In the world of video games it really doesn’t get more macho than Gears of War. Big dudes with even bigger guns kicking lots of alien ass, all in glorious HD. Gears’ developers Epic know what the people want and Gears players know what they are getting, it’s a simple relationship and everyone comes out of it happy if all goes to plan. Therefore when the hype machine starting pumping out media for Gears of War 3 it was obvious that the bookend of the trilogy would look to go out on a campaign high, all the while addressing the many multiplayer complaints levelled at the previous iteration.
Aiming to conlcude the trilogy in style Gears of War 3 is epic in scale, gorgeous to look at, tight to play and as Cliffy B would say, bigger, better and more bad ass. In many ways Gears is the definitive 3rd person cover shooter with many games trying to copy and emulate its mechanics and success, ever since the first game came out in 2006.
In a game brimming with such top notch content it makes sense to split apart and examine each mode in isolation, starting with the campaign. Gears has never really been known for its tear inducing story lines but boy do they keep on trying to achieve it. The phrase “ever seen a grown man cry?” must have been a motivational scribble on a whiteboard in the script writers’ area as they give it everything they’ve got in this one. It’s all gone a bit tits up on Sera since we were last with the crew (of which there are eight now): the COG is all but gone, the people have turned against our heroes (which is a lovely touch throughout) and there is some sort of odd yellow emulsion everywhere.
The campaign follows our old friend Marcus Fenix and the elite Delta squad as they battle against their old foes the locust, along with some new nasties - mutated lambent creatures who have come in contact with the yellow emulsion. The campaign script is full of some lovely tongue in cheek touches (who’d have though big Dom likes to tend to plants), there are some more Carmines (you know what to expect here if you signed the petition) and would you Adam and Eve it, Marcus’ dad is alive. The entire campaign is formulaic in the extreme and includes a whole host of guffaw moments but it’s all done at such break neck speed you never really get time to stop and think how cheesy it all is. The campaign in Gears 3 as a whole is much more engaging than in previous outings and Epic are to be commended for making us give a monkeys about such big burly macho characters. Whilst you do ride along with so many characters this time around they are all given plenty of time on screen along some good solid dialogue and as a result you do become attached.
At its heart the campaign is a tale of survival and of loved ones. The outlook for our heroes is bleak but the adventure you are invited to join them on is second to none. Clocking in at a mammoth 14-16 hours the campaign is a beast and is certainly not something that can be taken apart in one long sitting. Even on the normal difficulty there are many seat of your pants moments but luckily you can play through the entire campaign with up to three other friends. Previously you were restricted to a team of two but this time around as there are always four characters on the screen, this enhancements is easily one of the standard features of the title . That’s not say the friendly AI is bad, it’s actually quite good, but come on, Gears with three friends, that in itself will sell this game over and over and over.
Every single thing about the campaign and the game in general exudes AAA, in every conceivable way Gears 3 is better than its predecessors. Aside from the opening sequence (due to odd lighting) the game looks flawless, the unreal engine is doing some seriously good work here and the art direction as ever is spot on. It’s a much more colourful Sera this time around and the change of environments away from the dark dank brown and grey indoors to the vast open colourful shooting galleries is an excellent and welcome change. There are some lovely touches along the way which will bring a wry smile; these include lots more destructible cover than previous outings and the standard sink hole has been replaced with a geezer effect, hurtling lambent through the air sometimes right on top of you.
The sound is as ever top notch, some of the boss fights will have you turning your surround sound system down (or up, depends if you like your neighbours) and the new weaponry sounds superb. The controls and freedom of movement are arguably the biggest improvement. Everything feels sharper and tighter than Gears 2 resulting in there being a lot less cover & peak out gameplay and more flowing action around the battlefield. It feels a lot less stop/start as you snap quickly into cover, quickly leap over an obstacle (while kicking a grub in the face, a new feature that we were introduced to in the multiplayer beta) and swiftly move to chainsaw the next Grub in half all of which only adds to what is already a great spectacle.
If you were looking for flaws you would find a handful. The checkpoints are a bit daft at times forcing you to replay large areas if one of your team dies and the collectibles within the campaign are often ridiculous. They are very often extremely easy to miss, which is annoying as a replay is required if you crave all the achievements/trophies. It’s tough to see what place random collectibles have in a game like Gears as it’s easy to find yourself playing in co-op with a bunch of friends, pinned down by rampant lambent, all under heavy fire, and when you call for your mate he is off miles away looking for a bloody captain’s log. It just seems a bit out of place as there is so very little downtime within the game.
Finally the lambent don’t really add a great deal to the gameplay; aside from a yellow imulsion all over the screen and exploding body parts there are times throughout the campaign where you will miss some of the older foes.
Once you are done with the campaign you now have three other game modes to tackle...
- Horde 2.0
Arguably THE gameplay type from the Gears world that has been copied the most is the Horde mode. Waves of enemies come at a team of up to five players and your simple objective is to kill them all. You can revive team mates and as long as everyone doesn’t die, everyone will be good to go on the next wave. Gears 3 adds frankly genius tower defence elements to the mode.
For every kill not only do you accrue XP but you gain some cash. During the short breaks between each wave you are afforded the opportunity to build some defences, place a turret and so on. There are five different tower defence items to be purchased, all of them level up and get better through use (use and cash). These items are especially important on each 10th wave as we see the introduction of boss waves. You WILL need defences to defeat these big fellas, a simple lancer will not see you through.
There are 50 waves across many maps to keep you entertained, keeping Gears Horde mode as the standard for this game type.
- Beast Mode
This mode switches things up a little putting you in the shoes of the bad guys. There is also a time based element to this mode as you have to defeat all of the COG soldiers within a set amount of time. You begin each round will a set amount of money and a set amount of time. A degree of tactics is required as those pesky humans will have built up some solid defences before the timer starts, therefore your team will need to spend cash initially on tickers to bring down the fences and then splash the cash on some lambent to find the cowering humans and destroy them. The time limitations within each round make this mode nigh on impossible to tackle solo and even with a full squad. As a team you do benefit from respawns as you do not have to wait for the end of the wave if you die, you can simply buy your way back in with whatever money you have in the bank.
It’s a nice spin on horde mode and whilst not a game changer is still yet more content to get your teeth into.
Following the grief that came the way of Gears 2 Epic took the decision to have an open beta this time around. A wise move indeed as both the match making and general gameplay appear vastly improved. Time will tell for the launch if enough servers have been provisioned but it’s a fair assumption that the mistakes have now been learnt from.
There are a total of ten maps and multiple modes to choose from and whilst a LOT of players will go with the roll and shotgun play style there is much fun to be had online. There really are hours of gameplay online with some great mode variety to keep things fresh.
The rewards system has been overhauled in Gears 3; XP, collectibles and challenges are applicable throughout every mode. By playing the campaign you could easily rank up to level 10, add in some horde mode to boost that a little, unlock some items along the way and then take it all online in multiplayer. There is a ton of stuff to unlock online and offline which does an excellent job of engaging you and keeping you playing.
In summary, Gears of War 3 is exactly what Gears fans would have wanted and one of the standout titles of year. A long, epic four player co-op campaign backed up with a game changing Horde mode and significantly improved multiplayer, it’s really tough to find fault. If you looked hard enough there are some minor gripes to be found and sure it’s all a total retread of the previous games but there is so much content for your money here it far outweighs such negatives. Gears of War 3 delivers that AAA experience and delivers the tight entertaining macho gameplay that only this series can offer.
A must buy!
Do you think using the chainsaw on the lancer to tear an enemy apart is ever going to get old?