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A 2015 remaster of a 2006 console game that still manages to be inferior to the 2007 PC version.

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    Gears of War: Ultimate Edition

    Rating: 0.5 – Unplayable

    A 2015 remaster of a 2006 console game that still manages to be inferior to the 2007 PC version.

    Gameplay wise this is as bad as it’s ever been. It’s designed for coop because while the game is a shooter, the core gameplay principal is actually "zergfest". No matter how good you are, you are going to die again and again in singleplayer. When playing single player, when you die that’s it, it’s over. With a buddy, when you run out of health, you just go down, and you have time for your buddy to come over and pick you up and get you back in the fight. This would be fun if it was used as a gameplay enhancement but realistically, it’s use as a crutch. This game needed coop so they didn’t have to go back and balance the game to ensure it rewarded skillful, intelligent play. Just grind your way through it with a buddy. Despite this tediousness it’s actually an extremely casual shooter, the enemy AI is pretty dumb and you can usually spend minutes in cover, patiently taking your time clearing each action sequence, even on the highest difficulty setting (which seems to do nothing more than make enemies take more bullets to die – again, not intelligent game design). Occasionally a lone enemy will stupidly charge at you, but all you have to do then is hide around the corner with your shotgun ready or have your chainsaw revving and ready to tear them up. I’m not really expecting games to top FEAR in the AI department anymore – I’ve made peace with that – but this is at least as bad as the AI in the N64 version of Goldeneye, with none of the intelligence in stage design, spawn points or scripted pathing to make up for the serious shortcoming.

    The presentation is excellent, the set pieces are nice and everything, but as an HD remaster this is pretty dull. It absolutely looks better than the 360 version, as far as the art assets go it even looks better than the 2007 PC version, but that’s just because the new textures use more color like the later Gears games. The textures themselves don’t even look like they’re true HD (more on this in the next paragraph). Shadows are equivalent to "Ultra" on the PC version of Skyrim (which anyone who’s played knows it looked pretty awful for "Ultra"), there is absolutely no SSAO, there’s no antialiasing, the AF looks like it’s at 8x which is an improvement on the original on consoles (which I don’t think had more than 2x) but still stands out as an eyesore when 16x AF has been the standard PC-gaming experience since… well ever since AF went that high. It really isn’t a demanding feature, and it cleans distant assets up so much, it’s really telling of how hard this is pushing the XB1 when such a cut is made for a minimal performance boost (we’re talking 1 or 2 fps being saved, max). Considering this is a first-party title, I can’t help but feel what’s seen in Gears Ultimate is as good as visuals on the XB1 are ever going to get. Art styles may change to feign differences but as far as tech settings go I’m now convinced Gears Ultimate has hit the system’s ceiling.

    From a technical perspective, the PC still beats the XB1 version because the XB1 version does not run at 60fps in the campaign, in addition to having AA and AF. Because of that I’d say the XB1 version is, at best, on par with the 2007 PC version, which *did* run at 60fps on my system at the time, even at 1920×1080 (which is a new feature this is boasting in 2015, when I already experience it in 2007). It’s hard to call this a genuine improvement on what’s been done before when the visuals increase but performance goes backwards. There’s also plenty of streamload stutter (when you’re running through a level and no action is occurring but the framerate quickly hiccups for a couple seconds – that’s the game streamloading upcoming assets) and texture pop-in (when you see a low-res texture before it loads in the proper texure) present. These are both technical issues that plagued many 360 releases (most famously Mass Effect 1), and it makes no sense to have them present in a 2015 remaster on a current-gen console. Yet again, the 2007 PC version did not have these issues, so the 2015 XB1 version isn’t scoring any points here.

    As far as the textures go I wouldn’t even say this is a true modernization of the visuals. While textures are an improvement, you’ll still spend a lot of time looking at muddy textures due to all the time you spend up-close-and-personal with them while in cover. These may be an improvement on the original textures, but they aren’t high-res by modern standards. There is a free Dark Souls HD Texture Pack I have installed for the "Prepare to Die" Edition on PC that looks far better even on closer inspection. Ultimate is an update, but it’s still far behind.

    While it may seem like I spent far too much time focusing on the visuals, the visuals are 90% of what’s "new" in this remaster. So I feel it’s only fair to devote the majority of this review to that facet of the game.

