A COG in the machine
Are high-def remakes reaching saturation point? Given the original Gears of War only came out in 2006, it's tempting to say "yes". After all, the Xbox 360 original was no slouch, and it hasn't aged terribly, surely?
Returning to the game here though, as reimagined by new Gears franchise developers The Coalition, it's surprising to find how old the original does feel, at least for its single player campaign. It's easy to spot why too – this doesn't change a thing in terms of story or gameplay from the nine year old version.
You'll still plough through the pervasive Locust Horde as Marcus Fenix, leading Delta Squad in defence of the human colony world Sera. Almost a decade on and in the wake of countless imitators, the third-person cover-based mechanics still feel fresh though, and the tense, team-based gameplay remains on point, particularly in co-op. It's still hugely satisfying to lay into an enemy with the chainsaw-equipped Lancer, too. It's just the fact that, overall, it's exactly the same material that disappoints slightly.
The big tweaks come on the visual and multiplayer side of the game. Graphically, everything has been overhauled, bringing the game up to spec and letting it stand alongside the likes of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Frame rates are locked to 60fps, for a much smoother experience, and textures and environments are considerably more detailed. If nothing else, Gears' Ultimate Edition looks as beautiful as an eruption of disgusting alien monsters can.
The benefit of that 60fps lock is most felt in multiplayer. The smoothness makes using twitchy, timing-dependent weapons such as the Torque Bow that much better to use, and even grenades feel more precise. Each of the multiplayer modes is supported with dedicated servers too, which is a brilliant concession to contemporary online play.
Although the upgrades on offer seem minor and aesthetic at best, they do deliver an altogether better game as a result. The ability to unlock backwards compatible versions of the four original Gears of War games on Xbox One (if you play Ultimate Edition before 31 December) will be the greatest incentive to upgrade for many though.