Release Date: Out Now!
Marcus, Dom, Cole and Baird are back for the final chapter in Epic’s sublime Gears of War series, but as with all trilogies there’s the worry that the final title won’t be as good as the previous entries. That’s not the case here, because Gears of War 3 doesn’t just deliver a comparable experience, it delivers the best Gears experience yet, and one of the best shooters on Xbox 360.
The Gears of War series has never been known for its rich storytelling skills, and nothing has changed in Gears of War 3 in this regard, yet it’s still the best the series has seen. As the game kicks off we’re presented with a Sera that’s still reeling from the events of the last game: the Lambent are now the dominant force on the planet, the Locust horde have been pushed back and are now regrouping and rebuilding, while the humans are simply trying to survive as their government has collapsed and the COG have all but disbanded. Still, the hardy Delta Square haven’t given up just yet and are currently floating around on the Raven’s Nest, a massive ship, which houses some of the human survivors. Baird and Cole are away on a mission, Dom’s got a beard and a few new characters are kicking about, but it isn’t long before everything goes tits up and a Lambent attack kicks the game off in a truly epic fashion.
I can say little more regarding the story without spoiling it, so I’ll try to keep this vague. Epic seem to have taken criticisms toward the Gears story to heart and have made a valiant attempt to craft some truly emotional moments for the final game in the trilogy, and they’ve succeeded to a degree. It’s still all handled a little ham-fistedly, but by Gears of War standards this is inspiring stuff: even the manic Cole gets his camera moment as we get to take a look back to his glory days, and, just like the previous two games, the game does justice to the harrowing effects of war. Marcus and his squad are looking rough and fatigued, and it comes across in the story well. But halfway through the game comes the series most surprising and touching scene that should leave any Gears fan with a tear in their eye. The story is never going to compete with the likes of Mass Effect or Red Dead Redemption, yet in its gung-ho way this is easily the best tale of the series and immensely enjoyable, provided you don’t take it too seriously.
A few new characters have also turned up as if by magic: Jace Stratton and Sam have made the leap from comic and books to the games. If you’ve never actually read the paper versions of Gears then you’re going to be a little lost as to exactly who the hell these people are, and the game never explains their presence either. Sadly they barely get touched upon during the story, instead Jace gets pushed almost entirely into the foreground, and Sam only gets a few moments to shine. In reality these characters only serve to enable the games new four player co-op, which I’ll get to later.
There’s a pretty hefty singleplayer offering here compared to most modern shooters, with around 10-12 hours of gameplay on Normal mode, though any Gears veteran is going to want to instantly up the difficulty as Normal offers little challenge, even for a completely new gamer. While Gears of War 2 went a little crazy on its over-the-top set-pieces, Gears 3 favours the more subtle approach of letting its gameplay speak for itself. That’s not to say there are some awesome moments to be had, with an underwater journey standing as one of the cooler, during your adventure. And the trailer, Dust to Dust, that wowed so many people makes for one hell of an atmospheric level later in the game.
You can also run through the campaign in the brand new Arcade mode, which, as the name suggests, awards you lovely points for your kills and completion speed, bringing those lovely addictive leaderboard scores into the fray. Like any such game, running back through a level to score points is damn good fun.
Somewhere in between Gears 2 and Gears 3 Epic have found the time to make their latest title look utterly freaking amazing. This is mostly because Epic have managed to dig out their old paint sets and discovered that there are plenty of other colors in the world. Gears 3 uses vivid greens, earthy browns, bright reds and plenty more in its varied environments, easily making this the best looking game of the series and, quite possible, on the Xbox 360. Environmental detail has also seen a substantial increasing making for a world tha feels more alive and believable than ever before. Animations have also seen some improvement. Like any game if you look hard enough you will find graphical flaws, and they do stand out more because of the overall quality, but this is still a breath-taking game to look at.
Gears of War 3 makes a welcome return to the combat bowls of the first game, offering even more space in which to maneuver and chainsaw Locust in the face, because that’s what we do. The cover system has also been tweaked with a more responsive and quick feel to it, along with an increased Roadie Run speed. Destroyable cover has now also been added to the game, and while it only affects certain objects it still makes for quite a change in your tactics. When you combine all these elements Gears of War 3 is a more mobile and quick paced shooter than ever before, which is handy because an upgrade to enemy AI has made them far more willing to leap over cover and get all up in your face with a shotgun. This increased aggressiveness also encourages you utilise those big combat areas to your advantage, making flanking feel far more important than previous in the series. However, the enemy AI still often make rather dumb decisions, such as taking cover on the wrong side of a wall or just walking in circles around you instead of hitting you in the face. Your AI squadmates are more effective now, often taking down quite a few enemies, but still sometimes get confused when you’re needing healing.
Some new weapons also alter the classic Gears gameplay; the Lancer is still present and ready to make every fight awesome via chainsawing, but now it has gained an older brother in the form of the Retro Lancer, a beast with a kick like a crazed mule with damage levels to match, as well as a handy Bayonet which can be used to charge enemies before impaling them in a bloody fountain. Joining the high-damage Retro is the Sawed-off shotgun, capable of blasting an enemy in half, as long as he isn’t more than a foot away. The Hammerburst has also had a bit of tweaking as it has now returned to being a fully automatic weapon and now comes with iron sights! Iron sights, dammit! Several new heavy weapons have been thrown into the mix, including the stomping Silverback Mech which you can pilot. This metal bastard comes packing miniguns and rockets for some real firepower. Sadly it doesn’t get used in the campaign as much as it should.
