Taking form inside of a dream, Marcus Fenix knows something isn’t right. He’s being led through a jail cell block, told that his deceased father needs his help. Exiting this lock and key facility, he’s immediately brought back into a dreamlike retelling of a familiar battle: the one which not only got him into jail in the first place, but also caused him to lose his father.
It was that terrible day where his disobedience of direct orders became reason for a lengthy stay in a secluded COG jail cell. This is what kicks off Gears of War 3, the final installment in the popular trilogy from Epic Games. A return to the beginning is just the start of a storyline which ties up loose ends with intriguing information, strange discoveries and more heartfelt moments than either of its two predecessors had.
What’s discovered as the story picks up at the beginning of the game, is that the dream may have been a surreal type of foreshadowing. A disgraced hero, betrayer and coward has decided to make a return to the COG barge which he left in disgrace years before. It’s a face which veteran Gears fans will remember, despise and want to virtually punch.
Though his presence is certainly unwelcome, the news which he carries is much the opposite. You see; he carries with him a data card, containing video footage of Marcus’ assumed deceased father, alive and well in an unknown laboratory. This raises more questions than answers, but is reason enough for the group to pick up their chainsaw-equipped rifles and accompanying arsenals, in order to mount a potential rescue attempt. Though, it’s not like they have a lot of choice in moving on considering there’s a large resurgence of violent lambent activity in the area.
For several years now, gamers have put millions of hours into the journeys of Marcus, Dom and the rest of the COG elite. To say that the Gears of War series is a popular one would be a gross understatement, as it’s perennially one of the XBOX 360’s best performers both online and off. It’s this success, popularity and general interest which makes this release such a huge deal.
Though, it’s safe to assume that it also added a great amount of pressure onto the shoulders of the development team, as they set to work with the goal of creating the perfect finale to this beloved trilogy. This hard work and dedication is obvious in the final product, which is not only a fitting finale, but the most polished and content-filled outing the franchise has seen. This is a true Game of the Year contender which is well-worth your hard earned dollars. Let’s get into brass tax and discuss the reasons why.
After playing through its entire twelve hour long campaign over the last few days, I find it easy to say that it’s not only the best of the series, but its most creative and varied entry as well. What starts off with a bang never lets up throughout its entire action-packed run. There’s always questions to be answered, rampaging enemies to shoot or slice and the greater good to worry about saving. Marcus’ journey throughout Sera to try to find out if his father is still alive brings with it moral questions, returning faces and sorrow. No expense was spared in creating an emotionally tense story, filled with varied locations, excellent action and some explosive set pieces. Making things even better is the inclusion of four-player co-operative action, which brings extra guns and added teamwork to the spectacular party that Gears of War 3 is.
Switching between the shoes of Marcus and his personality-filled ally, Cole Train, players get to experience two different sides of certain plot points. It’s a nice change which is much appreciated, as our secondary hero’s endeavours add some extra content, character and exuberance to the whole shebang. His return to old stomping grounds such as the rundown thrashball stadium where he spent many hours amazing fans creates a great amount of character development which was lacking in previous Gears outings.
This isn’t the only homecoming or good example of quality character development to be found, though it’s the only one which can be mentioned without spoiling any major plot points. That would be a crime, considering how much of an advancement Gears of War 3 is in terms of storytelling, inherent emotional investment and character development.
The overall journey feels much longer than either of its predecessors, with some acts taking quite a while to get through. This is a welcomed fact for many of the series’ fans, who will find that the campaign alone is worth the investment. Adding in four-player co-operative gameplay, some interesting new weaponry and badass new foes, it brings new tricks to the table.
Throughout my years spent playing a bevy of different shooters, action games and the like, I’ve rarely played such a well-crafted yet manly story mode. If you thought the last one was a bit on the weaker side, then let this explosion fest rekindle your love with the COG. Remember your rage against the locust horde and their lambent transformations and get reacquainted with your trusty lancer.
As with any interactive product, there are some glitches to be found. Though, I’m happy to say that there’s nothing major, cumbersome or game breaking to report. Only minor issues found their way into my first play through, with a few moments of frame rate slowdown, A.I. problems and a couple of visual glitches being the worst of it all. For the most part, a patch will fix any of the aforementioned issues, though it’s not a huge deal.
However, if there’s one problem which I found to be problematic, it would be my allies’ artificial intelligence. There were a few times where my virtual avatar died when he shouldn’t have, because his pals didn’t bother to rush over to initiate a revival. It was evident that only one of the three accompanying characters was programmed to aid each time, with the others rarely rushing over to help if that friend became entangled in a chainsaw duel or something like that.
Anyone who is even remotely familiar with this series knows that the campaign is just one of many facets of the overall experience. With Gears of War 3, that couldn’t be more true. There’s so much more to the game that players will be spending time in its universe for the foreseeable future, finding themselves saying “Just one more game,” quite often. In fact, the multiplayer experience rivals the campaign option, featuring just as much polish, innovation and excitement.
