GEARS OF WAR 3 (2011) – EPIC GAMES
If you happened to observe some of the advertising around September for Gears Of War 3, you may have noticed something; the repetitive focus on the phrase ‘Brothers To The End’. Epic Games made it clear very early on that this was to be the last Gears Of War game (in this story arc at least)…but how does one send off such a successful franchise with a bang? With a mixture of intensive preparation and refinement and plenty of cannon fodder to murderise of course. After an extensive beta in the summer, people have been on the edge of their seats in anticipation for this game – the question is, is it worth the wait and 40 of your hard earned pounds?
Looking to finish off the saga in apt fashion, Epic Games have really put some effort into making the plot for Gears 3 a satisfying experience. Hiring Karen Traviss (the highly respected author of some of the Star Wars Universe novels amongst other projects) to write the plot was a shrewd move, and what we get in return is the best paced, most emotive and sweariest story of the franchise by far. 18 months have passed by since Jacinto got sunk at the end of the second game, and the human race is in dire straits; the Coalition Of Ordered Governments have disbanded, and the few remaining Gears are spread across the world. Meanwhile, the Lambent have become an even greater threat, with stalks emerging from the ground spitting out troops everywhere, while the Locust look to refortify in their continuing struggle. You play the majority of the game once again through the eyes of Marcus Fenix as he searches for his father that he thought to be previously dead, although at one point you play as Augustus Cole as he visits his hometown for supplies. Joining Marcus is the rest of Delta Squad in the form of Dom, Baird and Cole, but a few other soldiers have showed up for the party this time round as well; Anya has given up the intel job for a Lancer Rifle, and the last of the Carmine brothers, Clayton, gets in on the action as well amongst others.
It seems that this the success of the first game, Epic have been unsure with what they want to offer consumers. Having taken criticism from critics that Gears Of War 2 was just one set piece after another, Gears 3 tends to put the big action moments to the sidelines for the most part, instead trying to focus on the plot. In my opinion, what you get with Gears 3 is a mixture some spectacularly emotional moments (end of Act 3 – nuff said) along with some genuinely fun sequences, and here I would have to highlight the defence of Anvil Gate along with Cole’s trip back to the Thrashball stadium where he made his name as the standout moments. Otherwise though, I found Gears 3 to be quite a cold experience. There were several points of the game where I was just wandering through shooting stuff without any real incentive, a lot of the new enemies are introduced to early in the storyline for them to have any real impact, and I personally found the ending to be quite lacklustre, given the massive build-up for it over the course of three games. It’s the longest and best presented of the three stories, but for me it still can’t displace the events of the original Gears Of War for pure storyline.
Gameplay wise, in my mind there is no doubt that Gears 3 is a sublime thing to play, and easily the pick of the series. Alongside the classic elements that that the franchise has become revered for, there has been so much polish applied to this game that you could be forgiven for playing a completely different series at times. For the uninitiated, Gears 3 takes place from a third person angle, with the shooting occurring from an over the shoulder perspective. In order to stay alive and not be mowed down by the hordes of enemies, you will need to be using cover mechanics, which is as simple as pressing the A button when next to a piece of suitable scenery. Nothing new here then. Where the game really shows it class is how the battlefield environment has been changed to accommodate more people. Finally, the campaign mode can be played in four player co-operative mode, and rather than having everyone charge at the enemy down a narrow corridor, you can actually get round the enemy and flank them, making the game a much more tactical affair. Players can also interact with each other, swapping weapons and giving each other ammo, so you can go into the next area knowing that your team is suited up for the occasion. There is a whole raft of little changes as well that make the game so much better as well. By hovering the crosshair over an enemy and clicking the right stick in, you can ‘spot’ an enemy, meaning that your AI team mates will focus their fire on that particular enemy – very handy when dealing with several big guys at once. There are objects that can be interacted with throughout the game, with provide humorous distractions and can lead to even better Easter Eggs. All weapons now have individual executions, some of which are just as brutal as one would hope. Classic weapons have had an overhaul as well; revving up your Lancer takes a bit longer, but you are no longer interrupted by bullets as you charge towards the very unlucky Locust, and the Hammerburst rifle has been given an iron sight view for much improved accuracy.
Along with the new changes, Marcus and the team have also managed to acquire some seriously impressive firepower for this game. Chief amongst the new weapons is the Silverback, which you have access to at various points during the campaign. It’s basically the thing used in the third Matrix film when the humans defend Xion; a massive mech fitted with chain guns and rockets. Needless to say, it makes short work of pretty much everything in its path, including the bigger brutes like Reavers and Brumaks. Your gang can also use the Vulcan (a minigun that requires a second person to feed in ammo), the Oneshot (a sniper rifle that locks on and will automatically kill anything it hits), the Sawn Off Shotgun (which will make a horrible mess of anything about a foot in front of it) and the Retro Lancer (used during the Pendulum Wars, it has a bayonet attached to it as opposed to a chainsaw meaning you can charge blind at an enemy and impale them to death) as you progress through the game, along with old favourites like Boomshots, Torque Bows, Boltok Pistols and the ever present Lancer Rifle.
