A Perfectly Timed Active Reload
Gears of War 3 is exactly what it title implies. It’s more Gears of War. Whether or not that’s a good thing really depends on you. I guess it’s important to preface a review of a franchise that is somewhat divisive like this with a little about my experience with the series. I really enjoyed both of the previous games in the series, and I even read two of the novels. I hold Gears as the gold standard for how a third person shooter should control.
The presentation and technical aspects of Gears 3 are where the most obvious and most substantial changes have occurred. The game looks wonderful with great high quality textures and solid lighting. This is one of the best looking games on currently on the Xbox 360. Texture pop-in, the bane of the Unreal engine, has also been mitigated. If textures pop in at all they do so quickly it’s almost impossible to notice. An occasionally inconsistent frame rate, especially in cut scene, mars what is otherwise a very proficient technical package. The scenery has changed as well. You’ll still have fights underground and in gray destroyed cities, but these are spaced between battles in deserts, forests, and some other locales I do not want to detail for the sake of the story. After two gears games with very similar locales it’s nice to see some greater variation.
The story in Gears 3 is another strong point. The game does a great job of making you emphasize with characters and worry about them. Conveying desperation and hopelessness has been a strong point of the series, but this is the first game to fully flesh out the cast of characters and convey that hopelessness through their interactions with each other. Those who are not as familiar with the Gears universe are probably going to have some issues following this story. Certainly it’s not impossible to understand, and most of the key story beats are only relevant to the games, but it is unfortunate they did not do a better job of explaining who some of the auxiliary characters are and why the player should care about them. Although the previously in Gears of War movie does catch you up on the major plot, the emotional connections are going to be lost on those who haven’t spent so much time with these characters.
In terms of gameplay, it is almost unchanged from the previous entries. The focus is still on taking cover and popping out to shoot enemies. That said the controls are as tight as ever, and the new and old weapons feel satisfying and effective. The game also has its share of set pieces, which are almost exclusively on rail shooting sequences. Even the times when you get control of your movement nothing feels particularly revolutionary.
Multiplayer has been given a cosmetic and technical overhaul, but otherwise remains largely unchanged. Gone is the serious host advantage and lag that plagued previous Gears games. The dedicated servers are extremely stable and I have yet to see lag really effect a game at all. Rolling and shotgun wielding still make up a lot of the combat but this is somewhat mitigated by the introduction of the team death match mode. Death match gives players a spawn pool to draw from, making it far more forgiving then the previous one death games. The early beginner matchmaking is also good in setting up new players with easy matches in which they can learn. The ribbons and medals are nice bonuses for playing, but are par for the course and don’t change how the game plays at all.
Horde and Beast mode along with a 4 player cooperative story make up the other multiplayer components. Horde mode is essentially a wave based survival mode with some new tower defense elements added in. It quickly becomes very challenging but playing it with a group of friends is very rewarding. Beast mode is a similar scenario, but in reverse. The players gain money to spawn locusts that they control to fight enemies. It’s very refreshing to play as different characters with different abilities and it is a great change of pace from the campaign. Also you can play as a Berserker. Yeah. That’s right.
Gears of War 3 is the best Gears of War game. If you are looking for something that will make you love Gears this isn’t it, but if you like action games or shooters I would definitely recommend you purchase this game.