Gears Of War 3 Review
“Bigger Better And More Badass”. Cliff Bleszinski’s mission statement for Gears Of War 2 wasn’t far off the mark, as the second outing for Marcus and company certainly upped the brash violence, testosterone-fuelled fist bumping and swagger of the original.
Underneath the tough exterior laid traces of a compelling story; a tale of loss, revenge, defeat and moral ambiguity, but it was nudged aside by simple evisceration and a never-ending hail of hot lead.
Gears Of War 3 is the one of 2011’s many trilogy-closers, and with it, Epic Games stands with lofty expectations on its shoulders. Any final chapter worth its salt must wrap up the plot in ways that feel satisfying, which is just as important as exploring the personal trials and tribulations of the lead characters in their final, most pivotal hours. Thankfully, Gears Of War 3 does just that, but also does so much more.
The solo campaign delivers more of the noise and mayhem of the first two games, but brings it down to a human level by expertly showcasing the plight of the Seran populace.
From the opening moments you are given a greater insight into Marcus Fenix’s personal struggle than ever before, pulling back the curtain on the ‘why’ behind that now-infamous scowl.
Even the whooping and hollering of the once-stereotypical Cole is turned down a few notches in one particular scene, giving you a glimpse of his life before Emergence Day, in what must be one of the series’ most touching moments so far. But, of course, this wouldn’t be a Gears Of War game without conflict, and you find yourself waist-deep in it almost from the start.
Returning two years after the fall of Jacinto, the COG has been disbanded, and the remnants of Delta Squad are now living in fragile peace on a hulking sea freighter. As always, the calm doesn’t last long, as the Lambent storm the decks and rip the place apart.
Facing off against this new, aggressive foe results in a change of pace, because if you recall the closing moments of Gears Of War 2, when you shoot Lambents they explode and kill you all kinds of dead.
Thanks to this simple mechanic and the vastly improved enemy AI, you can no longer remain rooted behind the same piece of cover for the duration of each fight. If you see a Lambent running towards you, creating space is vital, or else you’re going to take serious damage when they explode.
The environments are much more detailed than before.
Together with an increased amount of flying enemies, vastly improved enemy AI and a new Locust weapon that burrows under cover and detonates, moving around becomes more important then ever before. Stay still for too long and you’re going to find yourself on the wrong end of a Locust Lancer blade.
Not only does this reliance on staying mobile increase the pace of each battle, but it also results in some of the most tense, and immersing exchanges in the series to date.
There are only so many ways Epic can tart up a room full of low cover to make battles interesting, but the developer has really let its imagination run riot, delivering a slew of skirmishes that are more inventive than the last.
So you’re not just running and gunning your way across many identikit battles throughout the entirety of the ten-hour campaign. Each encounter is memorable: including an insane firefight thousands of feet in the air onboard a Locust Gas Barge; a genuinely chilling encounter through a Hammer of Dawn-ravaged city and even a fast-paced underwater section that is unlike nothing the series has thrown at you so far.
Aiming down the sights with the Hammerburst is great for long range kills.
Even the COG and Locust arsenal has been improved and balanced to near-perfection, but although there are very few new additions, it’s the incremental tweaks that make the entire armoury feel fresh.
For example, the Locust Hammerburst rifle can now be used first-person, and rather than make the experience feel like a Call Of Duty clone, this particular feature makes taking out guards during stealth sections all the more precise.
Alternatively, the Retro Lancer is inaccurate, but incredibly more powerful than the Lancer. The bayonet on the end turns every roadie run into a joust, as any Locust caught mid-sprint becomes skewered in brutal fashion.
The Digger Launcher can be used to burrow under cover and blow up sheltering Locust, while the Cleaver can be used to slice through whole packs of enemies with one single, devastating swipe.
For every gunshot, there is a visible, aural reaction, underlining the severity of each conflict. It’s this very same atmosphere that has helped the Gears Of War series stand out among the pack of shooter also-rans, but it also lends weight to every single one of your actions. Similarly, the COG’s actions play a more significant, and again, personal role throughout the campaign.
Every time the action breaks, you’re given more exposition into the plight of Sera’s civilians, and you get a real sense of just how despised the Gears have become.
The boys (and girl) are back in town!
Along the way, you encounter pockets of Stranded; Emergence Day survivors who have descended into hoarding resources and holding out as long as possible. What’s more, they demonise the COG and everything it stands for.
So not only are Marcus, Dom and the others fighting the Locust, but they also struggle to contend with their own kind, making what starts out as a bleak experience, all the more bleaker.
But when each small victory is earned, you feel like you really have overcome impossible odds, and it’s this feedback that keeps you ploughing through the campaign, one hurdle at a time.
It’s not all depressing however, as Gears Of War 3 looks bloody gorgeous. The vistas have been expanded, making for some truly stunning sights, especially when the Gears infiltrate a Locust colony atop a desert mountain.
Looking down at the world below while engaging with multiple enemies, you really can appreciate the detail and care with which the environments have been crafted.
Cast your mind back to the first Gears Of War, and really try to recall just how murky and brown the locales were. All of that has been discarded here, with wider artistic scope and creative flair put to good use in creating compelling areas that tell a story, as well as providing a suitable backdrop for all the bloodshed. As an added bonus for tech-savvy gamers out there; the frame rate is as slick as they come, and never lets up for a second.
