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Gears of War: Ultimate Edition reviewed

At the end of the story in Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, Marcus Fenix’s character kicks open the front door of his childhood home. The character then sees a crashed and utterly destroyed house. Everything there is in a disarray…
This return to a ruined family house is an echo of the task at hand. It plays a significant meaning for guys at the “Coalition” game dev studio. Why? Because it re-connects the plot of original Gears of War (released in 2006) with the future sequel, called “Gears of War 4”. Though this was intended to be just a homage to the first game in the series, it actually seems to be a pretty ironic thing. A thing, representative of everything that went wrong and what went right with this Ultimate Edition…

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition allows us some sort of time traveling. So as we go back to the year of 2006, we see Fenix ‘s character inside the gloomy prison cell for the first time… Again! But the graphics were updated in a major way since then. So Gears of War: Ultimate Edition does its best effort to balance the new quality of the picture with the nostalgic looks of the original game.
I played Gears of War on Xbox 360 not so long ago. Still the contrast here is apparent. Ultimate Edition removes the grumpy textures, glossy faces, and gloomy environments of the original game. Instead, it replaces them with well thought through, realistic landscapes and bright hues. The Coalition studio changed every cutscene. Additionally, even though I’ve seen those before, the new 1080p skin of the characters makes it feel like the first time too. Game developers have reversed the game’s aging process. It’s been done by applying the Benjamin Button look to any musclebound character…

The best part is that Ultimate Edition changes so much more than just the quality of the graphics. The content (story script itself), as well as the overall design. And let’s say, the cinematography is much better than the original one. For one, dropping in and out of the multiplayer mode are now much easier and better. Now allowing you to chime in right in the middle of the game’s chapter. Ultimate Edition also borrows heavily from the trilogy’s sequels. It allows separate difficulty settings for individual gamers.

Additionally, as a bonus to PC gamers, five new chapters were added. These ones include Marcus and Dom in their race toward a train station through forsaken factories. All the while with they’re evading a gigantic Brumak. This enormous, bipedal monster creates a sense of danger throughout the chasing. It culminates with a boss battle that out-scales any situation in previous chapters.
These episodes fall in well with this modern version. Ultimate Editions reminds how crucial horror sequence’s been for the series since beginning. With haunted corridors and spooky basements giving way to hideous monsters inside every air tunnel. This is a story about a controversial band of heroes. They’re shown here sometime prior to when we saw them amidst the chaos of a full-blown war. The characters are not developed real good yet. Mainly they serve here as butts for masculine jokes and Gears’ ubiquitous macho humor. Nevertheless, this campaign is more personal and it serves as a reminder of how and when we first met them.
Ultimate Edition’s campaign looks and feels awesome indeed. But, it hasn’t completely deleted all of the original version sins.  During my time on the streets, and in the tunnels of Sera, my AI partner often endangered me more, than helped me out. Dom Santiago wandered into the shadows with a clear purpose, when the objective was to stay in the light. Also, he blocked the shooting view for me numerous times. To add to that, often, nothing happened when my progress relied on the AI pressing a button or turning a switch. Eventually, I had to reload my checkpoint again…

The latter was a recurring problem throughout the whole campaign. The first Gears isn’t always obvious about where to head next, and the remaster has kept that aspect in place. I reloaded checkpoints as many as five times before I finally reached Act Five. All because cutscenes wouldn’t trigger, or a wall wouldn’t crumble on the cue. It’s one thing to stall game’s progress due to a fatality in action. It’s a whole another story to keep losing it because of the AI.
Replaying the first Gears campaign has also underlined some of its main design flaws. Almost all of your progress depends heavily on simply killing every enemy. Considering it’s the first entry in the franchise, there isn’t a whole lot of variety in opponents. You enter a room; you clear it; you head to the next level.
There are few incredible moments, though. Like luring the berserker outside so as to pummel it with a satellite blast, for instance. But by and large, most of the campaign revolves around wiping off a very specific number of Locust characters. Pair this with the fact that opponents didn’t attack until I searched out and about for them. As it turned out, only to find them stuck behind a cover, and the later chapters became a slow burner…
But playing this with a friend has always been my favorite way to enjoy Gears. Now I can admit again, that in this updated latest version, that sentiment is still true. My friend was way more common sensed and trustworthy companion than Dom’s default AI. Actually, the branching paths of the trilogy’s starting missions still generate rapidly evolving situations. Like the ones where flanking is just as important as accuracy and timing, killing hoards of enemies. The Gears franchise has always catered to a collaborative experience. This remastered version of the game complies with that too.
These tenets ring true in Ultimate Edition’s multiplayer as well, and this is where the remaster really shines. The Coalition made the upgrade to realistic 60 frames per second video dynamics. It resulted in a much smoother, more fluid experience than I had on Xbox 360. There are also some additional game modes and a brand new map to wander through. Though, these additions fall short in comparison to the nostalgia trip I experienced on my favorite maps. Namely: Gridlock, Tyro Station, and Depot, just to drop few names.

All of my muscle memory came back in a matter of minutes. I hip-fired the gnasher shotgun, mastered active reload times! I dodged between cover as if it still was 2006… The multiplayer still transitions between measured approaches and frantic firefights on a whim. While displaying an action-orientedness that has aged well.  Gears of War Ultimate Edition doesn’t just look like my nostalgia remembers… It also feels like it, too.

In returning to the game that sparked Microsoft’s most successful franchise, Coalition developers kicked opened their own “childhood” doors. The return trip might have revealed a few more blemishes than we remembered. But it also serves as a cure for our nostalgia. And as remakes go, that’s worth the journey home!

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