Gears of War: Ultimate Edition has finally arrived on PC and with the many rumors, speculation and leaks, the expectation as to how it will look and perform is certainly high. Back in 2006, Epic Games launched one of the most successful and inspiring franchises on the Xbox 360. Some might say that Gears of War defined that generation. Originally launching on both console and PC, Gears of War was a stellar win for console and PC gamers alike. When the sequel was released however, many PC gamers became distasteful of Microsoft and were left feeling abandoned as the company’s focus had now shifted, with the remaining sequels tied exclusively to the Xbox 360.
Now under the watchful eye of Xbox Head Phil Spencer, the company’s new initiative in bringing former Xbox titles to the PC is one that’s welcomed. And with many titles hitting the PC this year there’s one in particular that seems most appropriate for leading the pack. Releasing last year on Xbox One, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, served as a refresher of the original game as well as providing a taste of what’s in store for Gears of War 4 in terms of visual prowess.
Bringing a horde of new features such as support for 7.1 surround sound, dedicated servers, additional multiplayer characters, and all the DLC from the original, this stands to be the best version of the game yet. And let’s not forget the game’s complete graphical overhaul. This isn’t your everyday, run of the mill remaster. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition has been re-built from the ground up, based on the original source code. The developers at The Coalition have taken things that much further with the PC version, delivering native 4K support and 60Hz gameplay.
Now that we have some history on the game and why it’s so important to the platform, what’s it about? Well, if you want the full scoop read our initial review of the Xbox One version. We delivered a full run-down on its multiplayer, the new and improved cut scenes, bonus features and a brief story flashback, which for all purposes sake remains the same. For the purposes of this article, it’ll be entirely focused on PC specific features. Any PC gamers out there that may be new to the series, here’s the long-story short: You’re Marcus Fenix, a big, bad gorilla-sized soldier imprisoned for disobeying military procedures. Marcus is granted release because you know, he’s big and bad and the locust-infested planet of Sera has reached a breaking point.
So how exactly does it hold up on PC, now that it’s no longer held hostage by the constraints of a console?
The first and foremost interesting aspect is that it’s the first title to run solely on DirectX 12, a next-generation API said to provide low-level, console-like access between hardware and software. To put this into layman terms: Getting thirty frames-per-second in DirectX 11? Play in DirectX12 and you’ll get ninety, in theory.
So, visuals. Our PC sports an i5 3570K, 8GB Memory, and an Nvidia Titan Black. This sits in similar territory as a GTX 970 and 980, bearing this in-mind, one thing’s immediately clear: Epic Games pushed the Xbox 360 to its limits. Fact of the matter is, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition looks exactly how you remembered the original but had someone told me this was a PC port of Gears of War: Judgement with a revamped lighting model and high-res textures, then I would be none the wiser. The improvements are noticeable but they strike me more as a testament as to how good the prior game looked on a much older platform.
Where the game primarily shines is in the attention to detail. Environments are incredibly detailed and characters models are drastically improved. It takes a while for everything to mentally kick-in as to just how good the game actually looks. Marcus is clearly at his best as everything from the textures in his bandanna to the scratches on his armour, all contain such fine detail. No polygonal fingers here and no sharp jawline. Every wrinkle and skin-discolouring around his face are immensely rich and intricately carved. That cliché camera pan while you slow-walk around the game’s environment thinking you’re too cool…it’s worth it.
It’s certainly an improvement over the Xbox One version but that being said, I stand by what I said in regards to the Xbox 360. Had the game launched in 2013 it would’ve held more visual dominance.
A subject of controversy since the game’s initial outing was its change in art direction. The original Gears was dirty and full of grit and it gave the game strength indicating its tone and mood. It also provided visual filters emphasizing photographic techniques. These are now absent opting for a more natural approach. While these aspects of the original game made it so appealing it’s purely subjective.
So, performance. Well it’s clear that throwing more pixels at the screen then relying on Moore’s Law to take care of the rest isn’t going to cut it. Does it reach sixty? Yes. Are the system requirements hefty? To an extent. Playing at 1080p with maximum settings it met its target but stuttering issues and prolonged freezes hampered my enjoyment. These issues were present regardless of graphical settings. It’s playable but it’s also patch-able.
4K was met with mixed results and lowering settings to medium resulted into a fairly decent performance. But with four graphical presets there isn’t much to tweak. Textures have an additional “highest” settings, anti-aliasing is off or FXAA, and the remainders are passable at best. I do appreciate the built-in benchmark though.
Something I am curious about however, is just how much DirectX 12 actually delivered upon given the way the game looks? Had the game been developed with a DirectX 11 option, would performance have been better? Nvidia’s made strides with Direct X11, to the point where I’m willing to bet it would’ve performed just as great.
A larger cause for concern are the stuttering issues within its audio. What happened to that 7.1 surround sound? Well it’s there, it just functions off its own accord. Ironically, there’s no adjustments available within its audio settings aside from music, sound effects, and dialogue.
Here’s the take away. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition has finally come to PC, brilliant. Does it run well? Yes, but keeping in-mind my system specs which are essentially powering through, I can’t say how well the game will perform on lower-end hardware. I will say this though, regardless of the Xbox One version being locked to thirty frames, the visuals on display have clearly peaked the console’s capabilities. If not peaked, then it’s definitely received better optimization than the PC.
Should players decide to install the game on an SSD then the aforementioned stuttering issues may not occur. Maybe it’s down to the the way assets are loaded for the environment, I can’t be certain. But since the Xbox One version also relies on a HDD, the requirement for an SSD is certainly pushing it.
On the positive side, the cover-based mechanics that Epic first introduced in 2006 have not aged at all and they feel great. Despite some saying it feels weighty and clunky, it’s these aspects of the game that made it so unique, none of which were actually noticeable until they were refined in Gears of War 2. Throughout the years there have been countless clones of these mechanics, none of which quite cut it and it’s partially down to the balancing act of challenge versus enjoyment. It’s within these solid gameplay mechanics and ruthless swarms of enemies that allow the game to deliver its full potential when experienced at a higher difficulty level. Gears of War Ultimate Edition delivers on classic gameplay, enhanced visuals, nostalgic resonance and a much welcomed frame-rate improvement.