And so it begins, fall is coming and that means plenty of triple-A titles are ready to drain our wallets. First up on the list is Gears of War 3. Will the newest Gears be able to stand up to some of the other titles coming out? Will we still see this game being played after the new year when everyone has their hands on Battlefield or Call of Duty? I think (and hope) so, or else I will be playing it alone.
The Gears franchise has always been a consistently solid third person shooter, but the latest, and possibly last, title takes it to a new level in more ways then one. Everything that people have complained about from the first two games has been touched up and polished to near perfection. When I heard that Gears 3 was getting delayed from early 2011 to fall 2011, I was upset, but what developer Epic did in those months, puts any of my anger to rest, and replaces it with an urge to go play the game more.
The story opens with a Marcus Fenix dream sequence. He is having a flashback to when he lost his father. As soon as he steps outside and looks around his dream, you can see that the Unreal Engine 3 has been put into overdrive for this game, and holy hell it looks beautiful. After shooting some badies and going through a cutscene, Marcus wakes up on a warship, two years after the sinking of Jacinto at the end of Gears of War 2. You take control of Marcus once more and walk around the lower decks of the ship rounding up your posse. Consisting of your old buddy Dominic Santiago, a.k.a. Dom, newcomer Jace, and your old communications officer Anya Stroud… wait a playable girl in Gears of War? That’s right. Finally the fairer sex gets a chance to gracefully tear someone to shreds with a chainsaw, or very elegantly snap a downed enemy’s neck with a sawed-off shotgun.
Gears of War 3 looks beautiful. With an actual color palette going past the drab grays and browns that plagued Gears of War 2, each environment is a feast for the eyes. This is easily, in this reviewer’s opinion, the best looking game I have played on console, including the Uncharted games. When playing co-op with my fellow editor Clint, I died a few times where I shouldn’t have, not because of any problem with the game, but because he was too busy looking at how beautiful the lighting would be, how each area is completely different and better than the last, or staring into the sea depths gawking at the way the waves form. Meanwhile I am bleeding out, or getting curb stomped by an enemy. I know I may be saying “beautiful” a lot, but using any other word would be doing this game injustice.
The story, while better then the past Gears games, is still not the best you have ever played. Essentially it can be summed up as, Marcus’ dad is still alive (and looks exactly like Bryan Cranston’s, of Breaking Bad fame) and he has the answer to the lambent Locust problem. So, Marcus and Co. must go find your dad, stop the Locust army still led by Queen Myrrah, and save humanity from being wiped out.
Returning to Gears of War in full force is Horde mode, the original wave based survival mode that is so popular in the later half of this console generation. You may wonder how it can stand apart from the firefights and zombies of the gaming world today, I believe Horde 2.0 is the most addictive version of the game type since the original in Gears 2. Here Epic has added a tower defense touch to the wave-based combat. You earn money for kills and then you can put that money towards placing defenses such as fences, auto-turrets, decoys, and more. Gears of War 3 also includes a boss wave for every ten waves your team completes. It is one thing to play through a scripted Brumak fight in story mode, but when you are running around looking for ammo and there is a Brumak pointing all guns straight at your chest that is a terrifying and awesome feeling. I definitely recommend playing with at least 2 other friends though. Once you hit waves 35-50, even on casual, the Grinders are your worst enemies, able to down you in seconds, and you will need a few friends to come and revive you.
Beast mode, the newest edition to Gears of War 3 is Horde mode turned on its head. The roles are switched and you take on the COG fighters with different types of Locust. You start off with one tier of locust, consisting of the bottom feeder Locust, like Tickers, Wretches, and Savage Locust, and you work your way up to Kantus, Boomers, Beast Riders, and finally Berserkers. With only 12 waves, the mode is a lot easier the Horde but this is just another mode that will draw in hours upon hours of playtime. Beast mode is so fun that you will have no problem going back through to get all your ribbons and medals for it.
Gears of War has always been famous for it’s Versus mode. Grab your favorite rifle and shotgun combination and be prepared to stay awhile. While Gears 2 was a one gun game (a damn dirty shotgun game), Gears 3 balances all the starting weapons to near perfection so if you come fresh from Gears of War 2, and expect to be able to grab a Gnasher shotgun and start annihilating, you are in for a rude awakening. Mid to long range combat is dominated by the rifles, while you have to get up close and personal to do some damage with a shotgun.
Most of the game modes are recycled from the past Gears games, but there is one new edition that I gladly welcome to the series. Team Deathmatch is just like you would expect, but with a slight twist. Instead of a set point total your team needs to hit, like most games, each person on your team pulls lives from a pool of 15 for the whole team. Once your lives are depleted, you have one last chance, and after that, no more respawning. This leads to more team based play, because you will want to help out the weak link on your team so he doesn’t just drain all the lives from the team, leading to a loss.
In the past, there has been a leveling system in Gears of War, but no incentive to keep leveling other than seeing the number beside your name going up, but now, there are plenty of unlockables to keep you coming back. As you level up you will unlock character skins and weapon skins that have no affect on gameplay, but help show off your accomplishments. This way the playing field is kept as even as possible, but there is still incentive to keep playing, especially since each character comes with their own set of dialogue and one liners.
Another boost to replayability is the ribbons and medals. Ribbons are earned for accomplishing different things in a round, such as most revives, getting a double kill, or there is even a ribbon for getting no other ribbons in the match! Medals are the bigger stat trackers, and can be displayed next to your characters name. These are the ones that require things like “100 kills with a Gnasher” or “Beat Beast mode without failing on Normal”. Most medals have four levels: bronze, silver, gold, and onyx. Getting an onyx medal may also unlock more skins.
The Good: There is so much good here it is hard to choose just a few that stand out. The graphics are beautiful, and the gameplay is balanced extremely well.
The Bad: I had to go back through some modes and intentionally find bad things, one of the only things I could find is that in Horde mode, money doesn’t scale with difficulty or wave number
The Ugly: When Battlefield and CoD come out, all the people yearning for new shooters with flock to them, but the core Gears fanbase will still stick around, trying to hit level 100 and get all their onyx medals
Score: 9.75 out of 10
Final Comments: While the game is near perfect, I don’t feel comfortable giving it a 10 out of 10. There is so much good here, but just some minor and infrequent annoyances keep it from being the best it can be. That does not keep it from being on my Game of the Year list though, and I will be playing this at least until this time next year.