Gears of War 3 Review
The franchise that revolutionized third person action on Xbox 360 is back with a satisfying conclusion
Sometimes it seems like developers are not interested in conclusions, rather they like franchises to go on for as long as they can. As such, the chance of the formula becoming stale increases with each installment. I hope that Gears of War isn't one of those franchises, as Gears of War 3 is a well done conclusion to a good series overall. I don't think any further titles in the Gears of War franchise will be able to keep up the quality for much longer. This title in particular boasts some slick visuals and fun, blood drenched action. It does have its minor hiccups, but mostly with story and dialogue rather than with the actual game play.
The last city of man has fallen, and Sera has gone to hell. Entire areas of the world which were once nexuses of business and human activity are now no-man lands, where gunfire and the screams of the dying and spinning blades echo throughout the desolate streets. The game does a good job setting up the atmosphere, as it should, since it hasn't changed much since the first game. Now, the Gears are fighting a war on three fronts it seems. They have to deal with the series’ staple antagonists, The Locust, as well as a living parasite called the Lambent. Also, there are several pockets of humanity called The Stranded that have fortified their formerly working cities in makeshift strongholds. The occupants of these ruined cities don't take too kindly to the Gears, claiming that trouble and death follows them wherever they go. No real gunfire is exchanged between The Gears and The Stranded though, however Marcus and his gang are usually refused trade and encouraged to mosey along.
Early on in the game Marcus finds out through an encrypted video message that his father, Adam, is still alive and is being held captive by The Locust and their oddly human looking queen, Myrrah. Adam also mentions that he has a way to rid the world of the Lambent, thus setting up the main story arc of the game. The plot is advanced through cut scenes that happen before and after each of the acts and chapters. The scenes themselves are filled with campy dialogue and over the top action, the stuff of great action films. You won't find any deep or philosophical musings here. Then again, the series isn't really the go to franchise for smart dialogue or groundbreaking narratives. The story as a whole is very predictable. When something can go wrong, it will. If the game becomes quiet for more than five minutes, expect a wave of Locust or Lambent. While this isn't the way to really establish character development, it does create a sense of claustrophobia. The violence constantly closes in on the COG team, barely giving them room to breathe.
There is one scene that takes place, early on, when you're playing as Cole that easily became my favorite: Cole visits the stadium at his old home town. He finds his helmet and begins to have a flashback to his glory days. The past and present collide, finding Cole in his Thrash-Ball gear, tackling Lambent while holding a bomb as if it was a football. It showed me that the game was very capable of unique sequences; I just would have liked more of them.
As the storytelling style hasn't changed much, neither has the game play. Gears of War 3 doesn't bring any significant changes to the series’ successful formula, which I found to be a mostly good thing. The cover based shooting is here and intact from the previous titles, but I feel that the controls performed better this time around. In the previous incarnations, I remember always getting stuck to cover like Velcro whenever I ran. This time I was able to dodge, roll and choose when I take cover more efficiently. If you get tired of walking with your own legs like a sucker, some levels have access to a Silverback, which is a Mech Suit with unlimited machine gun ammo and rockets. This is a lot of fun, especially during the more populated enemy territories, and the only down side to riding in the Silverback is how slowly it takes for it to get to point A to Point B.
Aside from the usual stop and pop, the game offers two short vehicle sections: and both work like rail shooters and are entertaining enough. Their presence broke up monotony of Locust and Lambent killing, even if only for a short time. The game also contains a healthy variety of enemies to deal with.
