Isn’t it hard to believe that almost five years have passed since the previous installment to the Gears of War franchise? Now, the third person shooter trilogy comes to an excellent climax in Gears of War 3. Building from the insane amounts of carnage and merciless melees of its predecessors, Gears of War 3 takes the series signature action and brings it to a whole new level. Cooperative and competitive opportunities are bigger than ever, but the most beautiful achievement this time around is, without a doubt, the campaign. It is a truly satisfying conclusion for the series, which definitely makes Gears of War 3 on of the best shooters of the year (and may I argue, of all time?)
Things have not been good for the Gears since the first cutscence of the series, and this time around, humanity is really on the ropes. Their last civilized holdout has been sacrificed in a desperate attempt to destroy the Locust. Clinging now onto isolated ships and forts, they are teetering on the verge of annihilation. In case you forget what happened in the previous installments to the game, there is a video titled “Previously On…” that very nicely recaps what has happened to lead up to the current events. The campaign starts with a pretty nice surprise that you would not expect from the beginning. You are acquainted with Delta squad once again while Marcus grumbles about taking orders and Dom cultivates plants and for this moment, offers a nice contrast to the chaos that incurs moments later. Gears of War has always been very exciting, and this game is no exception. A sassy new female squad member named Sam gives Baird a run for his sarcastic money, the “Cole Train” barrels along with no signs of stopping. Some of his one-liners are kind of annoying, but most are genuinely amusing, and the same holds true for a majority of the characters in the game.
An early revelation surprises Marcus Fenix, but you are only given a glimpse of the internal turmoil as he shuts down his emotions to be a leader to his squad needs. It isn’t until roughly halfway through the fist act that the game really shines in its storytelling abilities. For a few chapters, you step out of Marcus Fenix’s boots and get to play as Cole Train on a mission to his hometown where he earned his reputation as a star athlete. The first encounter with his past includes a simple line that foreshadows the journey you are about to take “You ever feel like you’re dead, but nobody told you?” Near the end of this chapter, you will have a whole new understanding of the horrifying life that begins to sink deeper than it ever did before. Gears of War 3 delivers some truly poignant moments and honestly, some of the best storytelling ever seen in a shooter. Mix this with great facial animations, an expressive soundtrack, and excellent pacing makes this game truly Epic.
As you continue your journey, you will visit a variety of beautifully designed locations. Improvised human and Locust settlements convey the desperate state of Seran surface dwellers and contrast the areas that humans have forsaken. These places all have meaningful connections to the story, so every narrative detour feels natural. The only vehicles you actually pilot are essentially a bigger, bulkier robotic version of you. These are used sparingly and hand extremely well, offering a tasty feeling destructive power. Gears of War 3 doles out cutscenes, combat, and changes of pace in skillful measure, and maintains this delicate balance within the on-foot firefights.
The conflict zones vary widely in size and shape. The claustrophobic rooms force you straight into the front line of your enemies, while larger rooms give you plenty of room to plan out a few flanks. Spacious locations often play home to a new type of enemy spawn point, the Lambent stalk. The the emergence holes before it, the stalk needs to be damaged enough to halt the flow of enemies and is more difficult that simply throwing a grenade into it. Like the previous installments, you need to take cover to stay alive, but on the contrary, you must venture onto the field of battle to stop these spawn points and locate more powerful weapons to use against your foes. Returning favorites are your Mortar and Mulcher, joined alongside by the One Shot and the massive, Vulcan cannon (a minigun that can only be moved by two people). When you are firing away at your enemies, the bullets still hit their marks with satisfying “squish” noises and the roaring chainsaws bring back the true core of melee combat that you can expect in a Gears of War title.
The Gears of War 3 campaign supports a four-player online co-op and a two-player splitscreen and is an absolute blast to play with other people. Having actuals humans on your team, rather than the AI, creates a slightly more realistic feel and camaraderie. Cooperative campaign play is extremely exciting and probably the most rewarding modes that Gears of War 3 has to offer. You can also choose to play Arcade mode and earn points for the enemies that you kill. Racking up the big multipliers and earning that high score is very gratifying, just as watching your teammate get gunned down and bleed out is frustrating. Teamwork is very crucial to to rack up those high scores because you share a multiplier, so downed allies translate to negative points. There are also a large amount of Mutators that let you tweak the battlefield conditions to make things easier (all melee hits cause an explosion), harder (friendly fire is enabled), or just silly (dialogue is complemented by a laugh). These Mutators are very similar to the Skulls you can enable in Halo.
If campaign is not your thing, you can pit your skills against other players directly. The Versus mode provides some awesome maps upon which to do battle. Up to 10 players can duke it out in a variety of game types – such as Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill. Other types also make good use of the other gameplay mechanics, such as Capture the Leader and Execution. Now, you can resurrect yourself if you are downed, provided you are quick enough, which adds extra incentive to really get in there and finish your enemy off. If you are a newcomer to the game, don’t worry about getting murdered in the multiplayer. This time around, there is a beginners-only lobby that allows you to practice and get your skills up before you play with the top dogs. The moment you begin your multiplayer adventures, you will understand that the importance of skillful moving and evading is just as essential as skillfulshooting.
Two distinct cooperative modes bring even more to the Gears gameplay. The Horde mode introduced in Gears of War 3 makes a return here. Once again, you and five others will be pitted against wave after wave of the brutal Locust. Horde mode has been tweaked just a little bit this time around. This time around, you can use money earned from killing Locust to build defenses to keep your enemies at bay. You can only build between waves and your resources are limited so deciding what to build, repair, or save your money can make the difference between a long, victorious run or a short, brutal run. There is a strategic element that livens up the already-frantic moments between waves while you have to scramble to replenish your weapons from your fallen enemies. Once the next wave begins, these weapons disappear and it is just you, your teammates and your defenses struggling to survive.
Beast mode offers the Locust a little bit of sweet revenge. It allows you to play as the Locust in a “reverse Horde mode” where you attempt to slaughter the increasingly strong groups of human survivors. Just like Horde mode, you earn currency for all of your kills and then you spend this resource to spawn as a type of Locust that you choose, from the suicidal Ticker to the “Hulk-like” Berserker. Time limits force you to hunt out your prey aggressively and can take some trial and error to get the hang of each type of creature. Not all Locust can use cover, but fortunately, once you get the hang of it, Beast mode is extremely fun and challenging. With a range of difficulty levels can make is accessible to anyone.
Accessibility is one of the strengths of Gears of War 3. Even though it is an undeniably intense shooter with a lot of things going on all at once, it scales very well to accommodate a range of skill levels. From the Versus mode competition to the two great cooperative modes, Gears of War 3 delivers an extremely entertaining experience on both side of the war against the Locust. Like mentioned previously, the real triumph is the campaign, a very well put together story that raises the bar much higher than its predecessors and exciting gameplay. Gears if War 3 is one adventure that you definitely will not soon forget.