Gears of War 3 review

By Xav de Matos, Sep 15, 2011 9:00am PDT

Gears of War 3 does something that few video game franchises have the confidence to do: it provides total closure, without teasing something for the future. There is little doubt that the Gears of War franchise will continue beyond the stories of Marcus Fenix and Co., but developer Epic Games isn't relying on cheap narrative tricks to continue the franchise. There's a level of confidence evident throughout the entire Gears of War 3 package that I wish more developers would employ.

It feels like Epic Games poured everything they could into one package, making sure each element was as high in quality as the last. There is no filler. Gears 3 is a product that is built to last, and it's the best action title on Xbox 360.

In order to defeat the Locust, the COG army used Hammer of Dawn strikes to incinerate entire cities. In Gears of War 2, players help sink the city of Jacinto, one of Sera's last human colonies, in order to squash the Locust threat. These strategies were short-sighted and childish. The "if I can't have it, no one can" attitude proved that humanity had no other choice for survival.

Gears of War 3 doesn't fall back on that idea. More than any other war-based game I've ever played, the characters appear tired and worn out. Emotionally, they're done fighting. They're damaged goods. You get an honest and sincere sense of how the war against the Locust and Lambent horde has changed the lives of these characters. When Gears of War 3 tries to get emotional, it works. Some of the core ideas are still silly, but it's a surprisingly touching story that's less about war as it is about finding a place to call home.

There are five acts in Gears of War 3 that can be played solo or cooperatively with three players. Unlike previous games in the series, the game doesn't fall back on shuffling players into dark caves (or inside giant worms). Utilizing enhancements to the Unreal 3 Engine, Gears 3 showcases new and colorful environments, the majority of which are outdoors. Simply put, the game looks brilliant throughout. The only oddity is that, as in previous games, areas don't look like organic locations on a real planet; they look crafted for encounters. It's easy to spot where someone on the design team said, "put a box there so someone can use it as cover!" Still, action is paced so well that it's more of an observation than a complaint. There are also a handful of bosses throughout the experience that, honestly, I thought all worked extremely well. More than that, they were fun and reminded me of strategic combat found in something like a Metroid rather than the typical and lazy "just keep shooting" idea we've seen so often.

Gears of War 3 includes the ability to play the game in "Arcade" mode, which scores players for kills, assists, and so on. Earning points fills a multiplier which quickly drains if any of your team goes down. Mutators can also be activated to change the game, in a manner not unlike Halo's Skulls. A lot of the ideas are great here, but I took issue with the amount of time it takes to unlock some of the coolest mutators. It would be nice if there was an ability to just have everything accessible so friends could worry more about playing the actual mode, rather than thinking about what's next on their tree of unlocks.

Horde has evolved, adding Tower Defense-inspired elements to the mode. Now, you earn money for kills and use this cash to purchase fortifications throughout the game's multiplayer maps. As you purchase and repair these fortifications between rounds, new items and upgrades are made available. It's punishingly harder than I remember the original Horde mode being, which I'm totally cool with. Each tenth wave is a "boss" wave, sending a swarm of random boss-types in your direction. In one instance, two Berserkers and a group of mixed Locust attacked us and we were quickly decimated by the group. When the wave restarted, a Brumak was our major boss enemy, picking us apart once again. In the beginning my group was silent and we couldn't beat the boss wave, but once we started to talk and make tactical decisions about where we needed to hole up and what fortifications we needed, we were much more successful in our endeavor to survive the Locust surprise party.

Beast mode is surprisingly well crafted as well. Here, players are given the chance to play as the various forms of Locust enemies. This is unlike anything in the series' past. Gears is about "stop and pop" whereas Beast is about constant rush and attack against the AI opponent. It also forces you to pay attention to progression. It's cool to play as a Armored Kantus who can roll into enemies, slicing them with his razor-sharp body. All of this, by the way, is happening on a 60 second timer that gains a few extra seconds for doing thing like getting kills. It's a great change of pace.

Multiplayer is back and, theoretically, it will perform better than Gears of War 2. Epic has decided to use dedicated servers this time around, but it's difficult to gauge that success until the game's release. Multiplayer has seen some changes since the beta. The Retro Lancer, for example, has a high kickback when fired from the hip. The actual gameplay strategy, I found, is essentially the same as it always has been. People rush toward you and fire active-reload-powered shotgun rounds in your direction while rolling around like a circus performer. It's not a knock against the game, but it's basically what every match turns into because it's successful. Hell, I do it too! I would like to see at least one playlist where people were unable to use the shotgun only if to force players into using any of the game's other, very awesome weaponry.

Gears of War 3 manages to offer players closure in a story that is more sincere and mature than what the series has attempted in the past. It's a great send off for Delta Squad, a clan of characters that we manage to like hanging out with despite themselves. Not only is the game longer than any title in the franchise's past--clocking in around 12 hours--it's also the best game in the series. Beyond that, the entire package is so well produced and exudes a level of confidence in storytelling and overall polish that Gears of War 3 is the best action game available on the Xbox 360.


[The Gears of War 3 review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360, provided by Microsoft. Microsoft also held a review event in San Francisco last week focusing on the game's multiplayer modes, which Shacknews attended. Shacknews paid for transportation to and from the event and accommodation.]

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