Gears of War: Ultimate Edition Review (XONE)

Gears of War UE screen
Gears of War UE screen. Microsoft

Similar to how 343 Industries' first Halo game was a remake of Halo 1, the first Gears of War from The Coalition, the new stewards of the Gears franchise, is a remake of Gears of War 1.  This Ultimate Edition of Gears of War is a pretty promising first step.  It looks fantastic on Xbox One and plays exactly like you remember it, though that can be both good and bad.  We feel the campaign hasn't aged as well as the classic multiplayer, but it is still a fantastic experience overall that is well worth playing for returning series vets as well as new fans.

  

Game Details

  • Publisher:  Microsoft
  • Developer: The Coalition
  • ESRB Rating: "M" for Mature
  • Genre: Action TPS
  • Pros:  Nice visuals; great gameplay; co-op; lengthy campaign; fantastic multiplayer
  • Cons:  A.I. companions; difficulty; campaign hasn't aged super well

Features

For more specific details on how the game plays, please see our review of the original Xbox 360 release of Gears of War.

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a full graphical overhaul of the original game.  It still plays the same as it did back in 2006, but looks like a current-gen 2015 Xbox One game.  It includes the full single-player campaign you may remember, but also adds in PC-exclusive chapters that console players haven't seen before.  Co-op play, which the game was designed around, is fully intact both in split-screen and on Xbox Live, and the Xbox Live play has been updated to full drop-in, drop-out play so you can join your friends in the middle of the action if you want.

  The difficulty has also been tweaked to make casual a little easier (and actually casual).  Everything else about the campaign is the same as ever.

The multiplayer has seen a handful of changes that mean it isn't identical to the original multi in the 360 release, but the changes are generally for the better.

  The increase in framerate up to 60FPS (versus the original's struggle to stay at 30FPS framerate) is a big deal and makes the game feel surprisingly different.  It is smooth as silk and feels really nice to play.  An eight-way roll has been added as well, compared to the 4-way roll of the original.  Map designs have been tweaked a bit to make them more balanced for two teams.  There are 19 maps in all, loads of character skins, and lots of modes.  There's plenty to keep you busy here. 

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition also comes with digital versions of all four Xbox 360 Gears games.  They are not available yet, however, but will be playable later this year when the Xbox One backward compatibility update goes live.

For a full graphical upgrade, plus fantastic multiplayer and a solid campaign and 4 extra backward compatible games, the $40 asking price is pretty darn incredible for Gears of War: Ultimate Edition.  There's really nothing to complain about in terms of the amount of content you're getting here as the campaign is surprisingly long (much longer than most shooters today) and the multiplayer will keep you busy for months. 

Campaign Notes

I do have some more specific comments on the single-player campaign.

  It plays the same as ever, warts and all, and some of the things we didn't mind back in 2006 because everything was so fresh and new aren't quite as forgivable in 2015.  For example, the A.I. of your squad mates is just awful and they'll stand in your way and refuse to move, run in front of your shots constantly, and do lots of other dumb stuff.  Also, the difficulty can be pretty brutal, particularly in later sections of the game.  Playing co-op does solve both of these complaints, however.  Objectives in the campaign are also kind of lame as progress is almost always just "Kill everything until the next door opens up".

  Later games in the series solved all of these issues, and are better campaigns because of it.  Gears 1 is still very solid, don't get me wrong, but it definitely plays like a game released in 2006 even if this Ultimate Edition looks like a game released in 2015.

There are some positives too, of course.  The Gears 1 campaign is pretty much a horror game, and those aspects still hold up.  It is slowly paced and full of jump scares and creepy stuff, unlike the bigger battles of Gears 2, Gears 3, and Judgment.  I definitely love the atmosphere of the campaign in Gears 1, even if I prefer the more modern gameplay of the sequels. 

Also good news is that Gears of War: Ultimate Edition doesn't make me motion sick, which is a huge improvement over the original that prompted me to write a whole article about videogame motion sickness.  Whether the camera shake was toned down or if the much better graphical fidelity makes it easier for my brain to process it all I can't say for sure.  All I know is that it didn't make me sick, which is a very good thing.

Bottom Line

All in all, Gear of War: Ultimate Edition is a fantastic package overall combining a solid campaign that gets even better when you play co-op and best-in-class multiplayer that still holds up nine years after it was originally released.  For just $40 (or $60 for a Deluxe Edition that comes with extra multiplayer skins and stuff) you're getting a heck of a deal.  Returning fans will love being able to play with updated graphics on Xbox One, and new players will be able to experience the entire series leading up to Gears of War 4's release in 2016.  Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is definitely worth a purchase.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.