It’s not all visually-led either, as both the gameplay and script stack up nicely. From Baird’s incessant arrogance, to Dom’s depression following the death of his wife Maria, the Gears’ personalities are stronger than they’ve ever been, backed up with some cracking one-liners and genuinely laugh out loud moments that break the bleak tone for a moment.
Once the dust has settled and the credits begin to roll, you will come out the other end drained, full of adrenaline, but incredibly satisfied. Without giving anything away, Gears Of War 3 ends with no questions unanswered; tying up all of the loose ends and wrapping a neat little bow around the whole saga, something that all too many games fail to achieve. It’s a perfect finale to what has proven to be one of the most iconic shooters of our time.
But then you have the multiplayer element, and this is where the true Gears of War 3 experience begins. The hotly tipped Horde mode is the first multiplayer option on the main menu, and after playing a few rounds with your mates, it’s easy to see why.
One part classic Horde, one part tower defence, each round delivers a frantic juggling act between slaying Locust, staying alive against increasingly mounting odds, and fortifying your position with upgrades.
For every kill earned you gain currency, and this can be spent on a Command Post, which then lets you purchase spike strips, place decoys, construct auto-turrets and more.
Money management is vital however, as there’s nothing worse than laying down tons of cash on defensive items, only to discover you’re completely out of ammo and can’t afford to buy a new gun. Bad times.
This simple, yet utterly ingenious mechanic aside, it’s business as usual with Horde, throwing up to 50 waves of mental action at you and up to four of your mates. Every tenth wave now throws boss enemies into the mix, including everyone’s favourite bullet-sponge, Brumaks.
It’s likely they’ll kill you and your mates easily, but if you’re smart enough to have a spare $1,500 of credits left, you can buy yourself back into the game.
Horde mode is still as addictive as ever, but really requires teamwork to survive.
As before, coordination is key, demanding smart tactics, watching your teammate’s back and reviving incapacitated allies. Epic has delivered a new mode that has turned all of this on its head however.
Beast Mode turns the tables and lets you jump into the smelly boots of the Locust, tasked with bringing down the humans in bloody conflict. The format is completely different to Horde however, as you have a minute to take down a set number of Stranded survivors. Each player has a starting balance that you can use to buy-in an enemy type.
You could go cheap and pay to play as a Ticker. You might move fast and be capable of blowing up a whole pack of humans, but you also die in two shots.
Alternatively, you could play as a Wretch, Locust footsoldier, or a Butcher, complete with a six-foot cleaver sword. Working tactically is vital to slaying all of the humans before the time limit depletes, as every kill earned adds precious seconds to the timer.
More troublesome are Hero characters, iconic members of the cast who appear every so often to assist the Stranded, such as Marcus and the rest of the Gears.
These guys are much tougher than your average human and can only be killed by downing them first, and then triggering an execution finisher. You really need to work together to take them down.
It’s an immense mode, and is destined to become a real fan favourite, especially once you amass enough kills to earn the second, more powerful tier of Locust troops, such as the Kantus and other variants. But we’ve saved the very best until last, and we’re talking, of course, about competitive multiplayer.
Traditional multiplayer mode in Gears Of War 3 offers a scaled back mode selection, but each variant has been honed to perfection. Classic multiplayer remains, and sees both sides battling it out until either one runs out of respawns. Once again, using cover and moving carefully is key, as anyone running about in the open is basically signing their own death warrant.
Nearly impossible during solo play, Beast Mode should definitely be played with a full five people.
The weapon set has been superbly balanced from the beta earlier this year, with no one weapon proving too powerful – save perhaps for the Double Barrell Shotgun, or Gnasher – which are guaranteed to get a one-shot kill at close range every single time. The lesson here, though, is to keep your distance where possible, and both guns become less of an issue.
There is a tactical edge to proceedings this time, as you can now spot enemies on the HUD for all to see. If a teammate kills an enemy after you spot them, you earn a wedge of spot assist points. It’s a neat way of encouraging scout tactics and coordination, helping the game move away from lone wolf tactics.
Each map has also been lovingly crafted, with insanely detailed arenas that shouldn’t be possible on Xbox 360, but they bloody well are. Thrashball is destined to be a fan favourite, as players duke it out on the field at Cougar Stadium.
Set in Maria’s hometown, Mercy is a ravaged town flanked by a raised square and claustrophobic church, while Drydock takes place among the walkways and storage bays of a submarine base.
All of the locales have been created to reduce camping spots, and enforce squad play, with many areas demanding that people cover the front, rear and flanks at all times to guarantee victory.
Rush in blindly, and you’ll let your side down significantly, stick together while communicating and you’ll be unstoppable. This is exactly what the series has needed since day one, and it’s finally here.
As you play multiplyer, campaign, Beast and Horde mode, you will level up towards the level cap of 100, unlocking new characters as you go, as well as earning ribbons and medals.
It’s brilliant that players can rise up the ranks even if they feel intimidated by multiplayer, or if they’re simply no good at it. Gears Of War 3 is like a big, gory multiplayer party that everyone is invited to, and Epic simply must be applauded for its ‘leave no man behind approach’.
Will it be the end for Carmine? Who knows? Well… us, actually.
So there you have it; the end to an iconic and highly revered trilogy, but also the start of something bigger. In months to come, the inevitable string of Gears Of War 3 DLC will bolster what is already one of the most generous packages ever committed to disc.
So in many ways this isn’t exactly goodbye, but the start of a new chapter in Gears Of War history, and we’re sure fans will agree that there will be plenty to look forward to.