If you want to know my opinion (and you’re reading a review that I wrote, so I’m going to assume that you do), Microsoft has had a very keen eye for franchises that will go on to become very influential in their generation. Halo informed the whole of the last generation and Gears of War did a fair bit to shape the direction of gaming in this one. While we did become a little sick of the “brown and grey” color schemes that dominated the first Gears, you can’t really deny that Epic has created something unique with their stop-and-pop shooter.
Indeed, it’s rare that a Gears game didn’t have a design element that was aped by the games that followed. If Gears one brought cover systems and a certain visual style to the masses then Gears 2 brought Horde mode which has been copied, to various degrees of success, by other notable franchises like Halo, Call of Duty and many more.
Now, after a wild five-year ride, we come to the end of this current trilogy of Gears of War games. If you’ve followed the story of the games all the way through, you know that humanity is out of the frying pan and in the fire, living as disparate bands, trying to survive as a new life form called “Lambent” overruns both them and their old subterranean foes, the Locust. Indeed, the first chapter of the game details the new living situation as Marcus and Dom are living aboard a dilapidated aircraft carrier and Cole and Baird are scrounging the mainland for food and supplies. With such a depressing beginning, does Gears of War 3 provide a nice, satisfying end to all the chainsawing insanity?
Despite the bleak tone of Gears of War 3, the planet the game is set on, Sera, is in high Summer, meaning that the sun is shining, the grass is green and the pulsing yellow of the Lambent is oh so bright. One of the major talking points of Gears 3 has been the revamped color palette and boy does this game look gorgeous. The design is as consistently brilliant as it’s always been, but seeing the game in sunlight, and not in a variety of caves and urban environments, is a real treat and quite the testament to the range of environments that the Unreal engine can render.
While the game does have its share of drab environments, everything is crafted with such care that you’ll forget you’re still romping around the same dock after forty minutes. The character models themselves are different as well, showing the wear and tear of fifteen years of hard, unrelenting war. Marcus and crew look older, they sound older, and all their kit has a very weathered look. Ostensibly the sleeveless uniforms they wear now are to give them some relief from the Summer temperatures, but you also get the sense that this is last part of their armor that’s still working like its supposed to. Even the Locust have been reduced to a hand-to-mouth existence and the bear a lot of resemblance to the Tusken Raiders of Star Wars. While the Locust Queen and her guard still look like their old ornate selves, the basic Locust grunt is wrapped in soiled rags, giving the impression that, just like humanity, the Lambent have pushed the Locust to the brink.
The story of Gears of War 3 has an eye towards economy; aside from a few cut-scenes that are used to cover loading screens, the majority of the plot is told in a short, concise manner, not wasting much of your time before you get back to shooting everything in your way. When the game does break into a longer-ish scene, however, Gears can really hit you where it hurts, especially if you’ve developed a fondness for the muscle-bound cast of characters. There’s a particular scene that actually gave me pause; it’s rare that any game, especially Gears, will strike me in an emotional way, but I was definitely taken aback. Big props should also be given to Karen Traviss, the author of the books and writer of this game, for actually rounding out the story and giving it a proper ending. It’s very hard to conclude any story-line well, but Gears 3 does tie off a lot of loose ends. There’s a couple of dangling threads that I was dying to see wrapped up, but the major plot points are resolved by the time you’re done with the campaign.
This is also the tightest of the Gears campaigns from a player’s perspective as well. I didn’t experience any of the fatigue I felt at the end of Gears 2 and there were way less turret sections and set-pieces to bog down the pacing. Every big event that you go through in the game basically consists of fighting tons of small troops with some big guys to back them up against a beautiful backdrop and that set-up works way better than scripted sequences. The addition of four player co-op also kicks the game into over-drive as tearing through the campaign with your friends is a blast. For two-player co-op I recommend the Hardcore setting and for a competent team of four Gears masters Insanity is the way to go. Hardcore is comparable to Heroic on Halo in that anything less than this is a bit of a joke if you’ve got some decent skills.
