Review: Gears of War 3
October 25, 2011, Author: Stephen King
It was cold and wet, dark and dreary, but I knew what I had to do. My team and I threw caution to the wind and set course into the dark, unforgiving night with our eyes on the prize. I am, of course, referring to the midnight launch of Gears of War 3. I am not normally someone who feels the need to have a game the instant that it comes out, but previous experience with the other games in the series made this an obvious choice. So after around an hour of waiting (small talk with other fans included), I finally received my copy of the game.
You may be thinking that it is pointless to pick up a game at midnight if you are going to have to head to bed afterwards because of work the next day. I solved this problem by booking the day off work for the sole purpose of playing. I do come across as rather obsessive, but I assure you that it was totally worth it.
Marcus, Dom and the crew are all back for the final part in the Gears of War trilogy. After what seems like an age, it is finally time to end the fight against the Locust. Those of you who haven’t played any of the other games may not feel it the same as those who have, but this truly does feel like the end of an era.
Our story begins here…
For those of you who don’t know the series, Gears of War is a third person shooter, that isn’t only the best in class on a regular basis, but practically created the whole damn class in the first place. The inhabitants of the planet Sera have been plagued by a race of creatures known as the Locust, who have caused the downfall of mankind.
We pick up the story a few years after the end of the second game; after the sinking of the last city, humanity has taken to the oceans in enormous ships. I won’t talk too extensively about the story as I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, but let’s just say that it’s nothing short of incredible.
Just another Cog in the machine
The single-player campaign is broken down into a number of acts and chapters as usual, but this time you have more people in your team; instead of one team member, you get three. This factor alone makes fire-fights feel even more Epic (pardon the pun) than they ever have before. One thing I have always felt that’s done well in the series is the set pieces, which are always full of tension and excitement. The latest instalment is no different. Even if you don’t know about the characters, or haven’t read into the elaborate fiction, you will find yourself enthralled with every chapter.
The actual gameplay is probably closer to the speed and pacing of the original rather than the second game; the character and camera movement feel a little quicker than they did before. This is a welcome change, as I have often felt that the changes made were a little too much and that the characters could use a little more pace.
For the most part it seems like the single-player campaign is barely of any focus, due to the real emphasis on multiplayer in the game. Despite the fact that the game can be played through single-player, you are still teamed with a group of AI as substitutes for your buddies; it is rather obvious that this game is intended to be played and experienced with others. I played it all the way through on my own, however, and I didn’t feel that my experience was diminished in the slightest.
Gears of War is still, without a doubt, the best third-person shooter experience you can get. On top of the standard campaign, you can also play through the story in the new ‘Arcade’ mode. It’s the exact same campaign, but this time you can play through it scoring points and earning experience points for your character, which carry over into the multiplayer.
You look even more beautiful than you did at the start of the war
In just under a couple of months, the Xbox 360 will be six years old. What’s most impressive about this is not that the system has lasted so well; it’s that developers keep producing games that look better and better. With that said, Gears of War 3 looks absolutely stunning! Considering the hardware it is running on is most definitely older than six years, the amount of detail is quite breathtaking.
Complaints were always made in the previous Gears games about the colour palette being very brown and lacking in bright colours. This has been fully addressed now, by varying the level design and creating the need for a more varied palette.
I love the sound of curb stomps in the morning
If you’re like me, then you love Marcus’ voice; shallow, gravelly, and full of anger and remorse. People say that games will never be art to the extent of film, but with the quality of the performances given here, I would say that things could change soon. A new bar has been set in storytelling, accented by great acting. There are scenes in the game where you will be hit hard emotionally, and although the story does take you part of the way to giving in to that feeling, it is the wonderful voice acting that makes it easy.
Of course, no great performance would be complete without an accompanying soundtrack. The score for Gears of War has always been excellent, but something about this music in particular is special. It gives you that feeling. You know that one, right? That feeling you get just at the back of your neck, as the hairs start to stand on end, as the adrenaline hits you? Imagine all of that while having someone give you a hard punch in the stomach.
The peaks and valleys that the music takes you through are nothing short of exquisite. Every second of the action is made better by it, and Epic has Steve Jablonski (one of Hans Zimmer’s pupils) to thank for that. He has produced a quality score that compliments the mood and feel of the story perfectly.
