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Gears of War: Ultimate Edition

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition

Written by Rob Larkin on 3/2/2016 for PC  
More On: Gears of War: Ultimate Edition

I remember the first time I played Gears of War. I was late to the party because right around when it was initially released I had sold my Xbox 360 never to return to the platform. But I had heard such amazing things about the game and one Christmas about 2 years later I found myself at my cousin's house with a lonely Xbox 360 sitting there with a Gears of War disc ready to take the plunge. So with high expectations and great anticipation I loaded up the first chapter in what I was told was an epic experience. I was thoroughly and completely underwhelmed.

Gears of War is a cover based third-person shooter known for it's over the top style and gorgeous graphics. But it is decidedly not my cup of tea. I find the default aiming stick to be way too flighty and the movement of the characters to be way too heavy. It's like your right thumbstick is swimming in molasses while your left is whacked out on PCP. This is a rare game designed for consoles but with a control scheme that translates so much better to mouse and keyboard. The environments are well detailed but extremely linear and the end result of the combat mechanics for me seem to be a struggle against a bad control scheme more than my opponent. Yes, occasionally a machine gunner grabs the controls of a turret and I might get a rare opportunity to properly flank and take them out. But those moments seem the exception, not the rule. What is even more sparse are those truly jaw dropping sequences. Those type of boss battles and mid game events that immerse you in the experience. I just don't get that with Gears of War. There is nothing in this game that comes close to some of the epic sequences found in the Uncharted series, for example. There are attempts: at one point you get a war junker to get behind the wheel of. But instead of following that up with some fast paced flight to save your comrades, you plod along a wide track with only crushable window-dressing as path obstacles and have to alternate between shooting a very underwhelming enemy and trudging on behind the wheel for a few more meters. Like everything in the game, it does big and bold, but doesn't really do epic. The war junker is a big, over the top war machine, but it has no guns other than a UV spotlight and moves at a snail's pace. 

I was actually super excited to play the Ultimate Edition to really get a modern take on the series and give it another honest go to find I how wrong I was with that first assessment. But ultimately, no, my mind has not changed. All that was true for the original Gears of War, the Ultimate Edition really doesn't change a bit of it. Your squad AI continues to be possibly the dumbest in modern gaming. You can play the entire campaign and count on one hand the number of enemies they will actually take down. Your hero and squad are a bunch of meatheads who try to spit out clever one liners but fail to grip or invest me in their plight in any way, meaningful or otherwise. The play is linear and the pace is plodding. You'll spend as much time moving from encounter to encounter and listening to radio chatter as you will actually in the fight. 

And I'm sure if you loved Gears the first go-round. You will love this iteration as well. Because what has changed is to take what was great visuals for its day and make them great for to-day. Despite my reservations about the actual gameplay, this game looks and sounds incredible. It's not just a remaster, it's been re-built from the ground up and every pixel shines in glorious detail. I was running it on a GeForce GTX 970 and every one of the 60 FPS at 1080p was coming through brilliantly. It is simply a gorgeous game. There have been some reported early issues with a few AMD cards that Microsoft has already promised to address quickly with a patch, and there are some setting fixes for G-Sync monitors that I'll pass along form the Microsoft press release at the bottom of this review*, but I had no issues with my copy on Windows 10 other than the fact the the doggone game is a 52.8 GB download. Switch to SSD drives they said. Faster gaming read/writes. Then all of the sudden it seems every new release is packing in so much uncompressed audio and video it's just eating up every bit of my drive space. Argh! Even console games from disc are installing 20-30 GBs of content locally. It's madness. 

You do get the full single-player campaign in this package, as well as all of the bonus content that was limited before to PC (which admittedly is a bigger seller for the Xbox One version than this, the PC one). You also get all of the multiplayer maps (Xbox DLC and former PC exclusives), 17 characters to unlock in multiplayer, and all of the old game modes and a new 2v2 Gnasher mode as well. You can set up a local multiplayer connection or connect to Xbox live. However, I was not able to connect with the review copy as I am assuming the servers won't be up and running until the full release. So fingers crossed for stable servers and quick matchmaking...

I know there are a lot of Gears of War fans out there and the Xbox One version of this Ultimate Edition released to rave reviews (we gave it a 9) and went gold on release. So with a heavy heart I am trying my best to be fair and balanced scoring a game I just plain don't like. This game does have amazing visuals, great sound, and looks as good as anything out there. It really should be a great bit of nostalgia for a Gears of War fan, and a little something to hold you over, and get you champing at the bit for Gears of War 4. Ultimately however, I think Macbeth could best sum of Gears of War: It's a brief candle! Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing. It's big, bold, brash, and the characters use curse words! But I just don't get a sense of epic. It's loud but has nothing to say. And I am decidedly in the minority on this opinion. Maybe I just don't get it or am just plain wrong. I'm going to give the game an 8 purely because I recognize that it is technically flawless, even if I don't particularly care for the content.  


*Microsoft release on some early issues and their resolutions:

Driver Issues:

  •          We are working closely with AMD to address a few issues that users of some AMD Radeon Hardware are experiencing while playing Gears of War: Ultimate Edition for Windows 10 and expect that they will be addressed quickly in an upcoming update.

