During last week's press conference, Microsoft announced a double dose of Gears of War awesomeness. Most excitingly, Gears of War 4 (now simply titled Gears 4) will launch exclusively on Xbox One in 2016. Current-gen gamers won't have to wait a year for a taste of the Gears series though, as Gears of War: Ultimate Edition comes out on Xbox One and Windows PC on August 25. So soon!
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a full remaster of the original Gears of War, courtesy of Microsoft's Vancouver-based Coalition studio. Whereas many current-gen versions of old games get only minor facelifts, this Ultimate Edition sports completely revamped graphics, new campaign and multiplayer levels, and many more improvements. You couldn't ask for a better introduction to (or reason to revisit) the Gears series.
We learned all about Gears of War: Ultimate Edition during a behind-closed doors presentation at E3 2015. Read on for the full intel.
Gears of War primer
Gears of War takes place on the planet Sera, where humanity has endured a 14-year war with an inhuman race known as the Locusts. There musclebound COG soldiers Marcus Fenix and Dom Santiago must fight alongside their fellow Delta Squad members as they attempt to map out the Locusts' subterranean lair and detonate a bomb that could defeat them once and for all.
Gears of War introduced several gameplay mechanics that other games would go on to borrow. First: the "Roadie Run." By pressing and holding the A button, players can crouch low and sprint forward at high speed. Second, the intuitive cover system allows combatants to "stick" to pieces of cover like walls and rubble. From cover they can peek out to fire or simply fire blindly.
Finally, Gears created the active reload system. Whenever gamers need to reload a weapon, they can simply press the Right Bumper and wait a few seconds to reload. However, they also have the option to press RB again at precisely the right moment (indicated by a meter at the top of the screen) to perform an active reload. Not only does this complete the reload faster, it also makes the reloaded bullets deal extra damage.
Mess up your timing and you'll fail the active reload, incurring a slight penalty on your reload time. The active reload system makes little moments that would be mundane in other games actually be fun and engaging.
An armada of enhancements
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a complete remaster of the original game. Sort of like Halo 2: Anniversary Edition, but without the toggling between new and old visuals. And unlike the Master Chief Collection, this one has enjoyed several rounds of beta testing before release. It should work great right out of the gate.
The most obvious upgrade in Ultimate Edition is its graphics. The game now runs in 1080p, and multiplayer mode has been bumped up to 60 frames per second. Not only that, but character models and environments have all received major upgrades. Everything now looks like a game from this generation instead of one from nine years ago.
Microsoft paid special attention to the character's faces as well. Although the original game's cutscenes looked fantastic back in the day, the character mouths moved more robotically than realistically. The new faces show far more expression and emotion. Camera angles and other elements have received slight tweaks too.
Although the Xbox 360 release of Gears told a fairly intriguing story that hinted at a rich universe, the plot skipped around a bit towards the end. The Delta team arrived at a new location at the beginning of an act with no narrative explanation for how they got there. As it turns out, this jumpiness (which also plagued Halo 3) happened in part because Epic simply ran out of time and had to cut some content from the game.
Five chapters from the game's fifth and final act got the axe, including a fight against the gigantic Brumak monster. These chapters later appeared in the Windows PC version of Gears of War, but never made it to the Xbox 360 version. Developer The Coalition has reinstated them into Ultimate Edition. If you've never played the PC game, that's five new chapters you'll get to experience on Xbox One.
The new developers have also added a fourth difficulty level, Casual, that should help ease new players into the series. The old Casual mode now goes by 'Normal.'
Although the first Gears of War doesn't include the series' popular cooperative Horde mode, it does boast full campaign co-op for two local or online players and a robust competitive multiplayer mode. The Ultimate Edition beefs up the competitive gameplay even more. It runs smoother for starters, thanks to the 60 fps frame rate. Of course all the maps look much nicer as well, but that's just the tip of the ice berg…
Ultimate Edition includes all of the original multiplayer maps (six of which came as DLC) plus three new ones, for a total of 19 maps. The extra maps originated in the PC version: Sanctuary, Courtyard, and Gold Rush. All three originally made it to Gears of War 2 on Xbox 360 as DLC. Think of them as a little taste of Gears 2 to complement your upgrades first Gears.
The original Gears brought four multiplayer game types to the table: Warzone, Assassination, Execution and Annex. Ultimate Edition adds Team Death Match, King of the Hill (Gears 3 style), and Gnashers 2v2 to the roster. The developers told us the game has six game types though. Four classics and three new ones doesn't add up to six; perhaps they're counting the very similar Warzone and Assassination game types as one mode.
More welcome additions include dedicated servers, LAN support, and Spectator mode. The latter two are geared towards tournament play. You won't hear about any Gears Ultimate tournaments getting cancelled over server issues! As for spectator mode, multiplayer games reserve two dedicated slots for spectating. That way, tournament organizers can easily broadcast tournaments via Twitch or other services.
Last but definitely not least, Gears of War Ultimate Edition adds a progression system! Gamers will now gain experience and level up as they complete multiplayer games. Leveling up unlocks characters, including 17 characters from Gears of War 3. Those characters will be spruced up visually, just like the campaign characters. The new leveling system should help keep Gears fans playing until Gears 4 comes out – maybe even beyond.
The Coalition has added a few subtle modernizations to Gears Ultimate Edition as well:
- Players can revive teammates will in cover
- Weapons can be toggled while Roadie Running (the actual switch happens after the run ends)
- Controls now offer 30 levels of analog stick sensitivity, just like in Gears 3
- Players can switch between Alternate controls and the new Tournament controls
- You can now "spot" enemies to help track their whereabouts
- Straight from Gears 3, the Multiplayer Tac-Com shows the locations of teammates, weapons, etc.
- Additional multiplayer options include Active reload toggling, Respawn time, Self-revive and Weapon respawn
- 1,250 Gamerscore worth of Achievements
None of these enhancements change Gears dramatically. They just tighten it up a bit and give players better control over the experience.
Coming soon to Xbox One and Windows
Everything I saw and learned about Gears of War: Ultimate Edition has me excited for it. In fact, Ultimate has become my most anticipated Xbox One game of the fall! So many of us remember the original gears fondly; it will be wonderful to revisit a new and improved version of it before Gears 4 comes out.
Windows gamers can look forward to several PC-specific optimizations like 4K monitor support, DirectX 12 graphics support, an unlimited refresh rate (so beefy systems can go higher than 60 fps), and mouse + keyboard, Xbox, and Xbox One Elite controls.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition arrives on Xbox One (and presumably Windows) on August 25 in the US and August 28 in Europe. It comes with exclusive access to the Gears 4 multiplayer beta scheduled for Spring 2016.
Who plans to get Gears Ultimate, and which platform will you buy it on?