Game: Gears of War 3
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Available on: Xbox 360 Only
Carrying the teasing motto “Brothers to the End” and promising to be the finale to the Gears of War trilogy, it really doesn’t come much bigger than Gears of War 3. Continuing the story of Marcus Fenix and Co. is something we’ve all been aching to do since the closing seconds of Gears of War 2, and multiplayer fans will have been hugely encouraged by the beta testing for this closing title, but has the wait been worth it?
This review is completely spoiler-free.
STORY: Starting eighteen months after Gears of War 2 finished, the COG army is in disarray, the lambent locust are everywhere, and the entire planet of Sera is a battlefield. Four player co-op means that there are plenty of new COG soldiers involved this time around as well as old favourites, with Anya stepping onto the battlefield for the first time in the series.
As promised, you’ll find no plot spoilers here, but the important thing to note about the story is that this time around it has been handled with kid gloves, and the gravitas the closing part of a trilogy deserves. The emotional moments are touching, not ham-fisted, and once you start playing you’ll find it next to impossible to stop, you’ll want to know how Gears of War 3 plays out. Just know this, there are plenty of shocks and suprises up Gears of War 3′s sleeves.
GRAPHICS: You might think that being the third instalment of a series means you’ll know what to expect in terms of visuals, and at times, you may be right. However, Epic have stretched the Xbox 360 to absolute breaking point at times with some locations that will leave your jaw agape at their beauty. It is well worth playing the Campaign several times just to catch all the things you missed the first time around.
No expense has been spared, and with the battle being fought between three factions (Locust, Lambent, COG) the volume of explosions has been ratcheted up about ten notches, making for an altogether incredible visual feast. All of this comes at no cost, and even in split-screen the frame rate and visuals do not suffer.
SOUND: Yet another exemplary showing on the sonic front, with some magnificent composition accompanying the insanity that is the Sera battlefield. Emotional when it calls for it, tense when needed and bombastic all at once, the Gears of War 3 soundtrack is one that audiophiles will be wanting to purchase to listen to seperately.
The voice work is as always excellent, and more emotion than ever appears to have been put into the discussion between characters, with the absolute desperation in every word felt in a devastating manner. Humour is used sparingly but very well, and the guest spots don’t feel out of place at all. Gears of War 3 has been treated with the respect it deserves, and the audio is fantastic.
GAMEPLAY: The cover based third-person shooter people know and love returns, and people who were lucky enough to experience the multiplayer beta will already feel they’ve seen plenty of what the game has to offer. These people would be very wrong. Gears of War 3 is a package that is bursting at the seams with content, so much so that it’s hard to know where to begin.
Campaign mode has all the usual features you’d expect to find in a high quality title, but this time around four player co-op is included; though if you do choose to play solo you won’t feel as though you are missing out. The branching choices are still there of course, but they all make sense to the narrative and it never feels as though you are missing anything by not having three other players. New this time around is Arcade Campaign, which adds a score based mini-game to the Campaign for co-op, so that although you’ll still essentially be playing the same story mode, you get to compete with your friends for high scores.
The new weapons revealed in the beta are all present along with the old favourites, but there are yet more toys to play with, some that even require help from a fellow COG soldier to operate! The AI also appears to have been improved upon, and CPU controlled COG soldiers are seriously helpful on the higher difficulties.
You can now “spot” enemies with a click of the left stick, and that causes allies to focus their fire onto the spotted enemy. This creates a new tactical edge to Gears of War that wasn’t really present before; perhaps you can get your team to focus on the larger enemy whilst you remove the drones and grunts, or vice versa. It’s a cracking addition that even adds to the multiplayer, allowing you to rack points up by assisting your team-mates kills.
The AI isn’t perfect though, and on more than one occasion all three of my allies ignored my pleading calls of “REVIVE ME!” and ran right past me, leaving me crawling after them, to my eventual death. On the whole though, to complain about this is extreme nitpicking, as it really doesn’t occur very often.
Gears of War 3 is full of set pieces that will blow you away time after time. Every time you think you’ve seen a moment that can’t be topped, another one will come around and amaze you. The tried and true “stop and pop” gameplay is tuned to perfection here, every shot on target feeling like a reward. Weapon balancing is also spot on, and although you’ll probably end up with a favourite combination (Lancer + Torque bow for campaign, Hammerburst + Sawn-Off in multiplayer for me) you’ll want to try every weapon several times, as they each have a unique feel to them.
Vehicle sections do return, but they aren’t over-used and never outstay their welcome. The focus really is on progression of story through incredible combat experiences. The general gameplay of Gears of War is second to none, and this is the definitive version of that gameplay, honed to perfection over time, with love and affection squeezed into every second. Yes, this game is damn fun to play.
