The original Gears of War came out almost a decade ago. While today it’s easy to write the series off as just another third-person shooter, people forget how influential the first game was: it took Resident Evil 4’s camera system, and tied it to a more fluid style of shooting. It borrowed the cover system from 2003’s kill.switch, and honed it to a razor’s edge. It solidified nascent video game concepts, and tied them all together into a blueprint that would inform every third person shooter to date.
At E3, I sat in on a presentation given by developer The Coalition (known as Black Tusk Studios until recently). They detailed all the work they’re doing bringing Gear of War to more powerful hardware, and to a newer generation – but also stating their commitment to the series’ existing multiplayer community. The largest bullet-point is the visual overhaul, but smaller ‘quality of life’ tweaks to incidental systems are present too.
Ultimate Edition doesn’t run on Unreal Engine 3 (or any Unreal variant, for that matter). Instead, the developers have made their own in-house engine. They were very clear that, because of that change, they’ve had to re-work everything from the ground up – including the code-base, models, environments, and textures. Given that they were remaking so much anyway, they decided to go even further, and re-record all the music, motion capture, and animations. Furthermore, the game now runs at a silky smooth 60 frames-per second.
One of the reasons for the overhaul is that The Coalition weren’t satisfied with the limitations a decade-old engine were imposing on narrative and storytelling elements. They pointed to several in-game cutscenes, highlighting the facial reactions of characters like Baird and Marcus –how in the original, the faces lacked the subtle nuances you’d expect, especially from the emotive lines of dialogue they were spouting. Throwing more polygons at the models means you can now make out those smaller details: Marcus’ winces of pain, or the derision on Baird’s face.
What a lot of people also seem to forget, is that there was a PC port of Gears 1. It was basically on par with the 360 version, but it came packed with additional story missions. Ultimate Edition now brings those five extra chapters to consoles, and they primarily focus on Delta squad dealing with a Brumak (a giant Locust monster, with a chaingun and rocket launcher strapped to it).
The smaller quality of life details that they’ve added really help line up newcomer’s and veteran’s expectations with the standards set by Gears 2 and 3. You can now revive other players while in cover, swap weapons while roadie running, and alter your aiming sensitivity.
Other features have made their way to multiplayer too. You can spot enemies (so teammates can see the targets you see), and there’s also a full XP-based progression system. While they didn’t go into too much detail about it, they did say you’d be able to unlock other Gears of War characters to play as, so there will be some cosmetic variation. Minor balance tweaks have been put in too, like chainsaw melee kills no longer granting invincibility mid-animation.
The game will come packed with 19 multiplayer maps: the originals, those seen in the DLC packs, and some fan favourites from Gears 2. Dedicated servers are also included, as well as LAN play for the tournament community – a feature the developers said they had to fight tooth-and-nail with Microsoft to get implemented.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is shaping up to be more than a typical remaster. The shift to a new engine, complete overhaul of code and assets, and implementation of smaller quality of life features all point to one fact: The Coalition clearly care about the Gears of War franchise. For those pessimistic about the future of the series, Ultimate Edition may serve as proof of the developer’s passion, and capabilities.