craigaa1028's Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360) review

The Definitive Gears of War Package

The Gears of War franchise has always been high caliber offering visceral action, top-notch visuals and tons of excessive gore. Gears of War 3 is no different, but manages to surpass that level of quality in just about every aspect. By offering a surprisingly well done narrative, a slew of modes that appeal to a wide variety of players and a gorgeous presentation, Gears of War 3 is, without a doubt, the best and most fully featured game in the series to date.

Taking place two years after the events of the last game, the Lambent, Locust mutated by emulsion, are now a greater threat. The remnants of humanity left on the planet Sera are on their last legs. Any government bodies have all but disbanded, leaving everyone to fend for themselves by establishing separate colonies and scrounging for supplies. Marcus Fenix, Dom and the rest of the team are just trying to survive when Marcus receives information that his father, thought to be long dead, is actually alive and promising a way to save what’s left of humanity. With nothing else to lose and Marcus wanting numerous questions answered, the Gears head out to find his father and possibly put an end to the war once and for all.

Unlike previous games in the series, you're actually given reason to care about what happens to these characters.

The games in this series have never been touted for their strong characters or engaging plots, but Gears of War 3 changes that. The story here is surprisingly well told and paced. The loud, exciting set pieces are broken up by quieter moments of reflection and characterization, whether it’s Cole remembering his glory days as a superstar, or Dom feeling guilt over not being able to save his family. You’ll actually feel for these characters and start to appreciate the hardships each of them has endured. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of comic relief with smartass quips and one liners being dropped throughout, but it’s the emotional set pieces that will likely stick with you for some time to come. As the third act in a trilogy, it also provides satisfying answers and an overwhelming sense of closure that long time fans of the series will likely appreciate.

If you’ve played any of the previous Gears of War games, you’ll be very familiar with the core gameplay here. The same “stop and pop” philosophy that the original game was built around is still in full effect and works as well as it always did. You’ll spend most of your time charging forward, getting into cover and popping out to take shots at the Locust and Lambent hordes, occasionally getting up close and personal to deliver a gory chainsaw or bayonet execution to an unsuspecting enemy. The cover system is fluid and responsive, although you will still find yourself sticking to a cover point unintentionally from time to time. The activate reload system also makes a return allowing you to gain damage bonuses for properly timing your button press when reloading and adds a nice rhythm to combat.

There are a host of different gameplay modes on offer here. First is the campaign, which takes you through the main narrative. As stated previously, the story is well paced and offers a slew of heart pounding set piece moments. You’ll routinely take on massive creatures that require different strategies to defeat and a hand full of exhilarating on-rails vehicle sections break up the standard cover based shooting. The campaign can be conquered alone or with up to three others and offers various difficulty settings that allow the game to be highly accessible for newcomers or viciously challenging for veterans of the series. There is also the option to play with arcade mode enabled, which adds point totals and a multiplier to the action. All players share this multiplier, which quickly starts to decrease if a teammate gets downed, so working together is still encouraged even with the included competitive aspect.

If you've played any of the past games, you'll feel right at home with the fluid cover based shooting and active reloading.

While the campaign itself is exceptional, it does contain the game’s most prominent issue. Whether you’re going it alone or fighting for humanity with a group, you will always be part of a four-man squad. In single player, your teammates are controlled by A.I., which typically does its job. On a few occasions, they’ll even surprise you with their efficiency at dispatching enemies. However, the friendly A.I. has multiple shortcomings that pop up to often to be ignored. The most irritating of these is their inconsistent ability to revive you when you go down in battle. Sometimes they’ll rush to your aid and have you up in fighting rather quickly, while other times they will run in circles or stand right next to you, refusing to help, leading to your death. They also enjoy running into your line of fire on a regular basis, and occasionally refuse to progress through a door, forcing you to take on all the enemies single handedly. None of these issues are major in the grand scheme, and can easily be resolved by playing with real people, but for those who want to experience the story by themselves, they do provide unwanted frustration.