Gameplay wise, Gears is very much the same game it’s been since day one, but with the added benefit of years of tuning and tweaking. The controls are more responsive then they’ve ever been and the weapons, especially some of the new ones, are very fun to use. All the old favorites like the Lancer rifle and the Gnasher shotgun function just as well as you’d expect them to, and the new weapons like the Retro Lancer and the Sawed-Off shotgun carve out their own unique niche in the arsenal. Seriously, try using the Retro bayonet charge on the Former. Good times. Bigger weapons like the Silverback mech suit and the Vulcan cannon are amusingly over-powered in their roles, but they have limited cameos in the campaign. The only real sticking point on the controls is that it’s sometimes difficult to revive teammates when they’re down and if you’re under heavy fire this can lead to some close calls. The AI will drop everything to come and revive you in all modes, though, but a bit more accuracy in human-assisted revives would have been nice.
Multiplayer has also been revamped for the third outing as Epic has thankfully listened to the complaints from Gears 2 and has implemented several essential changes. First off, all the versus matches run on dedicated serves meaning that there’s no more host advantage or wall-bouncing bullcrap (shotgun-rolling still exists, but it’s much more manageable to deal with when there’s no latency to muddle things up). The Lancer has also been beefed up to actually be a useful weapon this time around and has a very deep magazine to boot. There’s a nice way that everything flows together in a given match from the long range combat right down to the in-your-face close quarters brawling. Shotguns still have a massive advantage close in, and there are plenty of ways to use the environment to stun opponents, but every way to fight in Gears 3 multiplayer is a thrilling, satisfying affair. There’s still a huge learning curve when it comes to taking on human adversaries, but with the addition of dedicated servers and tighter controls even the most hopeless newcomer can learn the ropes given enough time. The Tac/Com system is also a real big help when learning the maps as pressing the left bumper will highlight objectives, allies and the placement of power weapons and grenades, giving you a hand in finding all the neat goodies that are lying around.
For a co-operative offering, Gears 3 has Horde 2.0 and Beast Mode. Horde 2.0 is the same Horde we loved from Gears 2 but with a few new additions to take it to the next level. Players can now buy and establish fortifications and deck them out with all manner of defensive structures from barriers to decoys to turrets both automated and player-manned. There are 50 waves to battle through in Horde with every tenth wave introducing a crazy boss for you to fight. Players earn money to buy upgrades to their structures by killing Locust and completing bonus objectives like executing a certain number of foes.There’s a lot of re-playability here and that’s before getting to Beast Mode.
While it is the lighter of the two co-op modes, Beast has you taking control of various creatures in the Locust Horde from the lowly Ticker all the way up to the fearsome Berserker. You start off with access to the basic creatures and you earn access to new ones by destroying the enemies bases and killing them. Different creatures cost different amounts, so if you blow all your money on a Corpser and screw it up, you won’t have enough money the next round to buy another one. The Locust creatures each have different roles from long range suppression from the Boomer to healing by the Kantus (unlike all the other modes, your health does not regenerate in Beast). There’s not as much meat here as Horde, but it’s still a neat way to do co-op and it gives you an opportunity to play as all the Locust you’ve been tearing apart for three games.
Every Gears of War game has been taking steps towards perfection and the third title shows how close Epic has come. As far as Xbox 360 exclusives go, you really can’t do much better than this right now. Between the best campaign in the series, actual, playable multiplayer and a variety of ways to do some crazy co-op action, I’m very pleased to give Gears of War 3 the first S of 2011. This game curb-stomped its way to the top of my Game of the Year list and will be a very, very strong contender when the end of year comes.
So that’s what I thought of Gears of War 3! I was very impressed with the way that Epic concluded their trilogy, and I’m wondering what you guys thought of it? What’s your favorite mode? Do you agree with the A? Let us know!
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