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I still can’t believe that Gears of War on Xbox 360 came out almost 10 years ago. Hearing that fact was strange. For one thing it made me feel old. But it also was a reminder that Gears as a series has been around now for a decade. People have grown up with the series. Fallen in love with it and now the older games, especially Gears of War 1, conjure up feelings of nostalgia. And that is a weird thing to wrap my head around. I felt a sense of nostalgia as I played Gears of War Ultimate Edition. But that feeling was slowly replaced with a feeling of disappointment.
Gears of War Ultimate Edition is essentially a prettier version of Gears of War 1. From a visual standpoint, everything in the game has been touched in some way. The cutscenes are especially good looking. Comparing Gears of War on Xbox 360 to Gears of War Ultimate Edition it is instantly clear how much better looking Ultimate Edition is than the original. That shouldn’t be a surprise, the Xbox One is more powerful than the Xbox 360. What is a surprise however is the frame rate dips and other technical issues.
You would think Gears of War on an Xbox One would run smooth. But the single player campaign barely runs at 30 fps. Constantly while playing the campaign I ran into frame rate dips and stuttering. Even worse the game crashed twice while playing and it felt like my entire Xbox One would chug when playing Gears Ultimate Edition. And I guess The Coalition, developers of this remake, were dedicated to making this game feel like Gears of War 1 because I had tons of texture pop in. Sometimes I would wait for nearly a whole minute before a wall or door texture popped up in its highest quality. The whole thing felt cheap and messy.
The campaign is largely the same as the Xbox 360 version of Gears. The major difference is a few new levels that were only in the PC version of Gears of War. These levels have Delta Squad running from and fighting a large and dangerous Brumak. Well, dangerous might not be the right word. Spoilers, but the boss fight against the Brumak is short and ultimately made me wonder why anyone was even scared of it in the first place.
Having these extra levels is nice and if you are a dedicated Gears fan who hasn’t played these it is probably a really cool thing to finally get the chance to experience the PC levels. Honestly I found the new levels to be sort-of-neat but also sort-of-forgettable.
I won’t waste anytime explaining the Gears of War 1 story. The super short summary is Marcus is broken out of prison by his friend Dom and they join up with some other soldiers, Baird and Cole, to save the world via a big bomb of light. Along the way you fight a reptilian enemy known as the Locust. They don’t want you to blow the bomb so they attack you and you fight them.
And just like the original Gears of War, you can play the entire campaign in co-op. And I would recommend that considering the crappy AI I had to put up with playing by myself. Dom would constantly run around, get stuck on walls or die instantly at the start of a big fight or boss battle. So if you want to experience the action filled story of Gears of War I would say: Bring a friend.
The other big part of Gears of War Ultimate Edition is the multiplayer. And it was in the multiplayer that I had the most fun, but I also felt like I was playing the wrong game.
One of the best things about the multiplayer is that unlike the frame rate dipping campaign that only runs at almost-30 fps, the multiplayer runs as 60 frames. And it ran with almost no dips. And the few dips I did have were minor and brief. Running at 60fps the multiplayer feels smoother and honestly more fun than the stutter-y campaign. I felt like I was able to dodge and jump from cover to cover better and shotgun fights felt more brutal and more satisfying at the higher frame rate. I really hope Gears of War 4 aims for 60 frames per second in its multiplayer.
Besides the higher frame rate, the multiplayer is almost identical to the original Gears. A few minor additions can be found, like the ability to mark enemy players and some characters like Sam from Gears of War 3 being playable in multiplayer. If you enjoyed Gears of War 1 multiplayer you will (probably) enjoy the online action in Ultimate Edition.
Seeing Gears of War 3 characters running around the map just reminded me of Gears of War 3 and then other small things started to bug me about the multiplayer. You can’t jump over cover and knock someone back. You can’t grab someone and use them as a meat shield. There is no Retro Lancer. There is also no Horde Mode in Ultimate Edition or 4 player co-op. These details just made me feel like I was playing the wrong game. I loved Gears of War 1, but I moved on and spent hours in Gears of War 2 and the even better and amazing Gears of War 3. Games that built upon the first Gears and added more features, better movement, new game modes and more.
Gears of War Ultimate Edition might look pretty and modern, but it feels old and empty. I understand that the point of this remake was to do just that: Remake Gears of War for Xbox One. But I don’t think they even did a great job of that. The campaign chugs and its frame rate dips. The graphical improvements are nice but don’t look up to snuff with other Xbox One games. Multiplayer is a better experience but I had issues with matchmaking that were unfortunate.
Honestly my time with Gears of War Ultimate Edition just reminded me how important Gears of War 1 is to gaming. But it also reminded me that Gears of War 2 and 3 are so much better and I would rather be playing those games. I don’t think I wanted this remake and even if I did I don’t think it’s a great remastering of the classic Gears of War.
Let’s hope Gears of War 4 is a big step forward for the franchise. And that it runs smoother.