The original Gears of War came out five years ago, and I can still remember the advert for it coming on TV and thinking that it looked awesome.
The world was destroyed, there seemed to be one guy left running around openly and there was some giant cyborg spider thing in an old building.
I would have bought it too but, at the time, the price of the 360 was simply too high and I found it difficult to find time away from playing Guild Wars* and Unreal Tournament 2004.**
I played it at a friend’s house where we had a mini-tournament of the local multiplayer. Not playing it online was really quite crappy, but I could see the potential of it. When Gears 2 came out, there was a lot of chatter about it because the first game was so popular. Sadly, Gears 2 was nowhere near as good as the first Gears of War, and instead of being something new or different became another game to be filed under the ‘grey/brown shooter’ category; a genre made up of cliché, brainless action shooters often with a notably unfriendly fan-base.
I only recently finished Gears of War 2 because it was so boring and the story so horrible uninteresting that I couldn’t be motivated to play it. Gears of War 3, however, I played start-to-finish in one go. It wouldn’t let me stop.
Story: Yes, there actually is one this time
Gears of War 3 is the last game in the trilogy following Delta Squad after the events of Emergence Day; an event where humanoid insect-like beasts known as the Locust burst forth from underground in an attempt to take over the presumably alien planet of Sera. Ultimately, the human forces of the Coalition of Organized Governments (COG) fought to map out the underground tunnels of the Locust (Gears of War), thwarted the Locust’s plan of destroying all of the last human cities, discovered the existence of an apparent civil war between the Locust and Lambent creatures (normal Locust who have become changed due to a bizarre natural resource on Sera known as emulsion), and finally turned one of their own great weapons against them (Gears of War 2).
Following the wacky adventure of the second game, we discover that the last military stronghold of humanity is on a moving freighter ship. The lambent have evolved at a rapid rate and have seemingly destroyed the Locust to become the chief threat for COG forces. Provisions and food are difficult to come by and it seems that all is lost for humanity. The game kicks off a few minutes in, when Marcus Fenix discovers his father is still alive after seemingly being killed during E-Day. This didn’t really come as a shock to the player as this has been hinted at since the first game, but the characters are thoroughly stunned. He has apparently devised a way of taking out the Lambent and remaining Locust forces but needs the help of his son and Delta Squad to get it activated.
And that’s all I can tell you without spoilers. I could put some spoiler tags up and explain the whole thing from beginning to end, but I’m not going to. Why? Because the story in Gears of War 3 is amazing. Yeah, I know, I’m surprised too after the travesty of Gears 2, but the story is actually quite superb. It’s readily apparent that Epic put a lot of effort into the plot this time around, and boy did it pay off.
Unlike Gears the 2nd*** I actually cared about what happened and I desperately wanted to find out what would transpire next. Remember me saying that Gears 3 wouldn’t let me stop playing? The gripping plot is why.
You know what? Even though I’m probably going to get yelled and scoffed at and you may end up reading the rest of this review with blood spurting out of your eyes in anger, the last game I played that got me this involved in the story was Half-Life 2 and it wasn’t as good. I’ll say that again, the story in Gears of War 3 is better than the story in Half-Life 2. They even went back to barely explored characters (or really badly explored characters in Gears 2, fuck that game) and somehow made me care about them.
You see, in Gears 1, the characters were just there. In Gears 2, they were really poorly written. In Gears 3, they came across as real people. Real people with incredibly huge muscles, but real people nonetheless. And I wouldn’t hesitate to encourage you to buy Gears of War 3 for the story alone. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s a fitting end and it’s bloody good even if you’ve never played a Gears game before. For the latecomers there’s even a ‘Previously in Gears of War’ option to catch you up on everything so far, although it’s mostly from Gears of War 2 because a shit-load has been retconned from the first game. Remember the Kryll? Yeah, they’re not in Gears of War 3!
Oh, I’ll also be deleting spoilers from the comments unless they are clearly marked in a way that no one who hasn’t completed the campaign won’t have to see it. WiNGSPAN
might be will be wielding his sacred banhammer as well. Seriously, don’t be that guy.
Gameplay: Surprisingly varied
In many ways, the way the game plays has changed very little from previous games. You can now ‘spot’ enemies a la Battlefield Bad Company 2 to focus attention on specific foes or objects, which helps a lot in the campaign but not so much in multiplayer (the online crowd at time of writing is still focused on doing their own thing and doesn’t communicate). The Tac/Com overlay from the previous game is back but now shows glowing outlines of squad mates/friendly players (like Arkham Asylum’s detective vision) and also shows weapon locations in multiplayer which, if you played the previous games online, you know are important to assure victory.
They also seem to have improved the AI when you’re downed by enemies. Don’t get me wrong, you’re still royally screwed if you get knocked down by an enemy away from squad mates since they won’t come out to help you up, but they will revive you if you crawl right up to them and hump their leg. I’ve found that Dom will still never administer CPR even if you offer the most sensuous and erotic of leg humpings but, given the insane number of easter eggs in Gears 3, this was probably done on purpose.