    Moving on…

    The sound mix is much better compared to the 360, but not much different when held side-by-side with the 2007 PC release. Compared to the 360 version the 5.1 mix here is much better. I’m going to assume they used uncompressed audio for everything as that would’ve been an easy way to not only increase the sound quality but also bloat file download size (this is 44gb for one game), but they did spend a bit of time touching up the mix. This really wouldn’t have taken that long, anyone with a drizzle of experience in sound engineering (even on a casual hobbyist level) could’ve done it, but I’m glad they did it, because since this is a console version there’d be no way to improve it if it was just as bad as the original. However again, this is exactly as it was on the PC (minus the likelihood of uncompressed audio to bloat game size, which you’d have to have extremely gifted ears to notice the difference), so this isn’t an improvement on something that’s already been done, it’s just taking the best of what already happened and making it available to console gamers.

    There’s are "new" chapters included in Act V in this release, but again, it’s only new to console-exclusive gamers. It’s been around for 8 years – it was originally exclusive to the 2007 PC version. And just like back then, I feel like it does nothing but bloat the game. It takes a lot of urgency out of the final act, it’d be better as optional side content, having no choice but to play these sections just slows down the pace of the game. Whatever reason they had for not including this in the 360 version, it’s the way it should’ve stayed.

    Multiplayer is a broken mess and I have no idea how this has slipped under the radar. They say the multiplayer is on dedicated servers but it plays like it’s still on peer-to-peer. I still see players skipping around the map on occasion. My NAT is Open and I have a 60Mbps internet connection, so I know the error is either entirely on Microsoft’s/Coalition’s end with their dedicated servers, or this is peer-to-peer with false marketing. I don’t feel like I ever get better or worse, when I’m good it’s because I can feel all my shots are actually connecting, and when I’m bad it’s because hits aren’t registering properly. This may sound like a copout to excuse bad playing on my behalf, but I’ve shot AFK players point-blank in the face and had no response. You don’t get these issues in offline 1v1, and it’s purely because there is zero lag and 100% weapon damage registration, so there is a problem going on here and I don’t expect them to fix it. This may actually be on dedicated servers, just very, very poor ones – nobody said getting dedicated servers meant we were going to get even mid-range service. As it is it’s an exercise in frustration to play online, and even achieving a good run is completely devoid of emotional reward when you know it’s all about how lucky you get with lag. This is a twitch shooter (though not as twitch as online PC games of the 90s that had far superior free dedicated servers and multiplayer experiences as a result), and any delay is so heavy that it completely ruins the experience. I had better gaming on a 128k DSL connection in 2001. This is 2015, I’m on a 60mbit connection, yet having a worse experience, and if you want to have this lesser experience you either need a free trial code or pony up cash to use your internet on a machine you own that doesn’t take full advantage of your internet connection. This is completely inexcusable.

    They said there were some other adjustments made to the game, like the cover sensitivity being more like Gears 3 instead of Gears 1 (so you don’t accidentally take cover when you want to roll and vice versa), but I didn’t notice anything. All the bugs of the original are there too. Squad AI is stupid. Sometimes scripted events that need to trigger to progress the game don’t trigger which results in a requirement to reload. There’s no Horde mode, the modes introduced by Judgment and Gears 3 are missing, there’s a significant amount of $5 DLC for nothing but weapon skins. There is a lot missing here. Again, the bulk of this review was focused on the visuals, because that’s really 90% of the job they did here.

    And the job they did on visuals just isn’t enough to warrant a purchase. Overall this is an incredibly weak upgrade of a nine-year-old game. The 2007 PC version is superior to this because it has none of the performance issues, and the game is actually far more enjoyable that way not just because it runs better, because mouse and keyboard accuracy dominates in games that were designed for joystick-driven shooting, so the "zergfest" element is significantly reduced (but still present because unfortunately it just seems like it was part of their core design philosophy with "Gears"). If you have a decent PC, I’d wait for this re-release to come out on that platform, because it’ll likely be the case of the 360 to PC version all over again: You’ll get a better looking game at a constant 60fps, all you’d really be paying for is an HD texture pack (something that PC gamers have been getting for years for free), with none of the load-stutter and none of the texture pop-in present on the console versions it improves on due to superior hardware. If that happens it’ll be a broken release, in which case I’d obviously recommend steering clear of it, but as it is on the XB1, that’s exactly what I’d recommend you do with this version: Stay. Away. The "upgrade" is so poor compared to what’s already been experienced, that it somehow manages to ruin the memory of the first time I played Gears and thought it was a rough idea with cool concepts and a bright future.

    Oh well.

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