The Locust have a few different warriors and beasts within their ranks. They range from the basic foot soldiers that are equipped with weapons similar to the COG's, to massive Locust wielding rocket launchers, heavy machine guns or giant cleavers. Some are even fully armored and can only be destroyed by explosives. The Lambent’s ranks consist mostly of infected Locust, i.e. Locust with a pale green pallet swap. Other Lambent seemed to be inspired by the creatures of Resident Evil; they are giant, malformed oozing creatures that mutate into another form before exploding. Finally, there are the Formers, which are humans who've been infected by the Lambent. I like to think of them as the GoW version of zombies. They run at the COGs in usually massive groups, and don't wield any weapons. The Formers are not strong defensively but if enough of them close in on the group, they are perfectly capable of giving players a hard time. I think their presence turned up the already frantic action up a notch. Ducking behind cover and peeking out to shoot is a good way to fight the unending waves of Locust and Lambent, but defeating the Formers requires a little more maneuvering.
There are also plenty of weapons to keep players busy and all of the series staples are here, along with some new ones. The One Shot is something I found very useful (mostly because it's rather overpowered). As the name implies, the weapon is strong enough to kill almost anything in one shot, and it is used like a sniper rifle and takes some time to charge up. The Vulcan is a machine gun that takes two people to operate if you want to move around with it. One person needs to hold the massive weapon itself while the other carries around the case of ammo. Players will be able to find a weapon or a combination of weapons that will suit them perfectly. Personally, I never strayed far from the Lancer/shotgun combo I've been using throughout the series and that seemed to work just fine.
The campaign itself is a long string of shooting sequences. You go from area to area, cleaning out large groups of enemies, and essentially this is all you have to do, which is still a lot of fun. The variety of weapons and enemies will keep things pretty fresh throughout. Each weapon has its own execution move, so there's a lot of interesting ways to dispose of the Locust. There are a couple of places were the path branches and your team has to split up for a short time, but overall the game is linear. It's funny that a couple of the mission objectives charge you with finding certain items, but since the game is so linear there is no exploration involved at all. The campaign is fun and will keep you entertained for its entire eight or nine hour length. It also has a very satisfying conclusion that makes it worth it. There are also a good amount of checkpoints throughout, so dying won't have you going back very far. The length is dependent on the difficulty you choose and whether you want to find all of the collectables or not. Once you're done with SP, there's once again plenty of action to be had online.
GoW 3 has a number of different multiplayer options to choose from. There's King of the Hill, where players have to defend a certain area of the map. Capture the Leader has players finding and capturing a randomly assigned leader. There is also the obligatory Team Deathmatch which, as its name implies, pits two teams of five players against each other in a battle to the death. Each player gets 15 respawns in this mode. War Zone and Execution are the same concept, only without any respawns. The latter challenges players to finish off their opponents using only execution moves. Wingman is the final competitive multiplayer mode and pits five teams of two against each other for the highest team frag count.
Cooperative play involves Horde and Beast modes. Horde mode has been carried over from the second game with some additions. Players must survive wave after wave of Locust, each one harder than the last. A boss enemy appears in every tenth round. Every kill nets the player an amount of cash which is used to build up their base and buy improved weapons. Beast mode is exactly the opposite, where players take the role of the Locust and have to fight against humans, while trying to destroy their established base. All the modes are a lot of fun and add to the game's replay value, though Beast mode feels short with only 12 waves possible. Things run smoother this time around since the modes run on dedicated servers. I predict that there will be a lot people playing this for a very long time, since it seems to have a very solid fanbase.
Gears of War 3 is a good conclusion to the franchise. The gameplay formula still works, and there's plenty of new things that will keep fans of the previous games interested and it also may help turn new players on to the series. Story wise, there's nothing new or groundbreaking, just mindless, action packed entertainment. Going from area to area, cleaning up in an effort to reach the next checkpoint is what you're going to be doing for the entire campaign. Nothing really gets in the way of the non stop action. Essentially, this is what Gears of War is all about and why it is fun. I don't expect deep, thoughtful dialog from a game like this. The controls are smooth and easy to pick up and the premise is straight forward and simple. This title has all of the elements of a good game intact, even though is it repetitive. I recommend this title to anyone who is interested in action games and love seeing the heroes constantly on the brink of defeat. The multiplayer modes ensure that you'll be coming back in order to unlock new achievements and reach new levels.