GoW3 story review *CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR ALL ACTS*
*contains spoilers for ALL acts*
Gears of War 3 is a stellar conclusion to the franchise which achieves its greatness through an more understated but ultimately more interesting approach to the GoW format.
Firstly EPIC seemed to have addressed every flaw I had with GoW 2. They've made the game seem far less linear by having the large areas set outside rather than underground, so much so that when you do delve below the surface or up in the air it seems like a fresh experience. The game is far more disciplined too, GoW2 went way too over the top for my liking, a trap sequals can easily fall into (MW2?). Despite being the final game in the trilogy they took a slower but more rewarding approach. The first act is a great example of this, they manage to tell the story while throwing in new and exciting action sequences.
Action and enemies
On the subject of the action, the core Gears mechanics are still hugely enjoyable and impressive. Bounding off cover, chainsawing, popping heads are almost entirely the same but its a testament to how good the engine is that they still feel as cool as they did on the first play through of GoW1. They've added lots of new enemies, namely the lambent and this makes the large amounts of shooting you need to do much more interesting. The addition of more flying/floating enemies makes was a particularly wise decision. Even just the new way in which the locust/lambent appear impressed me. The stalks replaced the emergence holes and the locust bursting out of the ground looked great. It's a great example of a minor change contributing to a fresher playing experience.
The new weapon additions are quite tame but used well. The One-Shot is included in a very interesting 'stealth' style mission mid-way through the game which I loved. Furthermore, the boss battles they introduced are the most challenging so far, combining lots of shooting and blasting with timing and patience. It broke up the story perfectly and required some real thinking and teamwork at times. In particular I enjoyed the Lambent-Beserker and the beefed-up Corpser battle.
The final battle itself was a real tough one on co-op, so much so that I needed to do it solo because we just couldn't do it. It's probably the weakest of the boss battles in the three games which is a tough criticism because they're always been stellar. It think it went on just a bit too long and was slightly too repetitive. Didn't detract from the story though and was a rewarding finish. Queen Myrrah's light-ray weapon is absolutely terrifying though and it made for a different Gears experience, for once you were on the back foot and had to do a lot of running and hiding.
Story and Acts
The story itself was the biggest draw for me. As a big fan of the original game I've been waiting for the conclusion for many years. Overall I was satisfied but they did leave a big gaping plot hole which irked me. As I said above, they introduce the new story exceptionally well, you find you and your team pretty much alone and are constantly fighting against the odds like never before. The drip-feeding of information about Marcus's Father felt genuine and believable while the journey through the destroyed cities cast a great light on the Gears of War backstory.
What impressed me the most was the variety of levels. Act 1 saw you play in the same timeframe twice, but with two different teams. That was a great introduction which never felt like filler.
Act 2 saw you take to the skies and into the wasteland of Sera which, if handled badly could have been a real bore, again though it felt exciting and intriguing. The stealth mission I mentioned above which a welcome change of pace.
Act 3 saw a journey back to the ruined cities was one of the most eye-opening, it explained the reactions of the Stranded and made me sympathetic to their hatred and distrust of the COGS, the landscapes in that act were absolutely incredible, very harrowing. The only criticism I have of that Act was the awful Ice-T cameo which felt wedged in and really out of place. Fortunately the incredible demise of Dom made up for this. It was easily the most heartfelt moment in the GoW and the use of the Mad World music was masterful. I can't wait to replay that bit again just to see the cut-scene.
Act 4's journey, particularly the underwater part could have felt novelty but was tough and frightening at the same time. Although the search for Submarine parts did feel a little contrived and unnecessary filler.
Finally Act 5. The island and hotel were masterful. The storm that awaits your arrival is one of the best looking moments in a GoW game and the overall design and feel was very Bioshock-esc. I felt they handled the explanation of the main story excellently, particularly Fenix Snr's motives and history. The actual gameplay again felt like filler, with the seemingly pointless exploration of the hotel, however the action scenes here, especially the first battle with Queen Myrrah made up for it.
The conclusion was handled far better than I expected, the death of Fenix Snr, the killing of the locust and the lambent cell was hugely rewarding, and watching Marcus finish off Queen Myrrah encapsulated everything about Gears that I loved. My only big concern was the lack of explanation regarding her motives, why is there a human controlling the locust? The very final scene may not appeal to everyone, it was rather morose, but I thought it added that extra bit of depth to the Marcus character at the very final moment.
Quite simply I love the Gears of War franchise again. I had lost faith after GoW2 but Epic, though their slower and more understated story approach have rekindled my interest completely. I'm already looking forward to replaying the story on co-op and insane and hopefully months of multiplayer.