foe. Friendly AI is also a bit lacking, with numerous instances of fellow Gears going AWOL.
These niggles hint at a team given a strict deadline who weren't able to optimise the game completely. A patch or two (and there is a sizeable launch day patch incoming) should iron out most of the problems, it's just a shame The Coalition didn't quite have the time to smooth over some of the cracks.
For the most part however they have done a top job with a thoughtful and thorough remake that capably brings a nine-year-old game up to modern standards while retaining all that made the original great and set a major series in motion. Nailing that reload remains one of modern gaming's great delights, camera sway still makes running for cover exciting , blasting an enemy with a point-blank shotgun shell has never felt so satisfying, and The Cole Train is still amazing.