All of the popular competitive modes return with an improved matchmaking system making things a lot easier. One thing which kept me from putting a lot of time into Gears of War 2‘s online options was its broken matchmaking system, which elongated wait times to unbearable lengths. Luckily, that was changed in favour of a quality mechanic, which is able to create bot matches in certain modes.
There’s a great assortment of maps, including returning favourites under new lighting. My favourite is certainly the thrashball arena, where a gigantic jumbotron continually shifts under deteriorating ties, falling on top of unsuspecting characters when it eventually is let go of. Although this is a standout, it’s not leaps and bounds better than the other offerings, which are all polished and fun to shoot up. It’s evident that a lot of thought went into not only their creation but also the employed camera angles.
Upon dying, virtual combatants can look at their allies or foes using a varied amount of different static and free moving cameras. What I liked the most was being able to jump out of the action in order to look at table-top maps of each setting. These maps (resembling basic blueprint drawings from real-life) show dots representing certain actions and teammates, as well as the entire location and all of its hiding spots.
I had a difficult time pulling myself away from the competitive offerings, which is certainly a good sign, considering I’ve never been a huge multiplayer gamer. The single player campaign is the most important mode in any game – at least, in my opinion. Due to the great amount of polish, balancing and entertainment found within Gears of War 3‘s versus multiplayer game modes, I feel that I will be spending a lot of time interacting with this disc.
The great thing is that player customization is welcomed, though everything is finely tuned in order to prevent higher levelled players from having an advantage over newcomers. Plus, there are a lot of unlockable character skins, which can add incentive to hardcore fans who are interested in unlocking that exclusive high level character just to show off their skills.
Last time around, Epic‘s biggest addition was horde mode, which has been copied by many games since. It pits players against fifty waves of increasingly difficult foes, with the goal being to work as a team of four in order to survive. This was one of my favourite aspects of Gears of War 2, which is a reason as to why I’m happy to see it return with substantial changes and upgrades. Instead of just having to fight through different types of enemies per each wave, boss battle modes have been designed to pop up at certain intervals.
It’s a difficult yet fun new addition, though not the only one. There’s also a new monetary system, which grants players funds based on performance. This money can be used to purchase new weapons and ammunition, but the nice thing is that it’s also been expanded to allow for the purchase of traps and control points. Now, you can erect turrets and barbed wire barricades to try to damage and slow down the oncoming horde.
You must be thinking that this list of new features is going to end soon, but there’s more. One other mode makes it onto the highlight press release sheet for Gears of War 3, and that is beast mode. Turning the principles of horde on its head, this gameplay option reverses the roles, letting players assume the role of the evildoers.
Choose your favourite enemy class (each with their own pros and cons,) and try to take out the humans. I like this new idea because it changes things up a lot, requiring thought and precision in order to get through the artificially controlled humans’ traps and defensive devices. Its 12 waves are challenging though fun, especially since the creatively designed enemies have been screaming to become playable for years now.
When Gears of War debuted several years ago, it was known as a visual spectacle. With its third outing, this principle remains intact, as Gears of War 3 is more than impressive when it comes to its looks. Sera and its varied locales all look great, with a lot of polish, detail and colourful effects. Some nice filter work was employed to make each area’s lighting feel a bit different, adding personality and character. These digital battlefields feel unique, interesting and new, as the series ventures into much more exterior locations.
Its character models look great in the sun and under realistic lighting, with their big necks and hulking bodies. The few new female models make a seamless transition into the experience, making it easy to forget that they weren’t apart of the action before. Everything about the visuals is top notch, without many detractions to make note of.
Being that Gears of War 3 is a much more emotionally charged experience than its predecessors, quality voice acting was required. There are almost as many comical jokes and one-liners as there are potent dramatic lines of dialogue. To their credit, the game’s voice cast pulls it off very well.
Veteran series voice actors and newcomers alike, portray their sullen and angry characters with a human-like range of emotions, making their plight and reasoning easy to identify with. This is all complemented by a sweeping score and explosive sound effects, which will give your speakers bang for their buck. Just make sure to turn up the dialogue volume in the options menu, because some of the characters’ lines are harder to hear than others.
Gears of War 3 is touted as being one of the year’s most anticipated titles and it lives up to that dressing in a big way. It’s the series’ most impressive outing, not only delivering a great and polished campaign but a myriad of excellent multiplayer offerings as well. It’s inviting to newcomers while having a lot of complexities for longtime fans of the franchise, even offering a recap of past events to get people caught up.
If you’re looking for a game which will be hard to put down for a long time to come, this is certainly a top-tier candidate. Epic Games‘ latest offering is a tour de force, which is incredibly easy to recommend to anyone who values well-crafted interactive entertainment. There will be no buyer’s remorse with this game, which is certainly nice.
This review is based on a copy which we received for review purposes.
Gears of War 3 is an absolute tour de force, representing Epic's best manly venture into COG activity.