Feature Review: Gears of War 3
What’s a Feature Review I hear you ask? Well when there is enough hype (and advertising to create said hype) about a game I think it’s better to go into some depth on the review, pushing past the typical 500-800 word limit I put on these things. I did it for Deus Ex. I’m doing it for Gears of War 3. Get used to it.
Alright, let me tell you how I felt about Gears of War 3 (I’ll try and keep it as spoiler free as possible, but as always things will be inferred and things will be implied):
Gears of War 3 is the best Gears of War game that has been made to date. This isn’t as much my opinion as much as I think it is a provable fact. If you liked Gears of War you will like this. If you liked Gears of War 2 you will like this. As Epic Games has proven, Gears of War isn’t about to go all Halo: ODST (or even Halo: Reach) on us. The gameplay, the characters, the storyline are all tried and tested, and they all work. So if you are one of those people who played both the last two games all the way through, odds are this game will make for a great addition to your collection.
But as for you inbetweeners, you fencesitters and wonderers (and I am one of you) who were moderately interested in the franchise over the last few years and are asking yourselves “Is Gears of War 3 really right for me? Has enough changed?”, listen up and take note. I’ll try and convince you one way or the other.
Gears of War 3 has been described by Epic Games as the most personal of the trilogy (that’s me paraphrasing). While Gears of War 2 put you on the front lines of the ongoing war against the Locust horde, something (shakily) established in the first game, Gears of War 3 is supposed to be about the individuals surviving in the aftermath of what is (effectively) the apocalypse for the planet Sera. The Locust are on the surface. The Lambent (from Gears 2) have overrun both the Locust and Humanity. The COG is more-or-less leaderless and in shambles, and you all live on a roaming boat – too scared to return to the mainland.
All of this is established in the cinematic at the start screen, but if you miss that it isn't really established at all which can make things kinda hazy; especially if (like me) you head straight into the campaign. So yeah, wait and watch that cinematic.
But let’s talk about the Campaign.
This was a big seller for me. I’ve never been a massive fan of Gears multiplayer (I’m talking online versus, their local game modes are pretty win) so I was looking for a step above what I’ve experienced in the last two Gears games; a story which was interesting and rewarding without getting in the way of some good ole’ fire fights. I got half of what I wanted.
The storyline in Gears 3 started quite shakily. The ship (and I mean the water kind) on which the game begins is never shown to you in a full camera shot, something which doesn't seem important until you realise you have no idea what kind of vehicle you are on – and when you are inside you could literally be inside an army base for all the difference it makes. The first two hours or so of the gameplay consists of running around the ship and then later the mainland putting out fires and fighting wave upon wave of Locust. To be honest, for this entire period I just forgot what I was doing and ran around shooting stuff. I crashed afterwards and the next day remembered very little of the story, which was not a good sign.
Thankfully, after this adjustment period the game seems to settle into itself and things get a lot better.
Now, Gears is never going to win an Oscar for great writing. I’m pretty sure half the words Marcus Fenix knows are names of people/weapons. But something which is much to the strength of this third title in the trilogy is less what the story is about and more what the story lets you do.
Much like exploring the Locust tunnels under the earth was one of the most interesting (for me) parts of Gears of War 2, the events of Gears of War 3 take you through more varied environments than Gears of War has ever shown in one game in the past. Gone is the two-colour palette of the first game (red and grey, all the colours of the rainbow!) and I can actually settle into the gameplay without feeling like I have the colour capacity of the average dog.
This is boosted by the tasteful and to-the-point cinematics which Gears has always been famous for. Somehow I found myself getting to know the character that make up the COG so much better in Gears of War 3 than I have in the other titles (with the possible exception of Dom) due to a scattering of 30 second cut scenes and 2:00 minute dreamlike gameplay moments which really added some depth that gears was lacking. Unfortunately there was one other note on characters that I will have to share. Somebody accused Epic Games of sexism.
