It has been almost ten years since we first strapped on the COG armor and joined the Locust War. Since then we’ve been through a lot, tasted the sweet nectar of victory and the bitter bile of defeat, and held back the Locus hordes in a total of four games in the Gears of War franchise. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition takes us right back to the start of it all, and presents us with two big and important questions: can we lead Delta squad to victory all over again, and if so, will it still be as fresh and as fun as it was ten years ago? I can answer these questions in one simple sentence: It’s good to be back.

For the few of you who never played the original Gears of War title when it first came out in 2006, here’s a short recap: The Earth-like planet of Sera has a long history of war, the latest of which is the Locust War. Locust are a hostile species that one day emerged from the beneath the surface of Sera in a full-scale assault on all human cities. Fifteen years after what is now known as Emergence Day, you take control of private Marcus Fenix- a solider in the Coalition of Ordered Governments army and the leader of Delta squad. You’ll take cover behind various debris, shoot your way through hordes of enemies and hopefully win the war single-handedly, or with a friend in co-op mode.

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As a remastered edition, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition enjoys a massive graphical overhaul. While the graphics don’t quite scream “next-gen”, they are on-par with most cross generation titles. The first thing you’ll notice is just how richer and more detailed the environments are. Every level looks completely fresh, with sharp texture and new objects decorating the area. Gone are the muddy ground and walls of 2006, and instead we see crumbling stone, reflexive metal surfaces and blood-spattered rock. The amount of work that went into making every familiar location appear new and distinct is, quite frankly, awe-inspiring.

The second thing you’ll notice are the character models. Every time an in-game cutscene brings the camera for a closer look at the scared, battle-worn faces of Delta squad, you can’t help but appreciate the attention to detail. Marcus’ facial expressions as he confronts the brass, or issues orders to his teammates all seem natural and believable, much more so than in any previous gen title. The enemy models, however, are still too similar to each other, with slight variations here and there. It would have been nice to see a few new models for each enemy type, to make the enemy appear more real. But then again, all Locust scum look the same to me.

Apart from the fresh and thick coat of paint, the Ultimate Edition also includes additional content and game modes. The single-player campaign adds five more chapters that weren’t available in the original campaign of the Xbox 360 version. These chapter expend on the fifth and final act of the game, and feature one particular boss encounter Marcus and Dom won’t soon forget. Admittedly, these new chapters were previously available on the PC version of the game, but console gamers who never had the chance to do so can now play them and experience the missing story and action.

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Of course, these new chapters can also be played in cooperative mode, with one more friend. A part of me was really hoping for four-player co-op in this new edition, but no such luck. While most of the game is played with at least four characters on screen, it’s important to remember that the game wasn’t designed with four players in mind. Adding an additional two players to the co-op mode would have undoubtedly broken the game, so I’ll let that slide.

But the mode that enjoys the most improvements and new content is the competitive multiplayer mode. The original Gears of War came with four different multiplayer modes: Annex, Assassination, Execution and Warzone. These modes are all there, with a total of 19 spruced-up maps. In addition, the Ultimate Edition adds King of the Hill and several other variations on the existing modes, like Gnashers Execution, Blitz and Team Deathmatch. Unfortunately, the popular Horde and Beast modes were not included in this re-release. There are a few more improvements to the multiplayer, like a robust progression system that lets players unlock new gear and character skins, as well as dedicated servers and a new spectator mode designed for tournaments.

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As far as competitive multiplayer goes, this is the ultimate Gears of War experience, for both the casual and professional competitor. All modes feel tight and intense in 60fps, and every type of player will find at least one mode to enjoy. And the cherry on top of this multiplayer cake – those who purchase and play Gears of War: Ultimate Edition will be granted access to the Gears of War 4 multiplayer beta in the future.

Gear of War: Ultimate Edition is a remaster in every sense of the word. At the most basic level, this is the same game many of you already played in 2006 on the Xbox 360, only with better graphics. It also adds more content for both the single-player campaign and the multiplayer, and overall feels like a vastly improved version of the original title, as a remastered edition should. It is indeed the ultimate version of Gears of War which will undoubtedly appeal to both veteran Locust slayers and fresh recruits. But Gears of War: Ultimate Edition does a little bit more than that – it proves once and for all that Gears of War stands the test of time, and is just as great as it was almost a decade ago.


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