Gears of War 3 Review: Dust to dust
This is it, the end of the trilogy that alongside Halo has been Microsoft's flagship franchise. Gears of War engendered cover based shooting into gaming, has had incredible amounts of gore and visual fidelity and generally been a series that showcases what the Xbox 360 can do. Gears of War 3 does not disappoint, keeping all of these traits of the series alive and well while improving on multiple aspects of the series and all round being the most finely put together game in the series.
The game looks even better visually than Gears of War 2 did. A lot more colour has been included this time and it really makes the game a brighter world to look at. There are outdoor areas with lush vegetation and blue water, but there are also dark ash chocked city ruins so Epic have a lot of level variety in the game to stop any particular setting becoming stale, avoiding spending half the game in the same location as happened last time. Character models look fantastic, and you can see the physical differences in the characters since the last game. They are not as well dressed and everyone looks rougher, fitting considering the story line. Blood and pulpy flesh still flies from maimed enemies and explosions and environmental effects look great. There is still texture pop-in during cutscenes and frame rate drops when too many enemies are on screen but these are not common.
The audio design of the game does not disappoint either. The Locust still hiss and roar and the Lambent hurl themselves at you screaming. The weapons sound great, with audible sounds of chunks of flesh falling from shot enemies and all the weapons sound powerful and satisfying to use. The voice acting is well done, with all the main cast of Delta team putting in powerful performances for this final chapter in the series. Some of the dialogue for minor characters is a bit of a waste of time [namely Griffon] but its a strong voice cast. The music is really special this time as well. Emotional moments are amplified by really well suited audio and the tense culminating chapters of the game have energetic and forceful music that really suits this series.
The core gameplay is the same as what you expect from a Gears of War game. If you have never liked it you still won't, but if you do then you will find this to be the smoothest and most satisfying game in the series to play. There are plenty of new weapons to mess around with like the retro lancer, saw off shotgun and digger, all giving fresh options and dangers to players. The Locust are still challenging enemies but there are also the Lambent to face, meaning that Gears of War 3 has the greatest variety of enemies in the series. The Lambent are nowhere near as tactical in their attacks, they just run at you screaming, but they do provide a difference in gameplay from the Locust. There are less set piece moments and large monsters to fight this time. Instead the game focuses on waves of enemies in large numbers providing the challenge. I think it might be fair to say that the pacing of the campaign is not great because there is basically nothing to break up constant firefights against the same hordes of enemeis again and again.The game also gets very tough towards the end but only because you are put in small environments against a lot of enemies and this is unusual for the game because Gears of War 3 generally has much larger areas than the previous 2 games. This is due to the inclusion of 4 player co-op in the campaign and I think that is definitely the way to play this game.
The friendly AI in the game is not great for reviving you when you are downed and there are plenty of moments that just scream out for co-op so really the game is designed for a team of friends to go through it on a challenging difficulty level. Despite its pacing issues the campaign is a great one and there are some very good boss fights and fun moments to experience across its varied levels. I am pleased to say that Epic have fixed the multiplayer issues that plagued the last 2 games in the series. Host advantage is gone, as is the chronic matchmaking and lag problems of Gears of War 2. Horde mode is back in all its glory, but there is also beast mode which allows you to play as the Locust creatures taking on a team of human warriors. The multiplayer maps are fantastic for the most part, with a great layout and nice spacious areas. There are too many power weapons in my opinion but its a chaotic game with plenty of tactics that can be used to gain the upper hand against the opposition. The multiplayer modes have been slightly tweaked at points but its still the game that you know and love. There is now a team deathmatch mode where the team share a pool of 20 lives, meaning cooperation is essential to victory. This game really does have a monstrous multiplayer helping, with a four-player co-op campaign, a campaign that can be played solo and runs at about 8 hours, an arcade mode version of the campaign with mutators, competitive versus modes, and two co-op modes in the form of Beast and Horde. You know level up from all parts of the game, there is no separation between campaign and multiplayer, adding to the feeling of generally more refined UI and game mechanics.
Gears of War 3 is a game that gets so much right. The story is told well and has emotional weight, despite not all that much happening if you actually break it down. The variety of enemies and weapons is fantastic, and the multiplayer options will sate the hunger of any action game fan. The game still runs like a charm and looks fantastic despite not looking at breathtaking as Uncharted or Killzone. Epic definitely played it safe when it comes to the campaign, and there are a lot of moments that are reminiscent of past games in the series. There are not as many memorable moments in this game as past games, but in terms of polish and mechanics Gears 3 is the best designed game in the series. Its not a huge leap forward, but this is a fitting end to a great trilogy and one of the best games of the year.
- More varied environments and great visuals
- Fluid controls and fun gameplay
- Great selection of weapons
- Loads of new enemy types
- 4 player co-op campaign
- So many multiplayer options, and matchmaking is fixed
- Emotional and surprisingly strong story
- Some good boss fights
- Great sound and music
- Very few truly memorable moments
- Conservative and safe campaign
- Still has texture pop-in and frame rate drops
- The Lambent can get annoying
- Campaign has some pacing issues
- Hard to shake the feeling that its not as special as previous games in the series
- How much money was spent on that damn island