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GAME REVIEW: Gears of War 3

Posted on September 25, 2011

Developer: Epic Games

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Platforms: Xbox 360

Release Date: September 20, 2011

Unless you’ve been living inside of a Fallout-style vault for the last few years, you’ve probably heard about Epic Games’ Gears of War. It’s that outrageously violent, badass, war epic about humanity’s survival in the face of the invading subterranean Locust Horde. Gears of War 3 is reportedly the final chapter in the Gears of War trilogy, and without a doubt one of the most highly anticipated titles of 2011. However, the real question remains: does it live up to the hype?

The story picks up roughly a year and a half after the final events of Gears of War 2. Survivors from the fallen city of Jacinto have moved to an island called Vectes to rebuild. However, after only a bit of peace, Imulsion-infected Locusts, called Lambent, emerge and wreak massive amounts of havoc. Amidst the chaos, the leader of the Coalition of Ordered Governments (aka COG), Chairman Prescott, mysteriously disappears. As a result of a lack of leadership and all-around disaster, the COG dissolves. Again, the survivors are forced to retreat and make the best of a progressively worsening situation. As such, it’s pretty much up to Marcus Fenix and the rest of Delta squad to save humanity from complete obliteration.

Just another day on the job, right?

Unless you’ve never played Gears of War before, you know exactly what to expect: merciless, bloody, in-your-face, third-person shooting action. Jumping between different members of Delta squad, you’ll use context-sensitive controls to blast your way through various varieties of Locust and Lambent as you barrel roll from cover to cover on the road to humanity’s salvation. Gears of War 3’s combat mechanics haven’t really been changed very much, but don’t worry – it’s a good thing. Everything is as crisp and responsive as you might remember; whether it be blind firing at an advancing Lambent or running your Lancer’s chainsaw bayonet upwards through a Locust’s abdomen. While the context-sensitive controls make it a tad difficult to navigate areas with lots of pillars and cover options (due to sprinting and taking cover being mapped to the same button), you’ll soon, with a bit of practice, be navigating your character around the landscape like a boss.

While the core mechanics of Gears of War 3 are pretty much the same as Gears of War 1 and 2, Epic Games did manage to not only polish the old stuff, but add a myriad of new content to satiate our everlasting bloodlust. New campaign collectibles have been added, alongside the hidden COG tags of the past Gears of War games, which, when found, offer further insight into the lore surrounding the Gears of War universe. Outside of campaign, there are tons of multiplayer characters, medals, ribbons, and weapon skins to unlock.

Aside from a new cinematic, story-driven campaign with new characters (Jace and Sam) and a new Carmine brother, Gears of War 3 hosts a handful of new enemies. You’ll run into everything from Lambent-spawning stalks, crawling Polyps, and persistent Drudges, to Locust Savage Therons, Siege Beasts, and even flying Tickers with attached machine guns! And of course, numerous classic enemies from the previous Gears of War games are still hungry for COG blood.

Fortunately, with the addition of new enemies comes new weaponry to destroy them. The “new” Retro Lancer is an older version of the Lancer assault rifle that possesses a solid knife-like bayonet instead of a chainsaw bayonet. While its accuracy is horrible compared to the newer Lancer, it’s slightly stronger attack power makes it a more close-range type of rifle. Furthermore, you can charge with the bayonet for some impaling results. Also added was a new double-barreled, sawed-off shotgun. While you only get one blast per reload, the shot does massive amounts of chunk-inducing damage. Other additions include new power weapons such as the One Shot, which is literally a sniper cannon that… well… one-shots your opponents, a two-person Vulcan heavy machine gun, incendiary grenades, and more.

Another new feature implemented into Gears of War 3 is its leveling/progression system that’s seemingly active all the time. This allows you to level up in rank and experience level through all modes – not just competitive multiplayer. This means that even if you’re playing the campaign offline in split-screen with a buddy, you’re earning experience toward unlocking multiplayer characters and what not – a nice feature for those who don’t want to grind out multiplayer matches just to unlock Clayton Carmine’s character.

Graphically, Gears of War 3 looks just as good as the previous Gears of War games, if not slightly better. The Gears of War series has always been tough, gritty, violent, and somewhat dark; Gears of War 3 is by no means an exception. With the remaining humans on the brink of destruction, Epic’s design team did a great job in recreating that desperate vibe with the game’s visuals. You’ll venture through pockets of Stranded (human survivor) shanty towns, visit destroyed cities, and crawl through the all kinds of dank locations as you creep your way across the landscape to your objective. While there’s definitely a subtle beauty in Gears of War 3’s depicted destruction, you might find it difficult to go sightseeing as you’re being constantly attacked by the merciless Locust and Lambent.