MULTIPLAYER: Thanks to the extensive beta testing and dedicated servers, what we have here (though it is obviously worth mentioning that due to the pre-release nature of this review, the servers weren’t exactly over-stressed) is a fantastically balanced multiplayer game, with something for everyone. A quick note as well to beta participants, the maps you played are back but have been slightly altered, proving yet again that Epic have listened to the players and really tried to create the best experience possible.
The competitive multiplayer is wonderful fun, and the new spotting feature means that even if you aren’t the best player in the world, you will get something out of the experience. There are all the modes you’d expect, but all on those wonderful dedicated servers. To the Gears fans who have followed the multiplayer right from the beginning, you may remember what people used to call “Host advantage” or “Host shotgun”. Now, imagine playing the game again but with everyone having “host advantage”, or rather – parity. Cries of “LAG” or “LATENCY” begone, this is the way multiplayer should be done; dedicated servers.
The leveling and reward system is absolutely huge, encompassing Achievements, Ribbons and Awards that cover just about every possible outcome of every possible moment during a match. This carries throughout the entire game across all modes. Indeed, if you play the Campaign first on “Hardcore” you’ll probably end up level 10 before you even start the multiplayer. What this means is that matchmaking is not so much skill based, as it is experience based. A level 1 player will be level 1 because they’ve not touched the game yet, a level 50 player may have played multiplayer exclusively, or may just have played the hell out of Horde or Beast mode; whether this is a good thing or not, only time will tell.
Horde has been almost completely revamped for Gears of War 3. Sure, you’ll recognise the base mechanics, but the amount that has been added for this additional mode puts other titles to shame. So large has the facelift been, that if this were the only multiplayer available, it’d be hard to complain.
You still face off against the Locust hordes, but this time you start with a base level of money to spend on defenses, ammo, upgrades, outposts, or you can even just trade money with your allies. Once you’ve built an outpost you can lay defenses, from Caltrops to Decoys (cheap and easy on the Locust) all the way up to Turrets and Silverbacks (expensive but devastating). After each round you’ll have a period of calm where you can buy or repair these defenses (and yes, there are ribbons for doing lots of this too) or just run around picking up ammo or alternative weapons, which also cost money.
The teamwork that this creates was something missing in the original Horde. If you want to upgrade your Caltrops to the next level, but don’t have the money, you can get a teammate to come over and hold Left Trigger and hit the corresponding button to give you 500 dollars at a time.
Every few rounds you’ll be presented with a bonus objective (10 headshots, 10 kills in 30 seconds, that kind of thing) that give you bonus cash, and that in itself would be enough of an overhaul to get excited but no, Epic weren’t finished there. On top of all this, every tenth wave is a boss fight wave. I can’t tell you the shock, surprise and panic that I felt when I saw not one, not two, but three Berserkers running around Gridlock, whilst the other Locust were also trying to kill me. Oh yes, and this was on “Normal” difficulty. Horde Mode 2.0 indeed.
Rounding off the package is the newest variant on Gears multiplayer, Beast mode. This mode sees you take the role of the Locust themselves, and tasks you with killing stranded, COG and Hero characters (that require executing to remove from the round completely). Beast mode is a great idea, also using the currency mechanic, and after you have done enough damage with the first tier (Tickers, Wraiths) you can unlock tier 2 (Maulers etc), then tier 3 (Boomers, Kantus), and finally tier 4 where you can cash in and use the Berserker (or other top tier Locust warriors) to destroy everyone and everything.
It’s a hugely entertaining and interesting twist on Horde mode, you are now on the other side of things, having to destroy the defences and murder humans. Unfortunately there are only twelve rounds to take part in, and by that twelfth round you’ll still be wanting more. With a bit of luck the previously announced season pass for the future DLC will address this. Regardless, it is a huge amount of fun, even if it does take you a few moments to get into the headspace of not shooting other Locust on site.
LONGEVITY: With the campaign mode being slightly longer than both previous games, a huge multiplayer component, Beast mode and a revamped Horde mode, it’s hard to find fault with Gears of War 3 when it comes to how long you’ll be playing it. There is truly something for everyone, and with the Arcade mode addition to the campaign, just playing through the story over and over with friends on higher difficults will yield plenty of joy that will last tens of hours. Even if you don’t like competitive multiplayer, you’ll get your money’s worth out of Gears of War 3, and if you love the multiplayer, the fun will simply never end.
VERDICT: By far the most complete Gears of War package to date, Gears of War 3 is an incredible achievement in every department. Extensive multiplayer beta testing and dedicated servers mean that it could become the online game of choice for a variety of players, and the new modes and overhauls to old favourites mean that this is about as good a game as you could wish for.
An astonishing title, Gears of War 3 is a fitting end to a series that changed the way third person shooters are made forever. The wait for the finale to this trilogy has been worth it and then some, Gears of War 3 is a monumental piece of game design that you’ll never forget. Game of the Year 2011? It just might be. Thank you for the ride Epic.