The core mechanics of getting behind cover are still important, but there seem to be updates to enemy AI that encourage them to try to flush you out, and there are attempts in the game to actively make you switch cover when facing certain enemies because of how they behave. It’s not like that other game where you can just sit behind a wall the whole game and slowly slog your way through.
Epic have also taken a few leaves from Gears 1’s book and have added a lot of pacing to the story so that it isn’t constantly running around a trashed area and killing stuff. There are a couple of turret sections, a few vehicle sections and some eerily quiet portions of the game. Not in the ‘dark abandoned lab’ sort of way, but there’s one section of the game where there are a number of corridors and stairways with ammo/guns lying around but no enemies turn up and there’s no signs of a last-stand or struggle. It gave a really odd feeling of something building up and shit about to go down that ultimately doesn’t really deliver, which is a bit of a shame.
There are also a couple of points in game where it very subtly gives the option of using stealth if you want to, but it doesn’t really present itself as such until you shoot something and you hear Marcus say “Okay, screw stealth, open fire!” That said, forcing stealth would have been far worse. At the very least, these areas will offer a nice challenge when I inevitably play through the campaign again.
There’s also a new multiplayer mode added called Beast, which is a joy to play but, to be honest, there doesn’t seem to be much point in describing all the multiplayer modes here. I never played the previous games online so I can’t really draw comparisons or go into great amounts of depth. Plus, descriptions of the online modes are available on various sites (which you should never visit) and a number of them are self-explanatory. Not being a console gamer, I don’t know what modes are common, so the last thing I want to do is insult your intelligence by telling you what Team Death Match or King of the Hill are. What I will say is that Beast mode is a lot of fun. That said, very few people communicate and Horde is a pain in the arse to organize, making it exceedingly difficult to play past six or seven waves.
Graphics: Play it on a colour TV
I’m not one to normally talk about graphics, but they deserve mentioning here. First of all, there’s actually colour in this game. Again, it appears that Epic looked at impressions of the previous two games and said to themselves “You know what? We’re not taking all this ‘grey/brown’ shit any more, we’re going to make this game look varied and beautiful,” and that’s exactly what they did.
Whereas that other god damn game took place largely in dark, dim, grey underground caverns, the locations in Gears of War 3 look absolutely stunning. As with the newly-lovable characters (I’m still stunned that they actually made the characters seem real), the places involved seem like they actually exist. There is, admittedly,a rather JRPG locale change in the beginning third of the game, but it’s not quite as bad as being in a desert and then going to a glacial plane. I’m looking at you, every Japanese game ever.
Secondly, Gears 3 makes it difficult to believe that the hardware used to make it look so good is the same as the hardware used in Gears 1 which, by today’s standards, looks a little crappy. I know there’s only so many times you can say that a game looks good (which is why I don’t usually bother) but I found it quite jarring when I thought of it like that. Maybe that sentiment is just my PC gamer blood expecting a physical upgrade of some kind to make a game look pretty. And thinking about it, I’d say that Gears 3 looks respectively as good as Half-Life 2 did when it had just come out.
Summary and free beer
Gears of War 3 is a surprisingly good game. It’s fun, easy on the eyes, and the construction of events is simply fantastic. I went into Gears 3 thinking that it wouldn’t deliver, but it proved me wrong. Being the last in the trilogy, I’m hoping that Epic does something Halo did, but better. There were a lot of unanswered questions raised in the campaign that could be answered in prequels and maybe sequels, but that wouldn’t be as fun.
Now, my ultimate dream for this series would be for Epic to make a prequel set during The Pendulum Wars, a human-on-human war on Sera regarding control of the energy source Emulsion. They could even still use Marcus as the main character but, to be honest, there’s another more interesting character revealed to have served in the Pendulum Wars, and I’d love to see more of his story. The key to the success of any future Gears game, however, is that they put as much (if not more) effort into the story as they did in Gears of War 3, or there will be a host of disappointed fans.
There are roughly ten hours of gameplay in the Hardcore campaign, but increased difficulty, collectible hunting and achievement getting will extend this. There’s also an arcade mode where you can play through the campaign to get the highest score possible, which will again extend re-playability for fans of coin-op style scoring.
All said and done, I highly recommend this game to all fans of the series and anyone who owns an Xbox 360. You could wait until it comes down in price, but this game really does deserve your money, and increased sales means increased incentive to make a better game for the next time around. Vote with your wallets and waste no time buying Gears of War 3.
*[TDK] in the [via] alliance, I’m mentioning this because it seems that you all disappeared off the planet.
**FUN FACT: This is where I first used the alias of Binerexis.
*** We must NEVER forget just how terrible the story in that game is.