Gears of War 3 Review
Gears of War 3 is the final installment of the Gears of War trilogy started back in 2006. The story revolves around the human race on the planet Sera and their attempts to oppose the hordes of underground-dwelling Locust. At the end of Gears 2 a new enemy emerged, the Lambent, who play a major role in Gears 3. Gears 3 revolves aound a three-way battle between the Locust, humans and the Lambent and this conflict offers some great battle sequences throughout the amazing 9 hour campaign. The main conflict here puts you once again in the shoes of Marcus Fenix, a Gear soldier once working for the human militia group COG now on the lookout for his long lost father. Times have been rough, though, since the sinking of Jacinto at the end of Gears 2. Humanity has lost their last city and are forced to live out their days in dead towns or on large boats which is where the story begins.
Gears of War 3, as you would expect, plays alot like the first two. Left trigger aims while right trigger shoots and the "A" button still roadie runs, goes into and vaults cover. The great thing about Gears 3 is the refinements made in each of these areas. I found myself less often getting stuck in cover or being forced into cover I didn't want to get behind because I was roadie running. One of the bigger improvements, though, has to be the 8-way roll. In the first two games you were only allowed to do a dodging roll in the basic left, right, forward and back directions. Now Epic has implemented diagonal rolls which saved my life a few times. Another thing I love about the controls is the return of multiple sensitivity options. You get a sensitivity option for looking, aiming and zooming. This really helps for players like myself who like having loose movement controls but also want stiffer, slower sensitivity when aiming and zooming with the Longshot. One of the biggest beefs I had with Gears 2 were the controls so I'm ecstatic to see a great refinement in them. Goes to show that minor improvements can enlighten a gaming experience.
One of the other areas of improvement comes with the technical department. I ran into MANY technical problems with Gears of War 2. Bloodmount Riders floating in the air, weapons that couldn't be picked up, characters being stuck in one location and various others but Epic has seemingly squashed those bugs. During the campaign I never once had any technical issues aside from a few times when the game stuttered a bit before loading up a cutscene. These technical and design oddities also carry over to the multiplayer. Epic finally made the choice to use dedicated servers and boy do they make a world of difference. Gone are the days of trying to avoid shotgun battles with the host or having to aim your shotgun in a certain direction dependent on lag. During my experience with Gears 3's online components I had no lag at all and I could feel each and every one of my shots hitting their target. One odd thing I don't like is the fact that if you want to play Horde online with others you must start at Wave 1 and if someone drops out at any time that spot will not be filled. Just a minor gripe but something I hope gets rectified. I also love the fact that now I can finish Versus matches without having a host quit just because his team is losing. There were three things Epic needed to do in order for me to buy this game after being disappointed with the second, add dedicated servers, refine the controls and do a beta test. Epic did all three and more and I couldn't be happier.
Gears of War 3 is absolutely gorgeous. It is one of the best looking games I have ever played. The environments are stunning, the character models are highly detailed with great facial animations and the lighting is superb. At one point in the game you come out to a ledge looking over a destroyed city. Not only does the massive crater look incredibly detailed but the way the sun shines into the screen with "God rays" beaming through the crevices just made me stop playing for a few seconds and stare in awe. The weapons are also highly detailed and with the addition of selectable weapon skins for multiplayer you can add a little personal style to these tools of destruction. The great visuals are ever-present in that multiplayer as well. Many games take a visual hit between single and multiplayer, but not Gears 3. When I loaded up my first match on Sandbar I was just blown away. Once again the lighting was phenomenal but their is also an astounding selection of color decorated around the destroyed browns and greys. Green foliage decorates the ground and walls while a beautiful blue sky fills the air. There are a few minor drawbacks to the graphics, though, but they don't mess with the overall quality. This does use the Unreal engine so expect to see some texture pop-in. I noticed this the most when playing as the Beserker in Beast mode. Also, during the campaign, I came across a few cutscenes that looked slightly lower res and blurry and some of the textures do look a little messy when you're right up next to them but nothing that will hamper your visual enjoyment.
Like the visuals, Gears of War 3's audio is amazing. One of the things this franchise has had going for it since the beginning is the phenomenal musical score and Gears 3 is no slouch. Epic battle music rages on in the heat of firefights while somber tones will ring during intermission sequences. Heck, you'll even get an instrumental version of "Mad World" in a few different places. The great music ties in perfectly with the great sound effects as well as the hilariously over-the-top voice acting. Bender reprises his role as Marcus Fenix but Ice-T really steals the show albeit in a brief performance. I can't remember the last time I heard so many vulgarities in 10 lines of dialogue and it still managed to be hilarious.