The new weapons and tweaked gameplay may not have altered the game much from an outsiders view, but if you know your Gears then you’ll appreciate that these changes have actually altered the gameplay quite a bit. The large combat bowls not only make the four-player co-op a blast, but allow for more dynamic gameplay thanks to the increased speed and responsiveness. Simply put, Gears of War 3 provides the best gameplay of the series.
Ok, so I’ve mentioned the 4-player co-op twice now, so let’s get into it. The 2-player co-op that the series has previously boasted has provide some of the best co-op gaming around, but now Epic have gone a step further and doubled the amount of players, so according to my uniquely brilliant mathematics than equals twice the fun. Maybe three times the fun! There are now more moments throughout the game that require players to help each other out, and the more open environments allow you to set up crossfires and supporting fire. To top it all off you can also swap out weapons with your friends by simply walking up to them and hitting the correct button, depending on what you want to swap. This also works with the AI, in case you don’t have friends, because you kept showing them up online.
Speaking of the online, it’s gotten a pretty big overhaul as well. First up is the competitive element, and its best change comes in the form of those lovely, sexy, utterly beautiful dedicated servers that ensure silky smooth gaming. Gone are the claims of host advantage and cries of those killed due to lag, and in its place people crying because they can’t blame getting their ass kicked on host advantage. Next up is an improved ranking system which lets you unlock new weapon skins, character and executions to play around with. It’s not quite as deep as other shooters out there, but does provide a nice bit of incentive to murderize people with a shotgun. And speaking of the shotgun, those hoping that the shotgun domination of Gears 2 online is still present are in for a nasty surprise; maps now have more open areas and lines of sight giving plenty of opportunity to gun down shotgun welders, and the Retro Lancer pretty much means charging an enemy with a shotgun is a complete suicide mission. Now that the Gnasher has been balanced out and more options to combat it are available the online experience feels far more balanced, fun and fair, though I have no doubt that the Sawed-off shotgun is going receive plenty of complaints from those who like to call things “noob weapons”. Here’s my advice for it: if you got killed by the Sawed-off shotgun, it was your own damn fault. After a rocky start and then the very rocky sequel, Epic have finally hit the multiplayer nail in the head. Well, battered it repeatedly with a severed arm, anyway.
Horde mode also makes its triumphant return to consoles, but also features some hefty changes. The basic idea remains the same; it’s you and, if you want, up to three of your friends against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. But now every kill earns you cash which can be used to buy fortifications to make your valiant defense that bit easier. Your money can be used to purchase, repair and upgrade things like barriers, turrets, the new Silverback mech and even decoys. As you play Horde mode you’ll unlock upgrades for the different fortification types, so basic barbed wire can be upgraded into deadly lasers and putting plenty of money into decoys unlocks security turrets. It’s a good system and adds depth to an otherwise simple game mode, and the fact that you can upgrade your engineering skills is brilliant.
Alongside Horde comes a brand new mode than flips the tables. In Beast mode you and, again, should you wish, three other friends play as the Locust horde trying to attack AI humans who have access to fortifications like those in Horde. Killing off the pesky humans, and executing the “heroes” like Dom and Marcus, gives you lovely cash which you can then spend to spawn as a different type of Locust. At the start of the round you’ve got access to a few basic selections, like Wretches and Drones, but as you gain money you’ll be able to play as Boomers, Beserkers, Maulers and more. Controlling the horde feels good, with the bigger Locust feeling nice and weighty to play with. Beast mode is a great addition to the series, but does come with one irritating flaw; a timer counts down on each round and all humans must be killed by time it runs down.
Somehow I just know that the final score awarded here will cause arguments: some will demand to know why it didn’t get higher, others will scream that it’s a fanboy score and that Uncharted 3 is the better game. To answer the first, Gears 3 has just a few small pacing issues and other little irks that stopped it from getting that little extra. And as for the second, don’t be stupid: they’re different games.
And so the trilogy comes to a close, and with it one of the best series comes to a close. I’m happy to say that Gears of War three delivers the best experience of the series, offering stunning graphics, brilliant gameplay and plenty of multiplayer fun. It’s not a revolution, but rather a careful refining of what makes the games so great.
+ Horde Mode 2.0 kicks all types of ass.
+ Tweaked gameplay
+ Brothers to the end.
– The AI still has stupid moments.
– Beast mode has a timer. WTF!?
– The final fight is a little disappointing.
Somehow, Epic have managed to squeeze even more out of the Unreal Engine. And they found color!
The voice acting is often a little cheesey, but it suits the game well. The music is fantastic, as are the sound effects.
It’s never going to compare to the likes of Mass Effect, but by both Gears standard and shooter standards this is an entertaining tale, filled with over-the-top characters that are hard not to like.
Gears of War 3’s cover based game is fast and fluid, offering some of the best shooting around. Certainly the best third-person shooting.
Around 10-12 hours should see the singleplayer completed, but throw in co-op, Horde, Beast mode, multiplayer and Arcade mode and you’ve got a game with plenty of hours of fun.
Summary: There wasn’t a single moment in Gears of War 3 when I wasn’t having fun. It’s a sublime, slick, fun shooter than stands as the best of the series, and one of the best games the Xbox 360 has ever seen.