The much-loved Horde mode from Gears of War 2 makes a return in Gears of War 3, but with many tweaks and additions. The goal of Horde mode is for up to five players to survive increasingly difficult waves of enemies for as long as possible, with fifty total waves to overcome. It starts off simple with standard grunt soldiers, but as you progress, tougher types of enemies are unleashed. Every ten waves is a boss wave, forcing you to take on the very worst the Locust and Lambent have to offer. Upon completing a boss wave, the hordes are upgraded to have more health and greater accuracy, so the challenge ramps up at a steady pace. Other new additions to Horde mode are taken straight from tower defense games, allowing you to build barriers, decoys, and turrets to slow down your adversaries. This mode is just as fun as it always was and the new defense elements add a new level of strategy to the mix.

If you get tired of defending yourself from the hordes and would like to see what the battle is like from the other side, then Beast mode is the place to look. The polar opposite of Horde mode, Beast mode allows you and up to four others to play as the various Locust and attempt to bypass defenses and eliminate a group of computer-controlled humans over twelve waves. Each type of Locust has strengths and weakness. While Tickers are quick and good at destroying barriers, they are also extremely fragile. Larger Locust are slow, but are able to soak up large amounts of punishment and deal tons of damage. You’re only given one minute to accomplish your task, with time being added for every barrier broken and opponent killed. To prevent players from simply steamrolling their foes with the most powerful types of Locust, they are gradually earned as you play, and bought from money earned via kills and the clearing of obstacles. Beast mode is fast paced, encourages quick thinking and provides the most instant gratification.

Playing as the various Locust in Beast Mode is a nice change of pace.

Gears of War 3 also has competitive multiplayer covered with six different game types. First there’s standard Team Deathmatch, which gives each team fifteen total respawns, discouraging players from charging blindly into the line of fire. Then there are the Warzone and Execution game types, each only giving players one life. The two modes are identical except that in Execution, players must be finished off up close for the kill to count. Next is Capture the Leader, which randomly selects one player from each team who must be downed and taken hostage for thirty seconds. Then there’s King of the Hill, which has both teams rushing to capture and hold a point for as long as possible before it moves to another random location on the map. Finally, there’s Wingman, which pits fives teams of two against each other to see who has the last man standing.

Each game type is fast paced and enjoyable. While Gears of War 2 was often criticized for being unbalanced and giving the host player an unfair advantage, Gears of War 3 doesn’t have these problems. Multiplayer games are now run on dedicated servers, so no host player is selected. Numerous balance tweaks and attention paid to fan feedback has made the multiplayer easier to get into and loads of fun. Some matches still devolve into every player rushing for the most powerful weapon spawn and the shotguns can be overpowered, especially in the hands of a long time Gears player, but overall, the multiplayer is engaging and rather addicting. With the wide variety of cooperative and competitive options at your disposal and a staggering number of accolades to unlock, don’t be surprised if Gears of War 3 spends a long time spinning in your disc tray.

Visually, Gears of War 3 looks even better than it’s predecessors. The Unreal Engine is used to its fullest here with spectacular environments, great explosion effects, and superb lighting. While the past games often had color pallets that ranged from gray to darker gray, Gears of War 3 is much more colorful. Daylight is more present and some environments have substantial amounts of greenery, giving life to the world. While there are certainly still some darker areas, they are used as a compliment to bleak settings of dread and despair. One minor negative aspect is that cut scenes, while well directed, suffer from frame rate drops and occasional texture load in, but it’s a minuscule wart on an otherwise stellar looking production.

With the wide array of content on offer, Gears of War 3 will keep you busy for a long time to come.

The sound design maintains the same high standard as the graphics. Every weapon effect and explosion packs the appropriate punch you would expect. The dialogue is delivered well with some great voice acting, and the music is used appropriately throughout, ramping up during tense action scenes and shimmering down during quieter moments. It’s hard to see how any Gears game could improve on such a high caliber presentation.

Gears of War 3 has everything you could ever want out of a Gears game. It wraps up the story nicely with a surprising amount of care and emotion, provides a wide variety of cooperative and competitive content that will keep players coming back for more, and has incredible production values. While it’s hard to say if this will be the final entry in the Gears of War franchise, it’s honestly hard to see how it could get much better than this.

      
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