Speaking of Locust and Lambent, while the Locust haven’t really changed all that much (aside from a few new Locust enemies), the Lambent are a completely new encounter. The Lambent are apparently members of Locust Horde that have been seriously infected by Imulsion – a glowing, gold, liquid substance that had been mainly used for fuel, until it was found to be organic. As such, the Lambent have this glowing, golden appearance that really makes them look as badass as they are. Furthermore, when killed, the Lambent have a tendency to explode into a big, juicy, golden blob. Tasty.

However, despite everything else, where the Gears of War series really shines is in its gruesome violence. Whether it’s a Berserker ripping a human apart limb from limb or a COG Gear smashing in a Locust’s face with his boot, Gears of War 3, like its predecessors, definitely delivers. Each enemy takedown, whether it be in the campaign or multiplayer, is exponentially more satisfying thanks to Gears of War’s trademark gib-generating weaponry and unfathomably brutal executions.

Much like its visuals, Gears of War 3’s audio offerings compliment the game’s overall tone perfectly. The voice acting is solid; serious and grim, violent and desperate, lighthearted and humorous, at all the right times. The epic soundtrack is also no exception, especially during one particular scene. However, just like the visuals, the real star is the game’s sound effects. Every Lancer chainsaw tear, every bloody explosion, and every meat-grinding onomatopoeia is delivered with that same type of clarity and animosity that made the Gears of War series such a fan favorite.

Again, while similar in mechanics and gameplay to its predecessors, what really makes Gears of War 3 shine is its level of polish. Without a doubt, Epic spent a lot of time trying to smooth out everything, both graphically and gameplay-wise. While there are some occasional slow loading textures, I was very surprised that I didn’t encounter any glitches or bugs of any kind. Even more impressive was the fact that Epic really fixed the multiplayer netcode and matchmaking system. For those who don’t know, Gears of War 2’s multiplayer was plagued by horrible lag issues, as well as ridiculously long match-seeking times. Fortunately, Gears of War 3 manages to effectively remedy all of the said issues almost perfectly – I’ve experienced only isolated issues of minor lag and match-seeking times are incredibly hasty.

If replay value is your thing, there’s a ton of content to go through and unlock beyond the campaign. The campaign mode itself took me about 15-ish hours or so to complete, which, to be honest, is pretty good for a third-person action shooter. Aside from the standard Gears of War competitive multiplayer modes (Team Deathmatch, Warzone, Execution, and King of the Hill), cooperative Horde mode is back (with upgrades), and an all-new mode called Beast mode is introduced.

The new Horde mode, or Horde mode 2.0 as it’s called in Gears of War 3, is vastly improved over its predecessor. Building on the old premise of finding a defendable spot on the map and camping it up, the new Horde mode is much more strategic. You’ll now be able to choose an area as your “Command Post” and kills now earn you cash. The cash can be used to build defenses, set up barricades, deploy decoys, and acquire other goodies. Additionally, boss monsters now make an appearance, making Horde mode 2.0 more difficult, but ultimately more fun and tactical.

The new Beast mode is pretty similar to Horde mode except for the fact that you’re playing as the Locust and killing the COG. Starting out as weaker creatures such as a Wretch, you’ll earn tokens as you kill enemies, allowing you to upgrade to bigger and better creatures (like the Berserker). However, unlike Horde mode, Beast mode is much more time-oriented, and as such, Beast mode is much less about strategy, and much more about killing everything as fast as possible.

Although Gears of War 3 is supposed to be the “closer” of the series, I felt that the campaign didn’t really answer as many questions as I would like. As a result, I found the overall story somewhat underwhelming and not as satisfying as it really could have been, despite a handful of awesome moments. Furthermore, the new Beast mode was not as fun as I thought it would be. While it’s definitely an interesting idea, the fact that there’s only 12 waves, as well as the whole “time attack” style of play simply made it not as fun and deep as the new Horde mode. On the positive side, Gears of War 3 has a huge amount of content, and new DLC is undoubtedly on the way. Furthermore, Gears of War 3 is one of the few games to feature split-screen, same-console online play!

No worries about getting your money’s worth here.

All in all, I think it’s safe to say that Gears of War 3 is the definitive title of the series. While its campaign lacked the emotional grip of the previous games, the gameplay is solid, and the gruesome violence is most definitely intact. Furthermore, the overall fun factor of the game’s competitive multiplayer modes will have you playing for hours and hours after you’ve blasted your way through the campaign. Also, the updated Horde mode and new Beast mode are welcome additions, and there’s tons of collectables and unlockables. While Gears of War 3 won’t exactly sway your opinion if you’ve never cared for the franchise, it is, without a doubt, a fantastic game that exhibits very well what you get when developers seriously care about their game.

And yeah, Gears of War 3 definitely lives up to the hype.

9.2 out of 10
Review by: Tim Morita

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