Gears of War Ultimate Edition Visual Analysis – Xbox One vs. Xbox 360

The Coalition impressively revamps Gears of War for the Xbox One, with some slight snags.

Posted By | On 29th, Aug. 2015 Under Article, Graphics Analysis

When one looks back on Epic Games’ first Gears of War which released in 2006, it isn’t hard to see how the game changed the way we look at third person shooters. Granted, not all of its mechanics were completely original – it’s often been cited by designer Cliff Bleszinski has a mash of Resident Evil 4’s over-the-shoulder aiming and Kill Switch’s cover system – but it was the overall result which paved the way for games with cover mechanics. In terms of visuals, Gears of War was first used as a showcase for the power of Unreal Engine 3 and was the major factor for Microsoft doubling the memory in the Xbox 360 to get the game to run at 720p resolution.

In this respect, along Gears of War serving to herald the first few arrivals in the 720p era, it pushed the boundaries of real-time rendering. The cinematic presentation, alpha effects, detailed crumbling environments and sheer amount of action all made for an unforgettable experience. Heck, its action would serve as the template for nearly an entire decade’s worth of third person shooters while Unreal Engine 3 would become one of the more popular engines during the Xbox 360 and PS3 era.

Xbox 360 version followed by the Xbox One version [left to right]. There are not only visual upgrades but animations and camera angles have been modified as well.

It’s easy to see why The Coalition chose to focus on revamping a single Gears of War title as compared to remastering the entire trilogy plus Judgment. Along with focusing more on a single core experience that helped define the series, it allowed the developer to pour a larger sum of resources into improving every single graphical aspect. The result in Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is excellent. If nothing else, it perfectly encapsulates that “feeling” of war that the original embodied all those years ago. While hardcore fans will be instantly familiar with the mechanics and character animations during gameplay, the sheer number of improvements made to the visuals is a joy to behold.

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition runs at native 1920×1080 resolution and given its relative age, it wouldn’t have been remiss for The Coalition and Splash Damage to simply up-res the game. It would certainly be lazy but not out of the ordinary. That’s not the case here though. The lighting engine has been reworked significantly, taking the Ultimate Edition out of the dark and gritty aesthetic of the first Gears of War and resembling Gears of War 3 more in effects.

Ultimate Edition features updated shaders and a color palette for a more smoother and colorful approach, closer to what we saw in Gears of War 3 compared to the darker setting of the original. Also check out the improved draw distance.

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Image quality is smooth but there’s a very subtle effect with limited PBR and global illumination in a few places which serve as the biggest change in the lighting. The overall effect gives a more nuanced feel to the visuals even if shadow dithering can still be an issue.

It’s important to clarify the game’s frame rate which runs at 30 frames per second during the campaign mode and 60 frames per second in multiplayer. The campaign’s frame rate is very solid with a few frame drops occurring in cut-scenes. This is somewhat disappointing, even if you take into account the fact that Unreal Engine 3 isn’t completely optimized for the Xbox One. However, given the number of updates it’s received since the first Gears of War in 2006, we did expect a stable frame rate.

While it will be interesting to see how Gears of War 4 will fare in this regard, we are happy to report that multiplayer runs at 60 frames per second most of time. Frame drops are extremely few and far between even with heaps of chaotic action and explosions happening on-screen.

Fenix’s armor is not the only to have a visual upgrade. NPCs feature fully upgraded models. Also observe the better alpha effects such as the burning car.

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Gears of War: Ultimate Edition’s visuals have been touted for a number of reasons, not the least of which includes the completely reworked cut-scenes. In some places, a few new scenes have been added and if you’re a fan of the original, it’s amazing to note the sheer difference in presentation and quality across both generations. Camera angles have been changed and animations have been improved significantly.

Character models also look much sharper than before thanks to the overhauled texture quality and advanced shader libraries on the Xbox One. You can now make out the finer details of Marcus Fenix’s armour and your entire squad looks more detailed than before. Despite playing Gears of War 3 for hours on end, I was still taken aback by Anya’s appearance and how different she looked. Comparing her appearance to the 2006 release really outlines how much has changed and improved for the better. Sadly, it seems that texture filtering isn’t very good. A blurring effect is noticed whenever the player zooms in.

Despite next to no major change in the artwork – which helps maintain that distinct Gears of War theme – the Ultimate Edition does update the remaining visuals. Draw distance has been increased; volumetric effects like dust, smoke, wind and water just look much better overall; foliage density sees a lot of improvements; and despite its limited implementation, motion blur is also present.