That’s the only conclusion I can draw. Because the man-filled universe of Gears of War 3 is suddenly filled to the brim with female characters, even Anya is in a COG offensive suit and she was basically a secretary in the first game. Now I have nothing about females, but when you decide to assign the other 2/3 (okay theres only 3, but that's a lot for Gears) terrible Australian accents things start to get annoying. Trust me. It. Gets. Annoying.
The campaign is formulaic and precise, keeping to the 5 chapter 8 hour length that Gears of War has always managed in the past. If you are expecting revelations here, you will go disappointed.
It’s saving grace is the introduction of the Lambent, the glowy Flood-like (like, a lot like Flood) enemies who are usurping the world of Sera. With exploding corpses, pod-popping appearances and more varied enemy types than the Locust have ever tried to boast – these guys changed what felt like wading through Locust in Gears 1 and 2 into enjoyable gameplay which switched between the two different enemy factions in order to sustain interest.
Epic Games, I’ve never been happier to see someone completely rip off Halo and introduce a Zombie/Plague faction of antagonists.
Well enough hate-mongering. Let’s talk weapons.
I don’t think Gears of War has ever been accused of having a large weapon portfolio. I mean, 80% of the people I’ve talked to played through the campaign with Rifle/Shotgun and the other 20% probably changed out one of those. But a very interesting addition completely changed Gears of War 3 for me.
Ladies and Gentleman, I am of course referring to the Retro Lancer.
Where the Hammerburst was tweaked in Gears 2 to be the ranged, chain-saw free equivalent of the Lancer, the Retro Lancer takes the spot at the other end of the spectrum. It’s a heavy, inaccurate rifle which needs to be used in close-medium range and fired in bursts to do efficient damage. And it has a massive bayonet on the end which you can charge into enemies with all the speed that a chainsaw-revving original Lancer melee kill lacks.
In short: it's my new best friend, and I couldn’t imagine gears without it.
The one problem I found was that when you are playing Gears of War 3 (campaign) using the Arcade scoring system (ala Halo 3) it will automatically revert your weapons to Gnasher Shotgun/ Lancer every time you finish a chapter. Which, if you are a Retro Lancer or any other gun user, can be pretty annoying coz this shit don’t grow on trees yo. Luckily if you play normal Campaign this isn't a problem.
Well I’m running out of space, but before I wind this up let’s talk about Horde Mode and Beast Mode.
Horde Mode was the innovative wave-by-wave Locust fighting mode introduced in Gears 2, which went down pretty damn well and has been appropriated into lots of other games since (Halo’s Firefight, Call of Duty’s Zombie Mode). It gets a nice improvement in Gears 3 with the addition of purchasable defenses (spikes, barbed wire, turrets, decoys), wave bonuses (Get 8 Executions!) and boss waves (which are pretty damn hard). It’s basically better, without losing any of the magic of the original mode. This is a good thing.
Beast Mode on the other hand, is an even better thing. You know when you open a present and didn't even realise you wanted what you have just got. That’s what Beast Mode is. An unexpected gift of a game mode which I promise you will find enjoyable. Beast Mode is the anti-Horde mode. It tasks you with killing a band of Stranded (humans) within a time limit by using unlockable tiers of Locust creatures. Yes, this means you can roll Ticker and blow them to hell. Yes, this means you can roll Boomer and blow them to hell. Yes, you can roll Drone and… be very boring. Seriously, with a little imagination and a local partner, this could be the most fun you ever have playing Gears of War 3.
So with that, very lengthy, look at Gears of War 3, I’ll share my final thoughts. As I said at the start, this is the best Gears game you are able to play. It stands ahead of its predecessors in virtually every aspect and if you are a Gears lover you will never be disappointed. If you are considering buying this and didn’t like the previous two, I have some bad news. This doesn't play differently enough to consider it a different game. It’s cut from the same cloth and follows the same patterns as the other two, and no amount of polish or character development will change that.. For me personally (a lukewarm fan of Gears) it wasn’t worth the full RRP price. I finished the campaign in 8 hours and was whelmed (not under, not over) and will throw it in for Horde/Beast Mode when people come over but that’s it.
On the other hand, I’ve seen people worship the feet Epic Games walks on for what they have done with gears, so it’s definitely a matter of taste.