Game Reviews

Review: Gears of War 3 (360)

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.

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