Headline updated for accuracy 3/1/16 – 9:05 a.m. PT
Cam McRae, Technical Director at The Coalition – the studio who’s spearheading Gears of War: Ultimate Edition’s transition to PC which is available today – is insistent that his team didn’t mess with the fundamentals that defined the classic shooter’s identity. By this, he means the countless little things that make Gears feel like Gears: the way the characters move, the timing of their weapons, and the tactile feel that you get when they collide with objects in the game’s world. “One of our goals with the PC version was ‘don’t touch the art.’ But beyond that,” McRae said, “we changed everything.”
Originally released on Xbox One last year, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a comprehensive remake that includes basically everything ever created for the game – from maps and modes released as downloadable content, to exclusive campaign chapters from the original Windows version. So what’s been keeping its Windows release? Evidently, a whole lot of work under the hood to ensure that it leaves a strong impression. The playable version on show at last week’s Xbox Spring Showcase didn’t disappoint in this regard. It was running at 4K resolution and a constant 60 frames-per-second, and the effects were age-defying.
In order to achieve this, McRae said, his team began by “[ripping] out the rendering” and, with guidance from original Gears creator Epic Games, rebuilt those systems with improvements from more recent versions of Unreal Engine. The results are evident in all manner of ways, though especially when it comes to how the game renders things like lights, shadows, reflections, and how they all interact with each other to draw believable scenes. All of this work was done for the Xbox One version, however. More immediately noticeable – and unique to DirectX version – are the improvements to the characters and environments.
McRae said that most every object in the game has been “uprezzed” in poly count by about 10-30 percent, while most character models have straight-up doubled. Same with the textures: They’ve all been uprezzed, and if you’re playing the game on the highest settings, your GPU will be streaming in the neighborhood of 5-10 gigabytes of textures when you play through Gears’ Prison level, as an example. DirectX 12, according to McRae, is mainly to thank for all this, due to how it allows developers to more efficiently harness the multiple cores in today’s higher-end processors.
Naturally, all of this requires hardware that’s up to the task. On Ultimate Edition’s Windows version, “medium” settings will net you performance on-par with how the game runs on Xbox One. McRae told us that a system with a “high-end” GPU running the game at the highest settings will be able achieve 60 frames-per-second at 4K in the single-player campaign, and stay quite close to that benchmark in multiplayer (as a point of reference, the machines running the game at the Xbox Spring Showcase were using GeForce GTX 980 Ti cards). To help users achieve those settings without needing to spend big on a high-end card, the development team at The Coalition is working to implement DirectX 12’s Multiadapter feature, which allows systems to recruit resources from multiple GPUs to bolster an application’s performance. Think: multi-GPU technologies like NVIDIA’s SLI or AMD CrossFire, but without the need for matching video cards. It won’t be supported when Ultimate Edition release for PC, but McRae assured us that his team is working to make it a reality.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition makes a forceful impression when it’s running with all the bells and whistles, so it’s a good thing that The Coalition is taking help players hit those lofty benchmarks. Look for it March 1.