There's no escaping the fact that Gears of War has been one of the stand-out franchises of this generation and it's hard to understate how much of a coup it was for Microsoft to score it exclusively. The first title arrived at the perfect time and went on to sell millions. However, that was quite a few years ago and we're now on the third iteration which Epic Games has promised will bring an end to the current story arc and will offer up a ton of new features to its modes.
The story kicks off some time after the conclusion of Gears of War 2. Remnants of the COG have managed to survive on a naval ship called the "Raven's Nest" and they've been fighting off small pockets of Lambent. However, when Chairman Prescott arrives on the vessel, he brings news that Marcus' father is still alive, but he also brings hell along with him.
Things rapidly descend into chaos, as is quite often the way when the COG are involved and the rest of the game follows Marcus' journey to be reunited with his father, who we find out is the key to saving humanity.
It's a much better campaign than the previous title, but unfortunately that's not saying a great deal. Karen Traviss, who has worked on some of the Gears novels, was brought on board this time and she should be commended for taking some big risks with the story. There are some very hard hitting moments in there. Of course, they're then ruined by emotional moments which seem very awkward, but that's what Gears is known for - some extreme guy banter, some swearing and then a failed attempt at some empathy.
Anya was present to some degree within the first two titles, but you'd think with two female characters in prominent positions this time around, these empathetic moments would seem a bit more genuine, but if anything, they feel even more awkward. Yes, people will feel compassion and remorse during war, but in Gears, it always feels forced, unnatural and not in keeping with the rest of the game.
In many people's eyes, the original Gears of War revolutionised the third-person shooter genre. It brought a fully functional cover system into the eyes of the mainstream, featured a squad-based system with competent AI and had those brutal melee kills. There's also the time-based reloading system. And at its core, not much has changed about Gears of War since the original title. It's as if Epic has taken that old adage to heart, if it isn't broken, don't fix it. But some parts of the game are broken and they haven't been fixed.In Gears of War 3, there are now four people in a squad. And it's great if you can partner up with some buddies to tackle the campaign as a quartet. However, if you aren't that fortunate, you're going to have to deal with some frustrating AI. One of the best examples comes with the revival system. In Gears, when you're injured, you don't die straight away, you're just downed. When you're in this state, you can be brought back into the fight with no penalty. The problem is, that often the AI gets a bit confused about who should be reviving you. Often, it chooses one of the four as the designated "reviver", but how it selects this appears to be random. It means you end up in situations where, despite having two people standing right next to you, the guy over the other side of the area is trying, very slowly, to come over and revive you. It gets even worse if they themselves then get downed - it's ever so frustrating.
There isn't much variety either. In Gears of War 3 you will again be tackling the Locust and the Lambent and while there are some new enemies in there, they've just replaced old ones. It means that you'll now just see the new enemies appearing over and over again, alongside maybe a few legacy enemies. Some of the new enemies you might only see once or twice too, but for the most part, you'll be fighting against the Locust grunt and the Lambent grunt for pretty much the entire thing. At best, they might shake things up and throw in some Boomer guys or some Lambent that mutates into one of three different things.
There are some new weapons too, but again, they don't add a great deal. There's the Retro Lancer, which is just a Lancer, but worse. The Sawed-Off Shotgun, which is just the normal Shotgun, but worse and the Digger, which is effectively a Boomer that burrows underground. The One Shot and Vulcan are also new weapons, and they're rather cool, but their appearance in the game is very sporadic. For the most part, you'll just use the Lancer or Hammerburst.
It's a shame Epic didn't try to do more to really mix things up - they played it all very safe. Why couldn't they have introduced some weapons with a bit more originality, or add some diversity to numerous fights you'll have. If the Lambent are supposed to be this race that evolves quickly, why are there only a handful of types throughout the game?
Where Gears of War 3 does shine though, is with the new modes they've added and the extra functionality added to existing modes. Horde has been replaced by Horde 2.0, there's four-player co-op for the single-player campaign, Beast and the competitive multiplayer.The competitive multiplayer has always been a love/hate thing, but with Horde 2.0, they've taken the mode that has been so frequently copied since it arrived and taken it to the next level. Now, it's more like a tower-defence game as you can set up a base, earn points and build defences. Bosses will also appear every 10 waves, and when you're playing with a bunch of friends, it's a great mode.
Likewise, Beast is a new mode where you get to play as the Locust. It's the exact opposite of Horde, but you can't regenerate health - you do have more than one life though. Through killing humans, you will be able to unlock more powerful Locust to play as and it's a whole load of fun.
It's quite surprising how fun Horde 2.0 and Beast are, and they certainly make up for the competitive multiplayer, which is pretty bland.
When you take into consideration that the campaign is longer than previous titles, and with the legs that Horde 2.0 and Beast will offer, it's clear that Gears of War 3 will offer some pretty good value for money in the long-run. Plus, the game has Carmine in it again - it's worth playing through again just for that reason.
It's also not that bad to look at either, which is a plus. Not much has been improved since Gears of War 2 on the visual front, but that's not a bad thing. It's not going to be rivalling many top-tier games for visuals any more, but it can still hold its own. And there are plenty of visual set pieces throughout the campaign to keep things interesting. The sound design is top notch though and as you go through the campaign you'll be hearing excellent sound effects for the different environments that dynamically change.
Gears of War 3 is a fine send off for this story arch, but aside from the story, it does feel as though Epic Games were playing it very safe. It's a shame, because it feels like there's so much more they could do with the franchise, but aside from the additional game modes and expansion of those, it hasn't changed all that much from the last iteration. The story still has its awkward moments where they try to get all serious emotionally, you'll still be using the Lancer as your predominant weapon and you'll still be playing Horde Mode, albeit in its upgraded form. Don't get me wrong, Gears of War 3 is still a great game, but next time, here's hoping that Epic try to push the genre on like they did with the original title, as opposed just making do.
|Four-player co-op is a blast.|
|Horde 2.0's additional features are great.|
|Cole Train baby! Wooooo!|
|The game feels like a very safe bet.|
|Campaign still has its forced emotional moments.|
|Lacks any real variety.|