Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is the first big PC game to be released exclusively as a Universal Windows Platform application and its problematic release highlights some of the key challenges Microsoft faces in moving forward with its storefront. In getting the game up and running, we encountered more issues than just about any other PC game we've played over the past year - a disappointing state of affairs considering Microsoft's ambitions for UWP. It's all been a bit of trial to be honest, and that's a shame as we rather enjoyed the Xbox One version, and hoped for even better things from the PC port.
One of the first and most spurious misuses of my university student loan was a Halo 3 Master Chief edition Xbox 360. It was a disgusting olive green with hideous decals and a questionable shiny gold disc tray and I absolutely adored it. But, even though I played Halo 3 multiplayer and Assassin's Creed to death, my first memories of the 360 are actually somewhat hazy.
It's been a while since we've run a tech interview, but when Microsoft approached us with the opportunity to quiz The Coalition about the technical work behind the recently released Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, we seized the opportunity. The original Epic release was a landmark last-gen title - a game that thrust Unreal Engine 3 into the limelight, its technology and its artistic approach helping to define the aesthetic of a vast range of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 titles.
There's a scene in Generation Kill, the HBO miniseries that follows an embedded reporter as he travels with the Marine Corps' 1st Reconnaissance Battalion during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, in which Sergeant Brad 'Iceman' Colbert can be seen running around a field with his arms outstretched, pretending to be an aeroplane. After watching this display of benign madness, or freedom for a few moments, one of Colbert's comrades turns to the reporter (based on real life journalist Evan Wright) and asks: "What, did you like, give him some Rolling Stone drugs or something?"
Just how does one tackle remaking one of the most visually influential games of the last decade? It's a difficult question and one that developer The Coalition - along with partner Splash Damage - seeks to answer with the release of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition on Xbox One. The original Gears of War had a tremendous impact on the industry as a whole both in terms of the development process and its game design. Visually, as Epic's first outing with Unreal Engine 3, Gears was a landmark release for real-time rendering. Re-envisioning such a game on new hardware is no small task - so just how successful is this latest effort?
It's an enticing proposition. Microsoft has remastered Gears of War for Xbox One and PC in a new Ultimate Edition featuring massively improved visuals and a smooth 60 frames per second - in multiplayer at least. Following Monday's E3 conference, beta codes for the Xbox One version began to roll out, and luckily enough, we were one of the first to receive them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Ultimate Edition is utilising a mature version of Unreal Engine 3 rather than the new UE4 engine powering Gears 4. The groundbreaking original release was one of the very first UE3 titles on the market almost ten years ago, so in theory moving to the latest iteration of the engine brings a lot to the table (the extent of which should be more pronounced in the single-player campaign). In addition, this isn't a simple repurposing of assets either, but rather a full-on remake using an entirely new set of textures, models, and effects. While the transformation isn't as dramatic as Halo 2: Anniversary, the changes are definitely more significant than we expected.
The basics are all there as well - a full 1920x1080 frame-buffer with a smattering of FXAA for good measure. UE3 titles for Xbox 360 were known to use 2x MSAA fairly early in the rendering cycle with spotty results but, even if that still is the case on Xbox One, the end results are nearly imperceptible through the veil of post-process anti-aliasing. There is a fair amount of shimmering objects along with typical post-AA blur, but overall image quality is attractive, and a huge boost over the original Xbox 360 game. That said, upon revisiting the original, we were surprised at how nicely the image quality manages to hold up, even at 720p.