Texture filtering is a tad disappointing at some places. See the wall as an example.

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Majority of the art style is intact but has been upgraded with better texture quality. This is how you remaster a decade old game.

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When one takes the time to consider that this is effectively The Coalition’s first ever game, let alone its first Gears of War title, the Ultimate Edition is all the more impressive as a whole. As stated before, the overall presentation isn’t perfect – the slight frame rate drops in the campaign mode being the most significant factor – but it’s amazing how the developer has upped the ante on the original’s visuals to this extent. Those looking for a solid multiplayer experience won’t be disappointed by the solid 60 FPS frame rate. Even with some of the other issues, including the below average texture filtering, the campaign is worth exploring more than once just to take in all the rich amount of details.

Overall, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is an excellent remaster and serves as one of the best examples of the trend. While the nostalgic in us will miss Epic Games’ development on the franchise going forward, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition does give us hope for what The Coalition can achieve in Gears of War 4 with Unreal Engine 4 when it releases in Holiday 2016.

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  • Mark


    • XbotMK1

      Looks like sh*t running at 30 frames from a decade milked franchise. The Order 1886 sh*ts all over it.

    • Pete

      Now now salty!

    • XbotMK1

      D*mn straight I’m salty. The only exclusives Microsoft has released in the past 11 months is a remastered Gears of Bore which they bought from Epic because have nothing else. Let that sink in. Where are the Xbox games?

      Don’t worry, Microsoft has you covered next month with Forza rehash 6 yearly racer, and Halo rehash 5 COD wannabe.

    • Pete

      Ohhh someone isn’t happy with their ps4!

    • shredenvain

      Yeah you seem really bitter about something. You come of as a hypocrite coming here spewing crap about the Xbox only having a remaster to play. Did you not enjoy god of war 3 remastered with absolutely no improved assets? Did you buy it?
      I’m sure being the massive Sony fanboy you are you will also be buying the huge holiday exclusive coming out for the Ps4. You know the Uncharted collection. You can hate all you want but both systems have a ton of last gen remasters available.
      Sure most Ps4 remasters run at mostly 60 fps, but do the companies making them bother to create new assets for these titles? Do they even have higher poly counts than the original versions? Has the lighting system been reworked to include physically based rendering? In most cases no!!! Gear of war ultimate has all these things!!!
      If you have such a huge problem with remasters sell your Ps4 and buy a WiiU.
      Oh wait they have a few as well. Seems your either a fanboy hypocrite or your screwed if you only play non remastered titles and only on the ps4.

    • Evil_Annie_2015

      Do not argue with any fanboy because they are just a waste of time.

      I do not like gears of war mechanics that much because I keep gettjng stuck to the wall when trying to roll by pressing A and I end up getting killed. Also, it always bothered me that my bullets seem to just tickle the enemies. That is not making me enjoy the game.

      However, when comparing it with the 360 version it is clear that the visuals of this ultimate edition were really reworked.

    • Mark

      “I rather play The Order”. U mean watch The Order?

    • Pete

      Exactly thought about getting the order when it first came out but after reading reviews decided it had PS plus written all over it! Sony have actually surprised me by not putting it out on PS plus by now.

  • shredenvain

    Well digital foundry seems to disagree with you on texture filtering quality.
    “Once in-game, the improvements are immediately evident. The original 720p presentation has been bumped up to full 1080p across both single and multiplayer modes. Anisotropic filtering is in full effect, keeping surfaces looking crisp and clean at any angle, while anti-aliasing is tackled with a pass of FXAA.”

    • XbotMK1

      Nobody cares. A polished turd is still a turd.

    • shredenvain

      A polished turd? I wouldn’t consider a title with completely reworked assets a polished turd.
      Now other remasters fit the polished turd name. Prototype 1&2, God of war 3, Rare replay and from what I have seen Uncharted remastered may fit the bill as well. Simply upping a titles resolution and frame rate is polishing a turd. Now just because you don’t enjoy Gears 1 doesn’t mean it sucks. If you have even played the original.
      I don’t understand you fanboy warriors constantly visiting articles that solely concern the console you hate just to leave a negative comment on something you obviously haven’t experienced. All my op was trying to do was correct misinformation in the above article. Are you overly sensitive to the amount of quality texture filtering a title on a system you hate has? Buy both systems and enjoy them as opposed to spending all your time trolling comment sections of articles about something you don’t like.

  • XbotMK1

    Gears of Bore

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