A Well-Oiled Machine
If your quota of steroid-pumped macho men hasn’t been filled by anything in the videogame market of late, fear not: Gears of War 3 is probably the game for you.
Epic Games’ final installment in the saga of Marcus Fenix and co. seems like the perfect game. If you’ve played the first two, it’s clear from the outset that Epic really have pulled out all the stops to make this their most successful game in the series, both financially and critically. It’s also clear that there’s a lot of time and research behind the brilliance of the game — the campaign, the return and improvement of Horde mode, and the new Versus maps and modes are all vital cogs in the Gears machine.
The campaign follows on two years from the second game — the Locust have been, for the most part, obliterated from the face of the planet, but a new enemy have risen. They’re called the Lambent, and you’re probably slightly familiar with their work. Remember that Imulsion-contaminated Brumak you killed at the end of the second game? It’s like that, only uglier.
It’s obviously up to Fenix and his cohorts to stop the new threat one way or another, but it’s definitely not going to be as easy as that. To throw a spanner in the works, Adam Fenix has declared himself alive, and is in dire need of help from his son.
With help from your favourite Gears such as Dom, Cole and Baird, plus a few new faces, including a new Carmine brother, it’s up to Marcus to do what he does best — shoot things until their internal bleeding is satisfactory and occasionally blurt out a gruff one-liner.
Brothers to the End
Gears of War 3 prides itself, among other things, on having “the biggest-ever Gears campaign”, and it’s certainly right about that. With new characters, new locations, and a new enemy, this is far from just a repeat of the last two games.
Whilst playing the game, it’s easy to imagine it as a movie — for the most part, it runs as one single chain of events spread over a few days. Each Act leads directly on from the previous one, and with subtitles to tell you when and where you are, it creates a feeling of connection to the events beyond simply controlling Marcus as he goes about his day. When you first start to play the campaign, it’s all too easy to get caught up and lose track of what chapter you’re on, or how long you’ve been playing — the whole experience runs seamlessly together to create something not unlike a film.
It’s also nice to see Delta back together, two years after the events of the last game. The game seems a lot more character-driven than any other game that has been released lately, and I can only attribute this to the fact that the journey we’ve come on with Delta Squad has been such a long and testing one. We know Marcus and Dom better than we probably know our own mothers, and the same can be said for Cole and Baird. Even the new characters, Jace and Sam, have something familiar about them — they’re not so stereotypical that they’re predictable, but they’re easy to get to know. And of course, now that we can see Anya in the flesh for the first time, she feels even more important than she has in the previous games.
But there’s still a lot to learn about the characters — for most of them, this story is an emotional journey. Whereas in the previous games we’ve only had to listen to Marcus occasionally dodge questions about his father, or Dom have a little whine about his beloved Maria, the final effort brings the past of Cole into play, and even shows a human and delicate side to Baird. Apart from the fact that you play the majority of the game as Marcus, it would be hard to say that there was a true protagonist in this tale. Everybody has their moment in the sun, and all of them are welcome. The writing behind the game superbly delivers a mixture of important revelations and emotional torment, both for player and characters. Story-wise, it’s the perfect finale to the much-acclaimed series.
Command, This Is Delta
Everything has been rethought for Gears of War 3, but don’t let that throw you. The basics are obviously intact; same controls, same basic goals, but the whole experience seems a lot neater, and definitely more tailored towards co-op gameplay, like it should be with a squad as big and bad as Delta.
Multiplayer has always been a great part of the Gears games, especially with the recent addition of Horde mode. Epic have done nothing but build upon it in the third game.
Similar to other major multiplayer titles, Gears of War 3 has introduced a reward system for its players beyond the simple leveling in the previous game. Whilst you can still level up your online persona and earn achievements for hitting certain targets, there are now even more reasons to shoot for the stars: ribbons.
As you play through the game’s multiplayer modes, whether it be Versus, Horde or Beast mode, you will constantly earn experience points that will cause your level to rise, but you will also be earning ribbons alongside them. Ribbons are pretty much what you’d expect them to be — if you do something particularly awesome whilst playing the game, you’ll be awarded a ribbon for it. You can then show and compare your own ribbons to those of your friends or enemies online. It’s something that has been done countless times before across gaming, but it’s nice to see it a part of Gears, and it’s another incentive to get out there and play online.
Encouragement to play the game with friends starts from the moment you turn on your console. Not only can you engage the Locust and Lambent with up to three friends online or a buddy in offline splitscreen, but there’s a new way to play through the campaign: Arcade mode.
Arcade mode lets you play through the campaign as you normally would, but adds a more arcade feel to the experience … obviously. By killing Locust and Lambent, you can earn ribbons like you would in Horde or Versus modes. You also get points from your kills, again similar to the multiplayer modes. It’s a nice touch that certainly adds mountains of replayability to the campaign, and a lot of competition between you and your teammates; a scoreboard pops up to tally everybody’s total scores and you can then spend the rest of the game bickering over who is really better, until the end of the next chapter, when another scoreboard appears. The competition extends beyond Arcade mode, however, as Gears 3 lets you level up simply by playing the campaign. You’re rewarded XP (but not ribbons or points) for completing missions, similarly to Arcade mode.
The whole experience seems very integrated, meaning that everything you do somehow effects your appearance to the rest of the community. You can level up by playing the campaign offline, by playing Horde alone, or by engaging real people in Versus. It’s not just about playing online multiplayer anymore, but that’s obviously a bonus. The whole game links nicely together, and emphasis is put on every single aspect — the campaign, Versus and Horde modes all share the same amount of importance, which is a nice change of pace in gaming.
Only the Enemies Are Uglier
Most unlike Marcus Fenix himself, Gears of War 3 is absolutely beautiful to look at. From the very opening, you know that you’re experiencing something different to the past installments. Every single environment you encounter is just as epic as the story surrounding it; ranging from a giant tanker in the middle of the sea, to a barren desert filled with trenches, to a creepy ghost town, every single location has a story, and unlike what was sometimes found in the first two games, the locations aren’t repetitive, dark or dank enough to become mundane. Every effort has been made to create settings that are interesting and full of character, no matter what angle you look at them from.
The graphical side of the game is one of the many things that will keep players engaged — in a game, it can sometimes grow boring if the setting doesn’t change for a long time, and this is something that Gears has handled well this time around — although sometimes the locations don’t change between chapters, they’re always very different from one another. Remember the majority of Gears of War 2? Probably not, because it may have all blurred into one for you. A lot of the locations in the game were similar to one another, whether you were in the Hollows or the sunken cities. Epic have learned from their mistakes this time, and have made locations that are as diverse as they are exciting and engaging.
The story is also interspersed with cutscenes, some longer than others, but they come often, and they all look amazing. In most games, you can really tell the difference between what is gameplay and what is cutscene, but that’s not the case for Gears of War 3. Although that may sound bad, it’s actually a massive compliment. Even the gameplay is so beautiful and smooth that it sometimes feels like you’re simply watching a cutscene (whilst your fingers are frantically smashing the controller’s buttons).
The Final Verdict
Gears of War 3 has certainly set the bar very high for this year’s remaining releases, and it has also acted as the perfect end to a brilliant series of games. By taking everything that made the past two work and building upon them, Epic Games have created something with longevity, depth, and entertainment value. Its equally weighted game modes all bring something exciting to the table, and all these cogs mesh fantastically together with the use of XP and ribbons. Without a doubt, Gears of War 3 is a force to be reckoned with on every front.