Epic has concluded the Gears of Wars trilogy with what is easily the best and most gratifying series entry. Gears of War 3 makes up for all the series mishaps (broken multiplayer, bad narrative, clunky controls), and makes you forget about the previous game’s atrocious ending. But before we dive full-on into the review, treat yourself to some backstory.
If you haven’t played Gears of War or Gears of War 2, Gears of War 3 has a small recap to get you up to speed. Gears of War 3 draws a grim picture with little to no hope left: The game starts two years after the COG’s decided to sink Jacinto, mankind is hanging on by a thread, the COG is in shambles, and its soldiers are living on a ship at sea. There are humans living on land called The Stranded (which are fighting for survival and have set up small colonies) and The Locust is also suffering as its underground network has been destroyed and is forced to scavenge above ground. To make matters worse, both the humans and Locust have the Lambent or “glowies” to deal with. Yeah, it’s bad and the game reflects on these hard times.
The Locust horde has even begun to use human weapons and have gone as far as to make turrets out of old Lancers. Ammo is scarce (especially on harder difficulties) and each firefight is intense. The checkpoint system makes a return–not that anyone is complaining. It auto saves your progress making sure you never turn your console off without a save point. The in-game collectibles are back, including the annoying COG tags. These collectibles earn achievements, naturally.
Graphically, Gears of War 3 shockingly improves over its predecessors. Epic has found a way to improve what many thought was a tapped out Unreal engine. Colors and environments in Gears of War 3 are brighter than the previous two games. The brown and muddled color pallets are gone; instead Gears of War 3 has a brighter color palette that maintains the gritty look. Sunlight reflecting off weapons and beautiful blue skies (which are contrasted by grisly death scenes) prove the Xbox 360′s graphical prowess.
Environments range from industrial zones to beautiful wide-open fields–you can see that time and care was taken to make sure that each location looks its best (the game’s final chapter, in particular, will leave you in awe). My one complaint are the CGI cut scenes: they are extremely blurry and Epic would have been better off just trying to animate those scenes with the in-game engine. It does show, however, that Epic wanted to provide a better narrative. Texture pop isn’t really noticeable anymore like in the past either; on a few occasions I did experience it, but it was nothing that sullied the experience.This is hands down one of the best looking games this console generation has spawned, it can be in put in the same sentence as Crysis 2 (console version) and the Uncharted series.
Animations are still a bit stiff, but you’ll notice an improvement over past games. Players no longer stick to unwanted cover, and the new control layout makes it easier to revive allies. Besides these minor but improved changes, the controls remain the same. Some gamers might have an easier time with the stiff movement if they turn the sensitivity up a bit in the options menu. Note: the frame rate will dip during intense firefights. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it draws away from the experience.
The gore has been turned up a notch, and execution animations are plain out brutal. There’s nothing more sadistic than impaling a downed enemy with a flamethrower and then igniting them from the inside out. The new weapons-based executions are sick; every time I ripped off an enemy’s arm and beat them to death with said arm, I felt like a machine of destruction. Some of the new weapons are devastating; the One Shot does exactly as its name says, and it will take anything down in one shot and leave a mess of body parts behind. The Silverback is also a welcomed edition. Picture a mechanized forklift with chain guns and rockets that tears through everything in sight.
The cast has changed: Delta squad now consist of eight members Anya, Baird, Cole, Dom, Jace, Samantha, Marcus and the running series joke Carmine. Each member has his or her own personality that makes the characters real and believable. Baird is the egotistical sarcastic nerd that never shuts up, but comes through when you need him; Anya is the navigator and mother figure of the group; Cole, as always, is over the top and ready for action; Samantha is a strong person who can handle her own and doesn’t take smack from anyone; Carmine is here for fan service; Jace is easily the weakest link, as there isn’t much character development here.
But then we have the two standout stars of the game Marcus and Dominick. From the original Gears of War till now their relationship has shaped into a brotherhood. It was Dom that freed Marcus from his cell at the beginning of the original Gears of War. In Gears of War 2, Marcus allowed Dom to take the risky detour to find his wife going against orders. These two bad asses have had each others backs, plain and simple. I will admit it without spoiling anything: their Gears of War 3 story arc formed an emotional lump in my throat. What their relationship culminates into during Gears of War 3 will make you get up and hug your best friend.
Gears of War 3 definitely sounds familiar hearing the trademark chainsaw brought back memories of the original. Epic has kept what works and improved it. The impact of a round on flesh makes you feel like you’re actually ripping your target to shreds. The voice acting is neither great or awful; it’s middle the road. The music, however, is spot on. Several moments in the game use sound as a fear mechanism and it worked really well. There are gritty tracks during firefights, and slow mellow tunes during flashbacks and cut scenes. But one use of music during what I consider the best scene in the game almost brought a tear to my eye, it is easily one of the best-orchestrated pieces used in game.
What will keep gamers coming back for more is the multiplayer, and Epic does not disappoint. I can safely say that it’s done correctly. Matchmaking is fast, smooth, and without Gears of War 2′s hiccups (random disconnects, lag during matches, long waits in lobbies, and the biggest drawback of all–the host advantage). Epic has switched over to dedicated servers, which eliminates the advantage hosts enjoyed during ranked matches (like faster weapon speed). The improvements are noticeable immediately; this is the return to greatness that fans of the original have been hoping for. The ranked game types all make their return along side ten multiplayer maps. These include my Gears of War favorite, Gridlock, but with a somber new twist.
But the two gems are Horde 2.0 and Beast mode. Horde 2.0 is everything the original Horde mode was, but with a Call of Duty Zombies twist. You and your four squadmates manage currency to build barricades, upgrade turrets, and purchase weapons. Teamwork is essential to surviving wave after wave of enemies. Beast mode puts you in the shoes of the Locust as you hunt down COG forces similar to Horde mode. However, as you complete challenges (like killing the most enemies) you gain tokens that let you choose stronger Locust. The campaign can now be played with three other friends and I highly recommend it when playing on higher difficulties. The friendly A.I. isn’t bad, but having a human teammate makes things easier.
Gears of War 3 is a great close to the trilogy. There is enough content to keep gamers entertained for a long time, the multiplayer is improved, there are new modes, and we will more than likely see DLC sometime down the line. The story is a vast improvement and Epic delivered on its promise to build a concise story that players could follow without the gimmicks and odd pacing we’ve seen in the past. This gory, brutal, and sometimes emotional ride is one for the ages, and one every Xbox 360 owner should take.