When Gears of War came out in 2006 for the Xbox 360, it was the pinnacle of third-person shooters. Its unique cover system, over-the-shoulder aiming, and over-the-top action, packaged with a summer blockbuster-esque story made the game an instant classic. Nine years later, Microsoft Studios and The Coalition decided to release a remaster of the original game in the Xbox 360 trilogy. They spent 18 months developing the title and, in the words of Rob Fergusson, who was previously the Director of Development at Epic Games until 2012, took great care in re-creating the title for the Xbox One.
“. . . we took all 3000 art assets and rebuilt them from scratch. We took all the cinematics and took them down to just to VO. All that was re-mocapped and we remastered things in 7.1.”
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition obviously had quite a bit of care put into the development process and was not only a test run for The Coalition as they began work on Gears 4, but was close to being a remake of the original, being completely rebuilt and running in 1080p at 60 frames per second.
It’s no secret that Gears of War is one of Microsoft’s most popular franchises, but the level of dedication put into this remaster is astonishing. 19 multiplayer maps were completely remade from the ground up, including the aforementioned art assets and cinematics. Now, why is this important? Ever since the launch of this current console generation gamers have been getting barraged with remakes and remasters, almost as if it was a way for companies to make a cheap buck because they weren’t prepared to create games for this new console generation, which is inexcusable (Nintendo is guilty of this as well with the Wii U).
Sony and Naughty Dog released The Last of Us Remastered a year after the Playstation 3’s release! Final Fantasy X/X-2 was remastered for the PS3, which was fine, but then remastered yet again for the PS4! 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot was remastered and released less than a year after its initial release on the Xbox 360 and PS3. Microsoft released the Master Chief Collection, which contains all four Halo games, which I suppose is justified, but with one, three, and four already available in HD for the 360, it wasn’t really necessary. That same argument could be made for Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, but Gears was literally rebuilt, unlike these other remasters. This isn’t even close to all of the remasters that have come out since this console generation launched and doesn’t even include the games that were made for both last generation and this generation simultaneously, which went on for at least a year and could have possibly taken away development resources for newer titles. Game Informer actually compiled an impressive list of most of the remasters that have been released and that are going to be released.
Rob Fergusson has even come out and said that because of the time commitment with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, they are not going to remaster any of the other games in the series, so it’s not simply about milking the franchise, but giving the players a fresh, yet familiar experience, revisiting one of the most renowned Xbox 360 games of all time. The mechanics are the same but the experience is that much more immersive, and it’s great marketing for Gears of War 4, as players who play Ultimate Edition will have access to the Gears 4 beta. The Nation Drake Collection is following a similar marketing strategy, although it didn’t go through the same rigorous development process that the Gears of War remaster went through, and those were three games in one, not a singular title.
At the end of the day, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is the one remaster of this console generation that does not feel like a cheap cash-in and had a certain amount of care put into it beyond simply improving the graphical prowess of the title. It took a nine year old title and made it fresh again while maintaining the feel of the original, and also included five previously unreleased campaign chapters that were only available on PC. There are also some additional multiplayer modes that carry over from previous Gears games, although there is no Horde mode, and it has both a casual online mode and a hardcore online mode for more competitive players. It takes the best of the multiplayer aspects of all four Gears games and puts it into one package, which is quite impressive.
It’s a shame that this console generation has been so full of remasters simply because publishers and developers have been too afraid to take chances and put out original content, but this trend is beginning to change this year with a plethora of titles revealed at last year’s E3 due for a 2016 release window, such as Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last Guardian, and ReCore, just to name a few. 2016 is going to be a very special year in gaming, but that doesn’t change the fact that these cheap cash-ins need to stop and if a studio is going to remaster a game, they need to put the care into it that The Coalition did with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, which is the highest-quality remaster to be released up to this date, period.