Gears of War is arguably the single game that defined this console generation, and is one of the reasons that many gamers jumped in to HD gaming. Since then, its 3rd-person cover mechanics have been copied and cloned so much as to become commonplace. Does Gears of War 3, 5 years later, still have enough cream in it to rise to the top of a milky sea of imitators?
The story picks up two years after Gears of War 2 and the sacrifice of humanity’s last stronghold – the sinking of Jacinto. That event had three rather serious consequences; The Coaliton of Ordered Governments, the Gears that did all they could to repel the Locust invasion after Emergence Day – Marcus Fenix and the familiar motley crew ofÂ soldiers, is now little more than a scattered resistance – eking out an austere existence on giant sea barges, with what’s left of humanity merely existing, clinging on to life in Seran outposts. The Locust, the principal enemy of the first two games are in a similar position, having been driven to the surface. Lastly the explosive Lambent, mutated by exposure to the glowing, yellow Imulsion – the fuelÂ that powers Sera, have grown considerably stronger and has proven to be humanity’s most serious threat.
There’s a pervasive sense of doom and gloom – but hope comes by way of a message from Marcus’ presumed-dead father of a powerful, final solution to the Lambent onslaught. While humanity’s future couldn’t seem darker and more gloomy, the same can’t be said of the games varied, beautiful and wonderfully detailed environments. Gone are the dank, dark caves and burnt-out, post apocalyptic urban settings of the previous games, eschewing the green and brown palettes for something with a little more colour. Though still heavy with the weight of apocalypse, you’ll find yourself in lush forests, on sun-lit tropical beaches, ships, stadiums and ashen, fire-bombed city and even a vibrant children’s playground – making it a far more diverse and interesting experience.
Though there’s a rich lore in the Gears of War universe, most of it is told through the books and not the games themselves, which have always felt a little short on the narrative. Gears of War 2 tried to improve on the story-telling – and for the most part succeeded, but still fell in to the typical trappings of the typical, cheesy blockbuster action film. That changes for this last entry in Delta Squad’s tale – It’s still not quite Shakespeare, but there are some genuinely emotive, more reflective and introspective human moments that explore loss and desperation for each of game’s main characters in amongst the bravado, cheesy one-liners and bromance fist-bumps. After losing so much, is there really anything left worth fighting for?
Who really plays Gears for the story though, right? Gamers know exactly what to expect from the Gears Of War franchise, and Gears Of War 3 brings it all, leaving the game’s core mechanics largely unchanged. Bloody, visceral cover-based combat, scenarios with conveniently placed chest-high walls, big hulking marines fighting even bigger, more hulking enemies , and the fantastic action-set pieces that’ve become a series hallmark. This time, those set-pieces are more impressive than they’ve ever been – with the new creature types allowing for expanded sorts of mayhem. When the Lambent arrive players are forced to find the balance between killing the deadly, tentacled and horribly explosive horrors, or capping their spawn points. The new enemies are much more difficult this time around, but it’s alleviated by the fact that friendly AIÂ can now revive you – so you won’t be seeing a â€œgame overâ€ screen too often.
You should, of course, be playing the campaign co-operatively – which you can now do with up to three friends, either online or through system link. Split-screen is still there as well, but only allows for two players. There are two ways to play through the 12 hour long campaign;Â the standard way you always have, or the new Halo-esque Arcade mode that scores each player for kills and assists, with increasing multipliers for bonus scoring. In arcade you can also enable mutators – very much like Halo’s skulls – that increase or decrease the difficulty and proportionally change the amount of XP earned, or just add an element of light-hearted silliness.
Of course, while the campaign’s primary reason for existing is to ably tell a story, it also serves as training for the game’s extensive multiplayer options. Everything you love from the previous games is there; standard 5-v-5 adversarial versus in the forms of Team Deathmatch, Execution and Warzone. Objective based modes like Capture the Leader and King of The Hill return as well – but the stars of the multiplayer offerings are Beast mode and the re-invigorated Horde 2.0. Horde, which we first saw in Gears of War 2, still pits you against wave after wave of increasingly brutal and difficult enemy, but addsÂ a greater need for tactics through its use of an in-game economy and tower-defense mechanics. Like Call of Duty’s Zombie mode, you can now build fortifications to help stave off the Locust and Lambent hordes – but these upgradeable fortifications come at a cost.
On the other side of the same coin we have Beast, a new mode that lets you be the bad guys. Your goal? Destroy the humans In wave and time-based challenges where you can earnÂ tokens to unlock more powerful creatures. It sounds like a simple inversion of Horde buts its more tactical than that – right up until you unlock the bigger creatures and can pretty much annihilate the human defenders. There are only 12 waves in Beast as opposed to Horde’s 50, so it’s much shorter lived – and it has to be said, less fun – but still worth playing through a few times.
There’s a persistent XP system, allowing you to level up and collect unlockables no matter what modes you play, whether online or off.
The game lacks much in the way of real innovation orÂ surprises, but more than makes up for it by being one of the most refined and polished games available – on any platform. It’s this care and attention to detail that elevates Gears of War 3 from merely being a mere iteration, by polishing it to a sheen. It’s something that punctuates almost every aspect of the game, from the campaign to the multiplayer, and even to the engine that Powers Gears of war 3, the Unreal Engine. This is best demonstrated by the visual eye-candy in the incredible lighting and particle effects that add to the game’s atmosphere. More impressive is that Epic seems to have finally nailed the texture pop-up problem that so many UE3-powered games are subject to, making Gears of War 3 the most impressive use of Unreal Engine 3 yet.
It may be more of an evolution than a revolution, but it’s one that takes the series’ tried-and-tested mechanics, tightens and refines them until they’re almost faultless. Gears of War has a reputation for being a big, dumb shooter – though it’s obvious its designers are anything but. There’s some very clever design required There’s no doubt this is the best Gears of War game, and one of the best exclusives available on the Xbox 360.
It’s the same 3rd person, cover-shooter Gears of War you know and love – and though it might be familiar, it’s incredibly polished.
Design and Presentation: 9/10
Gears of War finally gets a little colour in its environments, which thanks to the upgraded Unreal Engine and the extra polish afforded by the five month long delay give you a beautifully designed, comprehensive package.
A regular play-through will take 10-12 hours, but you’ll be playing the campaign through a few times with different sets of friends on different difficulties – but you’ll potentially spend hundreds of hours on the games extensive and equally polished multiplayer.
There’s really very little reason for anybody who owns a 360 not to own this game.
Last Updated: September 20, 2011