Settings Issues and Fixes:

  •          Should you be using a G-sync monitor and are experiencing frame rate issues please unlock the frame rate by going into the settings menu within the game. If you’re still having issues, go to the Nvidia Control Panel and disable G-Sync.
  •          Because laptops will automatically switch to the Intel GPU in order to save power,Gears of War: Ultimate Edition for Windows 10 may not run properly from the outset on these devices and users will receive a message on their home screen which states that “Your graphics hardware is not supported by this game.” Those with a discrete GPU may circumvent this by selecting the preferred GPU in the Client Control Panel. Please note, Nvidia is working on a service update for laptop GPU selection which will be available in the near future.

Download Issues:

  •          After purchasing the game from the Windows Store, it may appear as though the download is not progressing and the progress bar may be slow to move. However, the game is downloading at a typical rate and will be completed shortly.
  •          During the download process of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition for Windows 10,  the Windows Store may prompt users to download a 10 GB update. Once downloaded, users may play the game as normal.

** updated comments after a week with the multiplayer portion of the game:

In addition to the single player campaign, you've got the multiplayer mode which basically flips the script on the game mechanics of single player right on its head. If the crux of single player is a methodical cover based shooter where you utilize your environment to pick away at your foes, multiplayer is a free for all where it would appear the best way to succeed is to grab a shotgun and dive roll your way right in the other player's face. Pretty much every single match I played quickly devolved into a frantic mess. That trusty auto rifle that was your primary through the entire campaign is so under-powered in multiplayer it is basically useless. Between the muscle-bound 3rd person avatar you're running with and the complete lack of any form of radar, there is just too much blind space outside your field of view to effectively settle into any spot. The end result being that trying to take cover and score kills from distance only lead to your target rushing you with a shotgun blast to the face, or one of their allies flanking you for a shotgun blast to the face. If and only if you can find a sniper rifle would it seem you have any chance of actually scoring a kill by any other means than centering shotgun blast on facial area. As a matter of principle I took it upon myself to score a kill with my rifle. Many, many re-spawns later I finally managed to get that elusive rifle kill. Granted, it was on a weakened opponent who had just killed one of my allies with a shotgun blast to the face, and was suffering themselves from a counter blast to an area not quite as deadly as the face. But assisted or no, the rifle finally claimed a victim. I was then promptly flanked from my cover and died by a shotgun blast to my own face. But as far as I can tell dive rolling and shotgunning is the winning strategy, and when literally every match I found myself in quickly found itself mired into a tightly packed mob of dive rolling hulks trying to blast away at close quarters, if there is another winning strategy out there, I've yet to see it.
Win or lose, I have yet to walk away form a multiplayer match and feel satisfied with the action I just participated in. I think it has been the least fun multiplayer experience I've ever had. And it's not at all about not being particularly good. I'm not new to sucking at multiplayer. I'm usually late to start games and often start playing against a field that already knows the maps, weapons, and tricks before I even hit start. But at least in those games there are tricks to be learned and weapons to master. My experience with Gears of War Ultimate multiplayer only taught me that to err is human, to shotgun in the face divine, and I was never given a glimpse that there was some better skill out there that would one day reward my patience. I remember in those early days of Battlefield 4 getting sniped over and again and quickly learning just to stay away from those alleys where I stood no chance. Then one day I figured out how to sneak up on those spots and start collecting the dog tags of those campers. Then I started hitting them back with rifles of my own in tense duels. Finally, I'll never forget the first time I popped the head off an opponent running full sprint towards cover away from an alley of my own. Those were epic Battlefield moments. But there is not only no similar moments I've found in Gearsof War Ultimate, I was never given a vision of some future where a moment like that might also exist. 
As for performance, the first few days after the multiplayer went live I experiences some less than optimum times waiting for the matchmaking to create a game. It wasn't early-days PC Titanfall level bad, but it wasn't comfortably quick either. It was bearable and an "update" has already been released to alleviate these times. Odd thing was the update didn't download automatically, forcing me to navigate back to the Windows Store and manually initiate the download even though I have my Store settings to automatically update apps. Curious. Then the update gave me a brief fright when loading message read: 0.1 of 52.8 GB downloaded... The suggestion being the update was trying to re-download the entire massive game. Thankfully that was a false alarm because after just a few minutes the update was downloaded, installed, and I was back in the action. Or at least back near the action, waiting for my next re-spawn suffering through some occasionally laughable matchmaking that would pit one team of players leveled 25-35 against my unit of level 5-15. After the inevitable one-sided rout, sometimes the game would have another laugh and try and run back those same teams for a rematch, with no attempt to re-balance the squads or switch up the opponents. But largely the matchmaking (with the update) is quick and most of the games seemed pretty even. 

I never enjoyed Gears of War the first time around, and although this iteration looks and plays beautifully, it hasn't made a convert out of me. For the Gears of War fans out there, this is probably a great pick-up and should get you drooling over Gears 4. 

Rating: 7.4 Above Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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First picked up a game controller when my mother bought an Atari 2600 for my brother and I one fateful Christmas.  
Now I'm a Software Developer in my day job who is happy to be a part of the Gaming Nexus team so I can have at least a flimsy excuse for my wife as to why I need to get those 15 more minutes of game time in...

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