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

Epic Games go crazy with the WD40.

It goes without saying that anyone reading this would already be well acquainted with the Gears of War series. Epic Games' flagship cover shooter hasn't changed all that much from outward appearances, but anyone who has played the first two games in the series will understand that subtle changes can have a larger impact once a controller is in hand. It is thus the same with the latest and by far the best game in the series, where a number of small changes have refined the formula into something truly special.

The story of Gears 3 takes place very soon after the sinking of Jacinto; the last human stronghold on the planet of Sera. With the government broken up, you must lead Marcus Fenix and the remnants of the Cog against the Locust Horde and the ever growing Lambent forces; creatures and other organisms corrupted by the main source of fuel on the planet, Imulsion.

The story is, by all accounts, not at all bad. There are some genuinely funny moments, a couple of sad ones, and the pace never sags in spite of some sections being far more hectic than others. Each of the old squad; Marcus, Dom, Cole, and Baird, get their opportunities to shine, and for anyone who has played and enjoyed the previous games, some of these sections will no doubt raise a pretty wide smile.

Epic have managed to breathe new life into the ageing 360 hardware.

What also raised a smile, or at least a nodding approval, was that in spite of Epic's penchant for over the top machismo, there is the inclusion of two female sqaud members who neither come across as overly butch or feminine. They are by in large completely normal, and give as good as they get without playing by the others' rules and being "one of the boys" so to speak. I've never been one to praise Epic's approach to characters, but here they do a better job here than they've ever done before, and the entire Gears fiction is very much enhanced by it, as it is by the campaign itself. The one minor criticism I would have would be with the relatively short play-through time, but the missions themselves are fun and tightly packed, so when you reach the end you'll be likely wanting more rather than feeling relief that it's over.

Considering that the original game was something of a high watermark for console graphics, It's remarkable just how much better Gears 3 looks over its predecessors. Not only is there much greater range of colours, but everything from the scale of the environments to the animations, to the texture detail. Epic have done a quite considerable job in keeping the series at the very top end of console graphics. It should also be mentioned at this stage that the improved visuals contribute much to the game's more reflective moments during the narrative, with the scenery doing as much of the storytelling as the dialogue itself.

The gameplay remains pretty much unchanged so there isn't much to say if you've played any of the previous games, but it is worth mentioning that here too has also felt the golden touch. Movement feels smoother, faster, and pretty much now stands, as it almost always has with the Gears of War games, at the top of the cover shooter mountain. There has always been a deliberate pace to the Gears series, but here it never feels too slow or cumbersome, which it occasionally did for me in Gears of War 2.

Another thing that ever so slightly irked me about the last game was the lack of four player co-op. But sure enough it finds its way here and is as good as you'd expect. This obviously makes the areas ever so slightly larger in the campaign to accommodate all the players, but this is largely of no consequence.

Gears 3 is more colourful and content heavy than ever before.

As we've come to expect from Gears of War, the competitive multiplayer is massive. A great many modes, well thought out maps, excellent presentation, a nice map overview, and with all the various DLC available, those interested in playing for a while are going to be catered for quite nicely. Horde mode has also seen some upgrades, with the ability now to set up defences such as decoys and barriers in exchange for the points you accumulate through the battles, while providing 50 waves of ever increasing insanity for your and your friends/kindly strangers to enjoy.

A new inclusion to the multiplayer is Beast Mode. This "horde in reverse" mode allows you take on the role of the many Locust types in an attempt to kill 12 waves of Stranded and Cog soldiers. It's not as fully featured as the improved Horde mode, but it is nontheless enjoyable and another good reason to spend hours and hours with this quite impressive package.

Underpinning all of this content is a staggeringly detailed stat and unlock tracking system. Achievement progress, medals, ribbons, weapon specific stats, unlocks, it's all recorded and fed to you in a very clear and well designed layout. Considering the kind of hours you could spend here, Epic have deployed a very useful device to make those hours more pleasurable and give you detailed feedback on pretty much all the modes you play. Many games could benefit from such a system, as the desire to fill those progress bars can be very addictive, and you suspect that Epic Games know this very well.

Gears of War 3 is an exceptional game by all accounts; an excellent campaign, a great plethora of both co-operative and competitive modes, all delivered with improved controls, graphics, and a rediculous amount of stat tracking. The original Gears of War may have been a sneaky rip off of Kill.Switch, but Epic Games have now rubber stamped their authority as the premier third person cover shooter developer of this generation.

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