E3 2015: Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and laying groundwork for Gears 4

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is more than just an appetizer for fans. It's how this newly formed Gears studio is preparing itself for the challenge of stepping into one of Microsoft's burliest sets of boots.


The Coalition, the newly rebranded studio dedicated to the Gears of War series, gave only the faintest tease of Gears 4 at the Microsoft E3 press conference. It paid much more attention to the Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, a revamped version of the original meant to segue neatly into next year's sequel. It's more than just an appetizer for fans, though. It's how this newly formed Gears studio is preparing itself for the challenge of stepping into one of Microsoft's burliest sets of boots.

"Remaking Gears 1, we had to go back in and basically reverse-engineer it," studio head Rod Fergusson said. "Pick it apart, look at the scripting, understand the levels, the flow, what is cover spacing, what are combat distances. That helped us make a boot camp for the team to get ready for Gears 4." Fergusson himself is an old hand at having worked at Epic Games during its heyday, but the rest of the team is a mixture of old and new faces.

Of course, Fergusson acknowledges the market realities too.

"The other end of it, from a consumer or player perspective was, we're going to Gears 4, and that's going to take multiple years. How do we get a Gears game on Xbox One faster? Okay, let's remaster one. And what's the most impactful one? We go back to the original. There's somebody out there who was 7, and can now play it at 17. There's a whole new audience, and a nostalgia audience as well."

Active Reloading

The nostalgic audience has some improvements to look forward to.The Coalition made a point of tweaking certain aspects of the old game, up to a point. If a system had dated poorly, or felt like a bug, they updated it. If a change would notably impact how the original Gears feels to play, they left it alone. So you can revive teammates from cover, or toggle your weapon while roadie running, but some of the other improvements from latter-day Gears games are missing. 

Other changes include a new difficulty mode that serves to make the existing ones clearer. It includes additional modes like Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, and Gnashers 2v2, along with extra maps to bring the grand total up to 19. The cinematics have been remade with new motion capture, models, and camera angles. It looks quite a bit better now, especially when the studio showed shots and scenes side-by-side. Plus, it brings previously PC-only missions to console, folding them into the overall narrative. (Plus, as revealed tonight, it's releasing on PC too.)

It also includes two multiplayer options clearly aimed at both retaining its legacy, and looking toward the future: LAN support, and Spectator Mode.

LANs and Spectators

LAN support is an oddity for Xbox One, and Microsoft isn't likely to make it common practice on the system. However, Gears is a special case, and Fergusson says he and his team argued for the necessity based on how the community still plays the classic games.

"A lot of home tournament creators want to go to a ballroom and have an event, and LAN support is important for that. So we really pushed on having that and got that exception." He also hinted that Gears 4 is likely to have the same level of support, saying he wanted to keep pushing for it. Asked if he thinks Microsoft would allow it again, he gave a quip: "For Gears? Sure."

Spectator Mode is more forward-facing, and clearly a test-bed for goals that The Coalition wants to accomplish in Gears 4. "Everyone is very, very aware of the popularity, and the need to have an eSports aspect to your product," he said. "It's very clear, the numbers speak for themselves. I think the Ultimate Edition is a good gateway into that world, so we're definitely looking into that." He also noted that the team is looking into a model similar to 343's Halo Classic Showdown tournaments.

Final Judgment

Noticeably absent from the discussion of borrowing from the past to improve the Ultimate Edition was Judgment, the spin-off quasi-sequel that received a lukewarm critical reception. Fergusson chalked that up to Judgment being something of an experiment, a test-bed for the future of the franchise, and he acknowledges that not all of its experimental elements really worked. "'What if we tried a first-person shooter control scheme? What if we tried the ability to fall great distances?' We felt like some of that resonated and some of it didn't. That's why we went back to the original control scheme and back to a shorter fall distance." 

He does feel that the movement speed was quicker and more responsive in Judgment, though, so that may be a direction we see for the future as well. For the time being, The Coalition is cutting its teeth on revising the original, and seems to be taking special care to borrow the pieces that work best for it. Beta registration is open now, and the Ultimate Edition launches on August 25.

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