Editorial Note: I would like to thank my friend, Taylor, for allowing me to use his copy of the game for review.
As the Gears of War trilogy is coming to a close, Epic Games strives to round out this third person shooter series with a definitive entry, while ensuring that loose plot lines and lingering questions are all tied up. In this way, they have most certainly succeeded, as Gears of War 3 is undoubtedly the best entry in this triple A franchise.
The story picks up 18 months after the end of the last game. The humans of Sera are struggling for survival, and many of them have split up and have spread to the far corners of the planet. Marcus is living on a battleship with Dom, who has taken the death of his wife very hard, and has taken solace in gardening. As the ship is attacked by the Lambent, who now serve as a separate faction of the Locust, Marcus is informed that his father, Adam Fenix, is still alive, and that he may hold the key to stopping the Locust and the Lambent. From here, much of the story revolves around finding Adam, and before long, you are reunited with old Delta Squad members like Cole and Baird, and a slew of new characters are thrown into the ring, including Anya (who served as a communications officer in the first 2 games), Jace Stratton, Samantha Byrne, and of course, a new Carmine.
Unlike previous entries in the series, Gears of War 3 attempts to add a lot more depth to the story, and for the most part, it exceeds. Dom, for example, has clearly begun to lose faith in the war effort due to the death of his wife, and he is not the same Dom from the other 2 games. Cole is going through a mid-life crisis, and there is some obvious flirting between Baird and Sam. The game falters a bit when it tries to expand the role of Marcus. Despite him having a personal stake in the ongoing war, Marcus has always been a one-dimensional character, and trying to add some depth to it is like trying to make Master Chief experience emotions. Nonetheless, the story manages to engage the audience, and for long time fans, most of your lingering questions are answered. Like the other entries in the series, the game uses the same style of macho/bro-vado dialogue, so don’t expect Shakespearean quality lines here.
In terms of design, the game’s single and multiplayer components have been completely fleshed out. The game’s campaign can be played locally with one other person, and up to four online. A new arcade mode keeps track of score as you play through the story, and your team high scores and multipliers for racking up kills, assists, etc. If anyone on the team is downed, the multiplier begins to decrease, which adds more of an incentive to make sure your teammates are alive. Not unlike the Halo series skulls, the game features mutators, which you can enable or disable to alter the gameplay. Some mutators are comical; for example, one makes enemies run around like chickens after headshotting them. Others can make the game harder, like not providing ammo boxes, but in turn you will receive more XP.
The offline and online components are integrated through the XP and ranking up system. As you play the campaign or multiplayer, you will receive XP and rank up. As you rank up your level, you can unlock different character skins, and by getting kills and other achievements, you can unlock other bonuses (which I won’t spoil). The multiplayer matches aren’t too different from Gears of War 2, but a few changes have been made which help to keep the game more fast paced. There are new and old game types, with Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, and Wingman being some of the more popular modes. TDM has a respawn ticket system, which gives casual players more opportunity for play. Not only does this give new players a fighting chance, it places a heavy emphasis on staying alive, as you don’t want to use up all your team’s resapwn tickets (each team of 5 starts with 15). For teams that lack 5 players (or whatever number depending on match type), bots fill these gaps, and are replaced by players over time.
Horde mode makes a return, and this time it is even more addicting. Rather than simply killing waves of enemies, each kill nets you money, which you can use to build turrets, barriers, decoys, or down the line, Silverbacks (giant mech suits) and automated turrets. As you continue to upgrade and build items, they will level up, which usually means they are more resistant to damage, and they deal it out more quickly. Every 10th wave features a boss fight, which can range from a Brumak to a Lambent Berzerker. While the additions to Horde mode are not the most original, the certainly provide for a fun time.
On the other hand, Beast mode is essentially the inverse of Horde mode. Rather than playing as humans, you take control of the Locust Horde, and you play through 12 short waves, attempting to complete them in the shortest amount of time possible. As you earn money by killing or downing humans, you can choose which Locust species you want to spawn as. Tickers are cheap, and are able to wear down barriers and defenses, while Boomers and Serapedes are efficient at taking out enemies quickly. While Beast mode is not as exciting as Horde, it provides a change of pace, and is definitely a welcome addition.
While there are numerous additions and tweaks to the game, the actual gameplay is largely the same. The cover system and “stop-and-pop” style of shooting remains intact. During the campaign, you will still man turrets and split up from your teammates occasionally, but the game keeps things fresh by adding levels where you are sailing through the skies on a gas barge, or piloting a turret in an underwater sub. While this seems trivial, it aids in keeping the player engaged, rather than simply going through the motions. Small additions to the game, such as spotting enemies, adds a more tactical feel, and you now have the ability to kick someone as you vault over an obstacle. While the online works well, one minor balancing issues arises with the sawn-off shotgun. This weapon (which you can spawn with) is a One Hit Kill at very close range. This does break up the flow of the game at times, as I have seen standoffs where two players will simply hold their ground, as they wait for one another to move closer so they can use the sawn-off. While the weapon boasts a long reload time, it still seems too powerful, and many matches degrade into staying away from corners and cover, as you are never sure what is on the other side.
Gears of War 3 is running off an updated version of Unreal Engine 3 (dubbed Unreal Engine 3.5), and it certainly shows in the visuals. From an artistic standpoint, the game has ditched the murky browns and grays of yesteryear, and offers a wider color pallet this time around. The campaign takes place across multiple locations, and each area has some cool graphical effects, whether it be weather effects, or big explosions from killing the Lambent. While playing co-op locally the game did suffer from some minor slowdown at times, and the texture pop-in is back (as expected), but it does not detract from the game in any significant way. The game’s musical score is similar to the other 2 games, featuring the same themes and battle music. And who can forget the guitar chord that let’s you know when everything’s safe. The voice acting is good, and if the only complaint I have about it is the actual dialogue, rather than the voices themselves. I do have to give bonus points to Epic Games for hiring Ice-T to do some voice acting.
One of my favorite things about Gears of War 3 is that it provides closure. While it does leave some questions unanswered, it won’t leave you wondering whether there will be a sequel or not (I’m looking at you Master Chief). All in all, the game is a blast to play, and is a worthy entry that fans and newcomers will enjoy.
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