E3 2011: Gears of War 3

By Xav de Matos, Jun 15, 2011 4:15pm PDT

QUICKTAKE: The Epic Games-developed Gears of War trilogy comes to an end later this year with Gears of War 3. Though the original was known for ushering in the 'brown, next-gen color' found throughout games this generation, Gears of War 3 is a set-piece for the possibilities of Epic's Unreal Engine 3. Vibrant colors manage to cut through the game's typically dark facade to catch the eye and remind players of the humanity that the COG soldiers are fighting to protect.

THE DEMO: In a behind-closed-doors demo, Epic's Cliff Bleszinski walked a room of journalists through multiple sections of Gears of War 3. My meeting apparently had began earlier than originally scheduled and when I walked in, Bleszinski was in the middle of showing off the section of gameplay that debuted during the Microsoft press conference. The level builds up to an epic assault where a behemoth sea creature (aptly dubbed 'Leviathan') is attacking a barge that a handful of COG soldiers have made their way to, led by Marcus Fenix and Dominic 'Dom' Santiago. Eventually the battle ends as a crate of trapped tickers is dropped on the Leviathan's head, sending the feral monster into a watery grave.

The next section of the Gears of War 3 demo is a slice of gameplay Bleszinski referred to as the game's "Pulp Fiction-style" moment. Instead of showing players what happens after the barge attack, the game's timeline goes back two hours. This time players take on the role of another group of COG soldiers, led by Augustus "Cole Train" Cole and Damon Baird. In this section we hear Cole's group discussing strategy against the Leviathan with Marcus' crew. It's now up to the player to make it across a Locus infested bridge to push the crate of tickers on to the Leviathan's head as Marcus and Co. battle the beast in the distance below. This non-sequential story element isn't going to be standard throughout the game, but Bleszinski notes Gears 3 will feature dream and flashback sequences to help tell more of the game's story.

DETAILS: Epic continues to use its own franchises to showcase how flexible its Unreal Engine can be. Dark grays and browns are still a predominant color on planet Sera, but now the game has been peppered with lush environments to show off the engine's enhancements. There was a tagline that was attached to Gears of War 2 that has sadly stuck with me: "Bigger, better, more badass." At its core, this ridiculous marketing line is meant to convey how expansive the world of Gears of War can be. The ability to look down from the bridge to see another battle occurring--against a giant sea creature, no less--does a good job of visually explaining that this war isn't relegated to corridors between a handful of gun toting man-beasts; a problem I felt the first game suffered. It does a lot to remind the player they are only one cog in the gear of this battle.

The weakest element of Gears of War has always been its narrative. It's difficult to soak in the gravitas of Dom killing his wife in Gears 2, for example, in between lines about how many "shit loads" of enemies are infesting an area. Of course, the hardcore chainsaw fiends might not care about the game's narrative, but it's always left a bit of a hole in the franchise in my eyes.

Features like multiplayer, campaign, and Horde that have made Gears of War so successful. While Bleszinski admits Gears was far from the first game to add swarming enemies to a game--"Robotron: 2084 went there first," he says--he's happy that the mode has been defined as a staple feature in the Gears franchise. Horde returns in Gears of War 3 with a number of changes. Now dubbed 'Horde 2.0,' players will earn currency for making kills, getting assists, saving allies and more. This currency can be used to purchase four types of reinforcements: barriers that slowdown attacking waves, decoys that draw attention away from players, turrets to help thin enemy lines, and the new man-controlled Silverback armored mech. Each of these reinforcements (save for the Silverback) can be upgraded multiple times. For example, barriers start as razor wire and can be upgraded to laser and electric wires.

Earned money belongs to each player, so there is no fear of one teammate spending the squad's green on decoys to draw attention when the team needs something stronger to battle a new wave. Another big change is each tenth wave, which will now spawn a giant boss from the universe--a Brumak was one example shown in a trailer during our demo. Then there are additions that show off Epic's twisted sense of humor. Players can unlock mutators and activate them during modes. These mutators include everything from having flowers spill out of enemies instead of blood to the (brilliant) ability to active an 80's style sitcom laugh track during battle.

When I asked Bleszinski if traditional Horde would be available for "purists," he insisted it's still available somehow. "Just go ahead and hit eject on your Xbox. Put in Gears of War 2. Horde still works there." I had to ask him to slow down for offering up such hot news scoops. Sarcasm aside, Gears of War 3 does not include traditional Horde mode, but I hear it works in that other game.

There's a simple goal with Gears of War 3, Bleszinski says. "The goal is to be satisfying." There's certainly a lot added to the game, layered deep within an engine that somehow impresses after years of availability. If Gears of War 3 can correct some of the errors the sequel had online and offer a campaign fulled with the quality shown at E3, Xbox 360 owners are in store for a quality exclusive on September 20.

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