It’s hard not to have an opinion on Microsoft right around now. They gained the attention of many last year, by offering up Windows 10 as a free upgrade for Windows 7 and 8 owners, a decision that many praised, while others remained skeptical of Microsoft’s privacy and telemetry policies. Recently, they’ve been attempting to re-gain a foothold in the PC gaming space, by bringing what would have been many Xbox One exclusives to the Windows 10 Store as well, a move that has both pleased some PC gamers while incurring the wrath of long-time Xbox One supporters.
The release of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition on PC has also been met with some criticism and backlash. While it is great to see that the remake has made its way to PC, it’s also a Windows 10 Store exclusive, meaning that not only will you need to be running Microsoft’s newest operating system, but that you’ll have to purchase it on the Windows Store, rather than purchasing it via Steam or comparable digital distribution services.
Good news first; if you’re familiar with the Xbox One version of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, than you’ll know exactly what to expect with this new PC release, in terms of gameplay. The PC release contains the remastered campaign in its entirety, including the five additional chapters that were originally an exclusive to the game’s original PC release. You might be quick to dismiss this remastered edition as a shameless cash-grab, but having just replayed the original Gears of War on Xbox 360, the visual upgrades and changes to the game are night and day.
While the original game did popularize the brown and grey color palette that dominated shooters for years to come, this remake injects a lot more visual flair and effects into the mix. In line with many remasters as of late, most (if not all) of the game’s art assets and textures have been remade, and coupled with the use of a physically-based rendering solution, the visuals take on a much more realistic tone, shedding the somewhat reflective and shiny look that plagued the original.
Things of course, fare better on PC than the Xbox One, mostly because you have the options to crank settings even higher, assuming you have the hardware to back it up. Running the single player at a full 60 frames per second is a treat compared to the locked 30 on Xbox One, and upping the textures, effects and shadow quality up to their highest settings makes for a beautiful game.
Of course, you can even run the game in 4K resolution if you want, though as of writing, the game doesn’t support less popular aspect ratios such as 21:9. If you are rocking a high-refresh rate monitor, don’t worry; the game supports it.
The improvements to the PC release are welcome, but while the core game is as solid as its ever been, the technical issues currently surrounding it are its biggest problem, and are bound to scare away PC users who are more accustomed to curating an experience that best suits them (which is essentially the entire concept and central tenet of PC gaming).
Performance wise, the game recommends a fairly beefy setup, which includes a GTX 970 or Radeon R9 290x, 16 GB RAM (which I doubt is even fully used), and a Core i5 or 8 core AMD CPU. Using the in game benchmark, I was able to achieve an almost flawless 60 frames per second on maxed settings at 1080p, but in game I suffered hitching and pausing; an issue that seems to be plaguing a good number of users.
Performance issues can be solved with driver updates and game patches, but the real disappointment is the limited customization options. As of now, all Windows Store games force vertical sync, meaning that you’ll be capped to your hardware’s native refresh rate. While this might sound like a good idea, it’s a detriment to those who prefer an unlocked experience (which typically means slightly less input lag), and it makes benchmarking the game very difficult,as you can’t exceed your monitor’s refresh rate.
Adding to this is the closed nature of Windows Store Apps, which don’t play well with third-party overlays and programs. As of now, benchmarking overlays like FRAPS and MSI Afterburner don’t work (meaning that I can only provide a subjective opinion of how the framerate holds up in game), and SLI and CrossFire don’t work either, meaning you’re stuck using a single graphics card. NVIDIA’s GSync technology is also not fully working. Since the Windows Store prohibits access to the game’s files and executable, this means any graphics injectors or modding are off the list, too.
Microsoft has made some lofty promises about their commitment to PC gaming, both in the past and present, and while I am still skeptical of whether or not they will fulfill them, I’m also still hoping that they listen to the community and make their ecosystem a little more user-friendly and customizable. The same goes for Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, which is an impressive remastering of a solid (if not slightly aged) title, that is brought down a notch by a few technical issues and quirks.
This review is based on the Windows 10 version of the game, which we were provided with. The game was reviewed on a system sporting a GTX 970, an i5-6600k, and 16 GB of DDR4 RAM.