The current generation of home consoles have spawned several huge franchises so far, but none bigger than Gears of War. Epic Games gave us all a reason to buy an Xbox 360 early on. It gave Microsoft another much needed franchise. And it changed the way we play third-person shooters. No third-person shooter with a cover system will ever manage to avoid the inevitable Gears of War comparison. Now in its third installment, Gears of War 3 brings the story arc to an end. I just hope it’s not gone forever, because Gears of War 3 is the best game in the series.
If you’re coming into Gears of War 3 without the prior knowledge of the current story arc, you’ll find yourself with plenty of questions. Hell, I played them all and forgot most of it. Epic has us covered, included in the game is a video that recaps all of the events leading up to the Gears 3 campaign. In Gears of War 2 we saw Dom lose his wife, the city of Jacinto sink, the locust queen got away, and we got hints that Marcus’ father was still alive.
Gears of War 3 takes place a year and half later, Delta Squad is now stationed at a location called Raven’s Nest, with the rest of the COG army. It doesn’t take long for Chairman Prescott to show up and reveal to Marcus that his father is indeed alive. Over the course of five acts, Delta Squad heads out to rescue Adam Fenix, and to bring an end to the Locust and the Lambent mutation. In terms of key action moments, I feel like Gears 2 delivered best on that note. Nothing beats riding a Brumak or shooting down hundreds of locust. Gears 3 gives those moments up in place for more personal and emotional moments with the members of Delta Squad. In the first act, players will take control of Coletrain as he makes his way to what is left of his hometown. He eventually makes it to his old Trashball stadium where he has a flashback that makes you forget how silly Coletrain is and makes you feel something for that character. There was another particular scene like this in the latter part of the game which left me at the edge of my seat and my eyes watery. Gears 3 has some solid action beats but the emotional beats helped showcase the brilliance of the storytelling.
As I mentioned before, there is a new foe in the Gears universe known as the Lambent. These enemies are essentially Locust that were exposed to large amounts of emulsion, mutating them into larger yellow creatures. The Lambent take a bit longer to kill and can mutate into a large form once their original form is killed. It’s also worth mentioning that the Lambent explode as they die, creating a huge yellow glow and probably the coolest visual effect in the entire game. It took me sometime to warm up to the Lambent, as I prefer the Locust, but eventually you do and end up fighting them just as much as the Locust.
The cover based shooting mechanics and the cooperative play are the two key gameplay elements that helped make the Gears series a standout hit. Not much changed in terms of the cover based mechanics, though the controls felt smoother than I remember. I never once found myself in a situation where my character was taking cover where I didn’t want him too. The cooperative play received a nice little upgrade, allowing four players to run through the campaign together. This has always been the way I’ve played through the previous campaigns so it felt a bit strange running through the Gears 3 campaign alone. This is a game that is clearly meant to be played with a group of friends.
The multiplayer options have always been an important factor for the series, but they’ve always fallen just a bit short. Host advantage, lag, and players spamming the shotgun in every match is what stopped several people from playing the previous games. Gears 3 is hoping to get rid of some of these issues with dedicated servers. The servers held up pretty well during the summer beta, I couldn’t say for sure how they’ll react when a million people are online next week. As for the shotgun fest that is Gears multiplayer, I suggest you start practicing. Some of the newer weapons like the Digger and the Retro Lancer might help fend this off but only time will tell how the community reacts.
There are new multiplayer modes and reinventions of previous modes like Horde Mode. Horde 2.0 keeps the original concept for five players fending off wave after wave of enemies while implementing currency system based on the round bonuses. With this currency you can set up outposts around the map, set up barb wired traps, buy ammo, unlock turrets, and more. It forces you and your team to use teamwork in order to move on to the next wave, which will become important in the latter waves. Beast Mode is a new cooperative mode that allows you play as all of the Locust enemies you always wanted to. The objective is to take out the COG team within the time limit. Destroying traps and earning kills give you currency and will eventually enable to you to play as the bigger, badder Locust. Beast Mode is a great addition to the cooperative modes, but playing this alone is not the way to play this. The time limit is too short for one player and having five against one isn’t fair. The last new multiplayer mode is Team Deathmatch which was featured predominantly in the beta. It’s your basic five versus five match with each team having a specific number of lives, whichever team reaches zero lives loses. Before Gears 3 players would have to settle for Execution or Warzone matches which only gave you one life, so Team Deathmatch is sure to be the most played mode since it allows you to get back in the game after you’ve died. The rest of the Gears multiplayer modes are still included in Gears 3 but no major changes to those modes.
Epic Games has always used the Gears games as a demonstration to other developers of what they (other developers) can do with the Unreal Engine tools. Of course, no one is better than Epic Games at using their own development tools. Gears of War 3 is one of the best looking Xbox 360 titles ever, and proof that the Xbox 360 still hasn’t been maxed out. What really caught my eye was the animation of the characters during the cutscenes. Seeing the characters express their emotions with their facial movements really complimented those emotional beats in the campaign.
Gears of War 3 is the best game in the series and one of the best games of the year. It’s a damn near flawless game with its only fault being that the gameplay was a bit more of the same. Overall, this is a game that needs to be in your collection or disc tray by next week. The game comes packed with new and classic multiplayer and cooperative modes that will keep you and your friends engaged for months to come. I will certainly be playing this game three months from now.
This review was based on a retail copy of the game for the Xbox 360 provided by Microsoft.