I’ve always counted myself among the lucky when my PC is able to cleanly run games that are largely a total snafu. Batman: Arkham Knight was a good example of my playing joyfully, oblivious of the catastrophe that unfolded outside. However, the first time I died in Gears of War: Ultimate Edition for Windows 10, my game crashed to desktop.
Well, maybe my PC isn’t as beefy as I thought it was, I figured. I’ll lower the settings. I get in, die and crash. I update my driver and restart. Now it’s stuck at the start menu. It can’t just be me. Can it?
As the internet is already well-aware, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, and more importantly for Windows 10 and DirectX 12, have had a rough start in PC gaming. Miraculously, and for no apparent reason, after a day of leaving my PC alone, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition runs mostly fine, the occasional texture pops and frame-rate drops between levels notwithstanding.
This doesn’t mean Gears Ultimate is off the hook. Does one person’s mostly positive experience with running the game forgive what was clearly an abject failure of quality assurance? Absolutely not. While criticizing the game itself for this aspect may be a mistake when looked at in a vacuum, we also can’t forgive launches with as many technical hiccups as this.
That said, Gears Ultimate just seems like a giant question mark. Gears of War started at the Xbox 360, was ported to PC, and remastered for Xbox One. What we have now is a port of a remaster of a port of a game. It’s main reason for existence is to showcase Windows 10 as a legitimate gaming platform and convince people to finally click on that annoying pop-up offering a free copy for a “limited time,” a term with which they’ve been playing rather fast and loose. As we’ve already covered, that did not go over so well. (For the record, I cloned my boot of Windows 7 before making the upgrade, so ha!)
Its reason for existence beyond that? Not sure. Even Gravity Rush: Remastered was a sales pitch for an upcoming sequel, and while Gears of War 4 is on the horizon, did Microsoft really need help selling it?
Existential crises of inanimate objects aside, Gears Ultimate knows how to milk nostalgia, for better or worse. It seems with few exceptions that every third-person cover shooter that has come out since is content with mimicking the superficial elements of the franchise and call it a day, but they all fail to capture the genuinely creative and intricate set pieces; and in the case of this Ultimate Edition, the raw, visceral experience that made Gears of War such a fantastic and memorable game in the first place. It’s truly a case of the industry learning the wrong lesson from success.
But what did Windows 10’s Gears Ultimate add that you couldn’t already get if you had played a previous version? Near as we can tell, bonus skins for characters and weapons, and the ability to use a mouse and keyboard—forgetting, of course, that the game recommends you use a gamepad (...so much for reverence of PC gaming).
It also disheartening to see yet another developer treat couch co-op on PC as an impossibility. Not having split-screen for a Gears of War game is a cardinal sin. This takes a lot of life out of the campaign when you can’t easily grab a friend to join you, especially in the segments that are obviously designed for multiple players. It’s bad enough that the term might very well be extinct in a few years, but it almost assuredly is already on PC. A few smaller releases and indie games aside, Gears Ultimate had a chance to be a leader in this regard, continuing its penchant for the co-operative experience and set an example for developers in the future. The scary part is that it probably did just the opposite.
It’s not that Gears of War Ultimate Edition for Windows 10 is a bad game; it’s just that everything good about it is what’s good about Gears of War for any other platform. It adds nothing that can tangibly enhance the experience, and with a litany of technical issues and ignorance of its own virtues, Windows 10 gaming has not put its best foot forward here.