The place where Gears 3 absolutely shines however, is the vastly improved multiplayer aspect of the game. It’s clear that the aforementioned beta was of great use for Epic Games, because it’s evident from even the basic interface that this is a superior product to that which was offered in Gears 2. The game modes on offer are virtually the same – Team Deathmatch, Warzone, Execution, King Of The Hill, Capture The Leader and Wingmen (all played with lobbies of 10 players), but getting into a match is now a much quicker process, and having dedicated servers at last means there is no host advantage. Alongside this there is an extensive stack tracking system that tells you everything you could want to know about your online exploits (not quite as well as Halo Waypoint, but nears as makes no difference), medals and titles to be earned and unlockable characters and weapon skins to achieve. Having detested Gears online in the past, I must say it feels much fairer and much more balanced as a result, meaning that it’s more fun overall.
The excellent Horde mode from Gears 2 has also had a complete overhaul, bringing in a more tactical element. The goal is still the same; a team of up to five players have to survive 50 waves of increasingly difficult enemies, with a boss round thrown in every 10th wave for an extra challenge. What differs this time round is that you build bases and can fortify them with the likes of turrets, razor wires and lasers, decoys and even Silverbacks, How do you do this I hear you ask? Every enemy you kill now grants you cash, and at the start of each wave you have 30 seconds to spend the cash you have on upgrading fortifications – the more you fortify, the better the defences become, and more options open up around the map for more command posts and extra fortifications. The enemies you face in each wave are also completely random this time around, so whereas one round may be dominated by Tickers and Wretches, the next round you could get Lambent Drudges and Boomers. And don’t think for one minute that because you can fortify that the Horde have become easier – it’s still an absolute bastard to defeat. Myself and two other friends took exactly four hours to get to Level 49 on Normal difficultly, before we had to give up on the two Brumaks that decided to show up and destroy everything. With DLC already in the pipeline for further enhancements to fortifications, you will be getting a lot of game time out of Horde mode.
My absolute favourite multiplayer mode however, is the one that sadly got passed over in the advertisement – Beast Mode. Intended to give you a flavour of what it’s like to play as the Locust, you are given 1 minute to kill the humans and COG heroes who are defending a Horde map. You gain time and money from killing humans, and by destroying fortifications, and although you start off with basic Locust such as Wretches, as you earn more money you unlock new tiers of characters to play as, including Kantus who can heal allies, Corpsers who can rip through fortifications, and Boomers who can…make things go boom. Top of the tree however, is the nigh on unstoppable Berserker (making a welcome return form Gears 1), and to quote my good friend who I played Beast Mode with for the first time, “Being a Berserker is the greatest thing in gaming ever”. It’s all mindless fun, and only takes about 30 minutes to complete all the waves, so it offers a welcome distraction from everything else that you could be getting up to.
Visually, Gears Of War 3 is up there with the absolute best that the Xbox 360 has to offer. While the copious amount of bullet fire and blood is all welcome, it’s the environments that really stand out this time round – seeing the Lambent Leviathan try to rip your ship apart in the first chapter is terrifying, and seeing the ash remains of those killed by the Hammer Of Dawn attacks in the past in the city of Char is downright eerie. You also get to go underwater in a submarine to look at the flora and fauna, engage in Zeppelin warfare in the skies and rip through the Locust in desert badlands. Added to this, the cut scenes are just short of perfection in their levels of detail, and the character models are terrific. Its also one of the few games of the system that supports stereoscopic 3D, so if you are into that kind of thing you can finally put your 3D TV’s to good use.
Sondwise, it’s a case of same old, same old again. Steve Jablonsky sends the saga out in good fashion with another well produced soundtrack, which has the inspired inclusion of ‘Mad World’ that was used in the marketing campaign for the original game (in fact, both songs used for the adverts were wonderful melodic pieces). I also struggle to think of a game where the voice acting is on such a high par of excellence; the characters are as bold and brash as ever, and one gets the feeling that John Di Maggio enjoy having to swear so much as Marcus Fenix. Baird is as cynical as ever as has a great rapport with Samantha, while Ice T does a surprisingly good job as Aaron Griffin, and Lester Speight sends the ever fantastic Cole Train out in typically OTT style – if I had a pound for every time he says ‘WHOO’ in this game…..
Having followed the franchise from the start of the Xbox 360’s lifecycle up to now, it’s really quite sad to see Gear Of War 3 wrap up at least the current story arc. At least what you are getting in return is an excellently produced game with an outstanding multiplayer value that will see it fighting the likes of Modern Warfare and Halo Reach for a good while yet. My only reservation is with the way the story ends, simply because I was expecting some definitive closure on the events of the story. Still it’s well worth the investment, and a testament to the old adage that ‘good things come in threes’.