Single, 4 Player Campaign co-op, Online Multiplayer
September 20, 2011
Marcus and the rest of Delta Squad are back in the finale to what is one of Microsoft's very best franchises. Gears of War 2 was an improvement over the original and now Epic has added some new multiplayer modes as well as claiming to have a greater emphasis on the story in the single player, so can the final part of the trilogy build again on an already brilliant series to become something truly great?
So here we are. The finale to one of this generation's biggest franchises, and it's one hell of a package. There's a lengthy campaign to sink your teeth in to, up to 4 player co-op, regular versus multiplayer, hoard mode, beast mode and an arcade mode. This is a gaming package that not only rivals but potentially beats offerings from games like Halo: Reach. To go along with all those modes, there's an in-depth stat-tracker and a neat calender that is just a button press away from the main menu to help you keep in line with what the community's next big events are.
Picking up just a few years after the teasing end to Gears 2, things have gone from bad to worse. Imulsion is destroying the planet all ways up and now the creatures it's touched have come out more insane, deformed and angry than ever. To cover anything more than the preamble to the game would be a crime and pure spoilers, so suffice it to say that you will find yourself laughing along with Delta as they go through this final journey, as well as feeling connected to them when they are at their most vulnerable. Playing through the campaign will take you roughly around 8-10 hours on the medium difficulty, but upping that to Hardcore and, once it's unlocked, Insane will add a few more hours on to that time.
The continuity with previous Gears of War games and their character development is vital here, meaning if you haven't played the previous games in the series you should definitely go back and go through them before tackling this otherwise you'll miss some touching moments and reasons behind certain characters mindsets. One thing Epic really has achieved here is that you never feel like you're the only group in the world; there are others out there fighting and surviving too and you can feel it. While this is the case, you truly know that in the end you can make a difference and this alone gives you the reason to carry on fighting. Adding the emotional weight of events from previous games and the brilliantly written story which flows relatively well, only enduring the occasional hiccup in pacing, Gears of War 3's campaign will have you caring about the fate of not just Delta but all of humanity better than most games can ever hope of.
The areas in the campaign are far more reminiscent of Gears 1 than Gears 2, meaning they're far more open and expansive, as opposed to some of Gears 2's areas which practically made the game a corridor shooter in places. This is especially noticeable when playing through with three other friends; no one will feel too confined in any of the action sections and, especially when you take in to account the harder settings, you'll be grateful for this when you're shouting down your mics to each other the different enemy's locations. Communication is vital between players in 4 player co-op on the higher difficulties as the Lambent will step up a gear (no pun intended) and really work their way through your attacks picking off the weaker players in no time. But if you are venturing through the campaign alone, fear not because the friendly AI is of the highest order. You'll never feel alone or stranded because your team aren't playing well enough, and that is something hard to achieve (even in other Gears games, there was plenty of moments where the AI could have been more helpful) in a cover-based third-person shooter. Thankfully, they always have your back whether it's to throw a grenade when you're all out, revive you when you get knocked down or to just help slaughter your way towards your next objective.
The guns themselves are back just as great as ever. Whether it's the franchise's staple gun, the Lancer, or the new Sawed-Off Shotgun, there isn't a bad weapon to be slaying the enemy with. Though, at least on the higher difficulties, you'll want to conserve as much ammo as possible. You're not going to find as much ammo lying around this time, so being careful of your gun management and ammo levels can become an important factor if you come up against a particularly tough set of enemies.
And, just to note for those who (dis)like pre-announced DLC, there is a tab already created in the campaign section of the game stating that there will be new campaign content coming soon. When exactly 'coming soon' is, we don't know, but if it's up to the same quality as the on-disk campaign then it will be something to really look forward to.
The regular versus campaign is, of course, where most Gears of War players will be spending the majority of their time, and with good reason. There are various versus modes available which range from Team Deathmatch, where each team shares a pool of twenty respawns, to Warzone, a mode that sees you only have one life per round, to the very fun Wingman which pits four teams of two players against each other. Whichever mode you find yourself attracted to and spending your time on, you'll be enjoying completely lag-free multiplayer. In total, over the hours spent on the different modes in multiplayer writing this review, not once was there an occasion of lag. While we can't say for sure that come release day, the servers will hold out when millions of people all simultaneously log in (think what happened to Gears 2's multiplayer at launch), the signs right now are that it's all going to be very solid and stable.
A lot of the guns from the campaign have, once again, been brought over in to Gears of War 3's multiplayer and they all feel very balanced and fair in the context of each map. While there was some issues with map layouts and weapon stats in the beta, it's great to see that Epic took on board the feedback and really changed around the maps and guns that needed changing, and the game is much better for it. In total, there are ten maps available at launch for the multiplayer section, so it should take a while before everyone starts to become bored of them and starts to crave new maps.
Then there is the arcade mode to try once you've played through the campaign. This offers leaderboards, as well as mutators which can be applied to any level you choose to play. The mutators can add a whole new level of difficulty to the game, such as the 'No Ammo Pickups' one which is pretty self-explanatory, or can add a more humorous side to the game, such as the Laugh Track' one which, to quote the game itself, lets you 'play as if your game was filmed before a live studio audience'. These mutations offer a really unique way and fun way to play through random levels of your choice, as well as seeing how you match up against others on the leaderboards. You can have up to three mutators applied on any level, so you can really stack up some hilarious game sessions with your friends, should you wish to and can be something of a more light hearted side-step to the serious nature of the campaign.