This is the where the game really gets its legs. If it wasn’t enough that there are multiple ways to play through the single-player story, there are a multitude of different game types for you to explore and enjoy in the multiplayer. As with Gears 2 there is a ranking system for your multiplayer character, but you can also unlock medals, ribbons, characters, weapons skins and game mutators. In fact, there is very little you can do in the game without getting experience, which keeps you coming back for more no matter what.
You might even want to take a crack at completing the campaign with your friends, and now you can do this with up to three other players. Compared to the previous titles where the co-operative play was just you and a single friend, this really opens things up and allows you to enjoy the experience in a new way. More isn’t always better; it just so happens that the way the game plays out is designed for four people, hence during the single-player campaign you always have three crew members with you.
If you aren’t satisfied with just playing through the same old story again, then you can always give Arcade mode a try in multiplayer. It becomes a seriously competitive situation between you and your friends, to see who can attain the highest score on each chapter. This is yet another way to enjoy the campaign, and we haven’t even talked about the actual multiplayer yet!
Making an appearance are the usual suspects of the competitive shooter market, Team Deathmatch and Capture The Flag, but there is more to it than just that; we see the return of Gears of War staples such as Warzone, Annex and Wingman too. You might be wondering what the difference is between Team Deathmatch and Warzone, and the answer is very simple. When you’re killed in Warzone you are out until the next round, but in Team Deathmatch each team has a stock of lives, letting you continue to respawn until your team is out of lives.
Those of you who are familiar with Horde mode will know how it works; 50 waves of enemies on a level of your choosing. As the waves progress, the enemies become stronger. As if Horde mode wasn’t great enough to begin with though, it has now been turned into some sort of crazy mash-up. Not only does it involve wave after wave of shooting enemies and finding a place to take cover; now you can fortify, essentially giving you all the amazing action of a third-person shooter and combining it with the tactics of a tower defense game. Now you can build barriers, sentry guns, decoys, turrets and even the incredible Silverback (a mech that fires missiles).
As if that wasn’t enough, they have even made changes to the waves, this time making every tenth wave a ‘boss wave’. That’s right; you get to fight Brumaks and Reavers and Berserkers and Gunkers (oh my!). This is the game mode I have put the most time into. Not only are you gaining experience for your character and unlocking all of the cool extras, you are progressing and upgrading your purchases.
Another new addition to the Gears of War multiplayer extravaganza is Beast mode. Imagine Horde mode but in reverse; if you can do that, then you have the concept of this game mode down. For some reason, rather than the 50 rounds that Horde mode offers, there are only 12 in Beast mode. Instead of paying for upgrades and weapons, you are paying for Locust. The more kills you make against your human foes, the more powerful the Locust that you can purchase are. For example, you may start off with the lowly wretch, but you could end up tearing up some COG soldiers with an armoured Kanthus, or even a Berserker.
Each Locust has its own special uses, but when it comes down to it, you really just want the one that will turn your opponents to dust with the least effort. Despite the fact that there are fewer levels in this mode, it has no less of a replay factor than any of the other game modes. It’s fun to see how the other half live!
Brothers to the end
Just as a note, this section of the review will not be taken into account for my final verdict on the game; I just think that this information is worth knowing about. Following what seems to be the trend these days, Epic have decided to release a season pass for all of the Gears 3 content. Despite its cost of 2100 Microsoft Points being a little on the expensive side, you really have to look at the bigger picture. There are to be four major releases for the game over the next year, and purchasing the season pass will save you around 33% on the cost of all the downloadable content. For those of you who are going to buy all of the DLC anyway, this is actually a really great deal.
After seeing what is actually in store for the first instalment, the season pass is already looking like it is going to be well worth the money. This is not to say that you need this DLC for the game to be worthwhile; you will get many hours out of the disc-based content too.
Back to business. Epic have come back nearly three years after the release of Gears 2, bringing with them a masterpiece of third-person shooting. I am well aware that by now this review is beginning to sound a little bit like a love letter to Epic, and this I completely understand. However, this game will manage to win over non-fanboys too. Gears of War 3 is the ultimate package: a marriage of a genuinely touching campaign, a million (slight exaggeration) different game modes, and more multiplayer than your body has room for.