When the Xbox 360 launched nearly a decade ago, Microsoft needed a bold new series to attract gamers to the system and the brash, highly stylized Gears of War stepped up to the challenge. Featuring a mix of exaggerated weapons such as the gruesome rifle and chainsaw combination Lancer and the exploding arrow savagery of the Torque Bow, the Epic Games and Microsoft collaboration was a fresh and wildly popular debut that brought cover based positioning and close quarters melee combat into the mainstream for shooting games.
As the now entirely Microsoft owned franchise prepares for its next full sequel in Gears of War 4, new developer The Coalition has provided the anniversary remake treatment to the original game in creating the Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. Canadian gamers and press got some hands-on time at X15 in Toronto last week and it feels like a lovingly recreated game that captures the spirit of the original while smoothing out some of the performance hitches: I was thrilled that the occasional bouts of character model skating and frame skipping animations from the 2006 original were nowhere to be seen.
The remastered Tyro Station was the stage for 4 on 4 team deathmatch rounds and it looks visually stunning: textures have highly granular detail, surface edges are smooth and the lighting has a blended subtlety that adds a disquieting warmth to the world of Sera. The crowd at X15 was reluctant to fight for position or flank so it quickly broke down into rounds of isolated 1 on 1 skirmishes, an unexpected outcome that let me deliberately looks for improvements and tweaks in the various systems and design choices in the game. I found active reloading to be trickier on the broader shoulder bumpers of the Xbox One, trigger pulls for aiming and firing or snapping between cover to be incredibly smooth and sprinting around the level had a subtle camera shake based on your character’s momentum. The game has a noticeable improvement in responsiveness with the solid 60 FPS and the Xbox One controller, settling into Gears felt like sliding back into an old (and beloved) habit.
Gears of War looks to be in good hands with the support of a dedicated internal studio in The Coalition, the steady leadership of Rod Fergusson at the helm and a vastly improved multiplayer infrastructure in comparison to the previous generation of hardware. For Xbox One gamers, this looks very promising as the fast paced and outlandishly stylish multiplayer shooter we’ve been waiting for.