Horde mode itself has changed, and it's definitely for the better. As you play through the waves of enemies, you will earn money which can be used to dig in and build fortifications, buy turrets and even get yourself the mech from the campaign to help aid you in your struggle against fifty waves of enemies. Another change is that, as you progress through the waves, you'll be given bonus objectives to complete to earn some extra money and, every ten levels, you'll face a boss round. Surviving all this can be tough even early on, but if all else fails you can set up in one area and really hold your ground which gives a real last stand feeling to the game mode.
Beast mode is very similar to Horde mode, in that you'll be surviving wave after wave of enemy. However, the twist here is you're the Locust against the COGs, including heroes from throughout the campaign like Cole, Baird etc. The AI has plenty of options open to it, like placing turrets and laser fortifications, but to counter these things you will get stronger Locust to choose from as you open up each new tier of playable characters as the waves progress. Apart from that, it is basically a Horde mode, so you'll definitely know where you stand and what to do as you take on twelve waves of increasingly difficult enemies and heroes. It's a nice touch being able to play as the Locust, and while it's not a deep game mode in the slightest and can be completed pretty quickly (the group of people I was in completed all twelve waves of Beast on Hardcore difficulty in under twenty minutes), it's a fun distraction from the tried and true Gears of War modes.
Gears of War 3 is strikingly beautiful. Sticking with the same gritty feel as previous games, Marcus and the rest of Delta go through a wide variety of locations, all of which feel distinctly real and well rendered. And, for the first time in the series, we have colour! Gone are the area upon area of brown and grey; now you will find yourself, for example, in gardens of lush, green grass or in the bowels of a sinking ship that is flooding with water. As for character models, all the friendly characters (be it Anya, Marcus, Dom, Cole, Baird or anyone else) look great, and the new Lambent enemies are all fantastic, too, bringing more colour in to the game through their imulsion stained skin. Locust were always so brown, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but when the areas of the game have all become filled with colour, it's really nice to have enemies that fit in. And when the Locust do make a return, the red of their blood has really been increased so the game never falls back to it's old default colour set. While the character models themselves may be slightly out of date (lets be honest, the whole big, thick, blocky characters were Epic's signature graphic design way back in 2002), it's not something you can hold against the game or the series as a whole and have really been cleaned up for this final outing.
The audio in Gears is fantastic: The score that accompanies the game is beautiful and entirely fitting, while the dialogue all feels very real and correct with the situation and context of the scenes. Sometimes in previous Gears games, the dialogue felt slightly convoluted but that is not the case in Gears of War 3. All the tough guy moments are fitting, of course, but the real surprise was how expertly voiced the emotional moments of the game were, especially after Gears 2's slightly forced attempts. It's really hard to fault the sound of the weapons, so we won't - they're mostly the same as they were in previous games but if anything, even more heavy and manly feeling which really just fits even more in to the game world.
Enemies in Gears 3 are, for the most part, a smart bunch. They rush you when they need to, or sit back behind cover and hide until they think they have a clean shot at you. Grunts will try and flank you and, should you give them the chance, they will end up surrounding you on all sides which is pretty much instant death on the higher difficulties. One thing that does happen, and this is probably Gears of War 3's biggest fault, is enemies have a tendency to stick to the wrong side of cover looking away from you, leaving them entirely exposed which makes killing them far too easy. It's not something that happens all the time, but it's often enough that you notice it as a bug rather than an occasional quirk. Of course, if you've played previous Gears games, this will be nothing new to you as it's something that's been experienced in every instalment in the trilogy. It's nothing huge or game breaking, just something that will pull you out of the game and remind you it is only computer AI you're facing. Beyond that, the AI is perfectly adequate and will always proved a suitable challenge. They're particularly smart and aggressive on the higher difficulties, providing you with plenty of reason to go back through the campaign again on Insane once you've unlocked it from beating the game the first time.
Gears of War 3's achievements form, to no great shock of anyone who has played the rest of the trilogy, a pretty mundane list. You have your usual achievements for progressing the story through the campaign (solo, 4 player co-op and the arcade mode all have separate achievements) along with different difficulties and collectibles, reaching top level in multiplayer and completing things related around the other game modes. There's nothing remotely surprising or fun here, just your usual Gears of War list to grind through. And if you were hoping it'd be nice to at least see an almost-maybe-sort of obtainable 'Seriously' achievement, this time round with 'Seriously 3.0' you will be disappointed. It's requirements are virtually beyond the abilities of mere mortals, so be warned if you plan on going for that one.
All in all, you'd have to be mad to not give Gears of War 3 a try. Offering so many modes that there will definitely be something for everything, if you're looking at a third-person shooter you really can't go wrong with picking this up. While the pacing in the campaign might have the odd mistep, it's an adventure that even the most casual fan will be more than glad to have taken. The ability to go back through the game with a buddy (or three) is as much fun as ever, the versus multiplayer is near perfection and both the hoard modes are good fun, meaning it's going to take something big to get this game out of your disk tray any time soon. Without a doubt, this is Epic's finest game to date, the 360's crowning exclusive title and a fantastic way to bring the Gears of War trilogy to a close.
Final Score: 9/10