Gears of War 3 is packed to the brim with content. The story, which can be played with up to three other people, can last up to 9 hours depending on difficulty. I started of "hardcore" alone and it took about 8 hours and 50 minutes. You can return to the campaign to round up some collectibles or make different decisions that alter how you approach certain firefights. Another great addition to the campaign is the Arcade mode which adds a scoring option to the mix which can be played alone or in coop. Basically Arcade mode will reward you with points for getting kills and completing tasks which then add up to an overall total at the end of each chapter. These points are used to measure leaderboards as well as go towards unlocking a few of the staggering amount of unlockables. You will be playing this game for months upon months if you want to find every nook and cranny. You can get medals, ribbons, new character skins, weapon skins and even some avatar awards. My favorite set of unlocks has to be the Mutators. These are similar to the Mutators found in the Unreal games. These basically alter your experience in awarding and hilarious ways. Want to replace the blood with flowers? Go ahead. Heck while you're at it you might as well put on infinite ammo, big head mode and "comet" which turns a roadie running character into a freight train of destruction. You can use these Mutators in Arcade mode as well as the returning Horde mode.
Horde is back as Horde 2.0 and boy is it amazing. I loved Horde in Gears 2 and am glad it got some overhauls. You and maybe 4 of your buddies can still team up and take on 50 waves of progressively harder enemies but now there's a catch. Epic has added some tower-defense play into the mix. Now before the start of a wave you can build up defenses to help you in your fight. These come in the shape of barriers, mountable gun turrets, gun sentries, decoys and ever mobile gun suits. As you buy and repair each item you fill a progress bar which eventually levels that fortification up unlocking new upgrades and bigger discounts for those upgrades. These are all bought using the new currency system which is rather reminiscent of the Zombies mode from Call of Duty World at War and Black Ops. This money is also needed to purchase the weapons found on each map or used to buy your way back into the fight if you die during a wave. Another great thing about Horde 2.0 is the enemy diversity and the randomness at which they appear. One of the downers about Gears 2's Horde mode was that it was predictable. Certain enemies only appeared on certain waves and after 10 it would all repeat again. This is the complete opposite in Gears of War 3. Each wave has random enemies now though you will always start off against the weaker of the bunch. I've gone through about 80 waves and there are still enemies I have yet to encounter. These all lead up to the tenth wave which is now a Boss Wave. Here you will get a randomly generated boss fight against the likes of Brumaks, Beserkers, Reavers and much more. There's nothing like the feeling of trying to hide in the alley of a street only to be surrounded by rampaging Beserkers coming from each side. This is everything I ever wanted out of the Horde mode in Gears 2 and more. Along with Horde is the addition of Beast mode. Here you can go up to 12 waves but are instead playing as the Locust hordes trying to kill human forces. You will start off fighting stranded who will die rather quickly before moving up to named characters who also build up the same fortifications you get in Horde mode. You will start this mode playing as the lowest-tier Locust like tickers and wretches before building up enough currency and experience from kills and destruction to play as baddies like the Serapede and the Armored Kantus. Each Locust has unique weapons and abilities. The wild ticker is good at destroying barriers while the Kantus is great against human opponents and healing allies. Overall Beast mode is great but the time limit and the wave limit mean that just as the action begins to ramp up the mode is over. Thankfully all of these modes can be played on any of the maps available.
Last but not least you have the traditional versus multiplayer which can be taken online against whining children and racist rednecks or against bots of varying difficulty. All the modes from Gears 2 make a return such as Wingman, Execution and Warzone with Annex now being called King of the Hill. The one new mode added to versus is Team Deathmatch. Here each team will have a pool of lives to feed off of. The first team to run out of lives loses the match. It seemed weird at first playing traditional deathmatch with respawns in a Gears of War game but after playing it alot I started to use Team Deathmatch as my preferred mode of combat. All of these modes whether Versus or Horde or Beast add up to an amazing package that will have you coming back for months or even years at a time.
Gears of War 3 does everything right. It has an amazing campaign that begs to be replayed while offering a multiplayer that functions as it should with minimal issues. Add on top of that numerous modes that can be played with anyone you wish whether online, split-screen or system link and you have yourself the total package. You will definitely see this when the mess that is "Game of the Year" debates start showing up.