The Gears of War games are without question one of the Xbox 360's flagship franchises. It pioneered cover based third-person shooters, had gorgeous visuals, became the epitome of "badass", and boasted taut competitive action. The original game quickly curb stomped its way to success but the sequel unfortunately dabbled in a lot of online problems; something that Gears fans have clamoured for Epic Games to avoid in the third game. Now, Gears of War 3 is here and it brings about new modes and improvements and ties up the story arc with a loud, cacophonous bang -- oh, and the online works terrific too. Gears of War 3 isn’t just the pinnacle of the series, but it’s also one of the finest action titles to come out this year and will no doubt keep players hooked for a long, good time.
The campaign still centres on Delta Squad and their fight against the Locust horde, as well as a new and looming hostile entity dubbed The Lambent. Things are looking incredibly dire for the inhabitants of planet Sera, but after it turns out that Marcus Fenix’s dad is still alive and has developed a counter-measure against the Imulsion virus that’s causing the Lambent outbreak; Marcus, Dom, and old-favourites such as Baird and Cole suit up once again for yet another gory romp that spans multiple different locales, set-pieces and more. Story has never really been the series’ strong point but Epic has done everything they can to wrap up the series in a satisfying and poignant way, and with great success. Sure, the dialogue is still riddled with cheese and the banter is a little too testerone-fueled at times, but the game hits all the right notes when it has to, and doled out through the campaign are moments that really shake up the narrative, and every lose thread left behind by Gears of War 2 is tied up here. It’s an extremely satisfying conclusion overall.
Gears of War has always remained strong thanks to its extremely tight controls, ground breaking cover system and an arsenal that’s unlike anything else. On the whole, all the staples are here – you still dive into cover and take pot-shots at enemies using weapons like the Lancer, shotgun and much else and you’re constantly being funnelled from one challenging skirmish to the next with plot-points, set-pieces and the occasional vehicle sequence in between. The pacing is fire on all cylinders – there’s not a single dull moment and hardly any down time and there are times where you’ll have trouble breathing as the game chucks one adrenaline rushing moment after another at you. But between its refined mechanics, Gears of War 3 is excellent at introducing new weapons and features; there are new heavy weapons, a retro counterpart to the Lancer with a bayonet equipped, new vehicles such as the Silverback and the Loader and vibrant, exquisitely detailed environments to battle in.
Not a single weapon or added feature feels like a throwaway and you’ll quickly come to appreciate everything that Gears of War 3 has to offer. The campaign will last you well over ten hours –if not more—and you can still play it offline via two-player split screen or tackle the entire adventure with three other players over Xbox Live. There’s also an arcade mode to check out, collectibles strewn about the game and four different difficulties to try out. It’s a spectacular campaign offering to say the least.
Gears of War 3 also boasts a boat-load of competitive and cooperative multiplayer options. Team Deathmatch is the latest addition to the repertoire of versus modes available and it’s a ton of fun as two teams to try to decimate one another while also keeping an eye on their number of respawn tickets remaining. Execution, King of The Hill, Wingman among others still make a return, and there are nine available maps to smear the blood of your opponents on. Gears of War’s frantic action and well-crafted mechanics lend themselves extremely well to online play and the good news is that the lag-infested multiplayer of Gears of War 2 is nowhere to be found here.
If you rather prefer to work together against computer-controlled opposition, then Gears of War 3 most definitely has you covered. For starters, the insanely popular Horde mode from Gears 2 is back, but it’s been updated to introduce a new monetary system where you can buy fortifications, such as traps, barriers and sentry turrets. Surviving all of the 50 waves on offer is just as addictive here, and the terrific map design allows for a lot of strategic flexibility. Last up, is Beast mode, one of the best modes in the entire Gears of War series. In this crazy and incredibly fun multiplayer mode, up to five players must work together as Locust creatures to take out a squad of humans under a time limit and for 12 waves in total.
Killing enemies nets you with money which you can spend on spawning as more powerful creatures, so while you’ll start out playing as a Ticker or Drone, you’ll soon advance to Corpsers and Berserkers. Beast mode is a great change of pace because of how wildly different it is to play as the other side, and mastering the play style of each individual creature is wholly entertaining. This enormous multiplayer suite is tied together by a levelling system that will grant you more characters, skins, badges and other awards in the long run and unlocking everything will likely take you hundreds and hundreds of hours. You will not be able to stop playing.
Epic games is still utilizing Unreal Engine 3 this go-around, but there are numerous improvements made to the engine that allow the artistry and colour of the Gears universe to truly shine here. There aren’t any more dull and brownish corridors in the game, and the environmental diversity helps inject a sense of scale to the game, and the frame-rate is consistent throughout. But of course, this is a Gears of War game after all, so expect a ton of excessive gore, that all looks sick in the best possible way. There are still a few visual oddities here and there and I also stumbled upon numerous glitches in the campaign that required a reload, but these issues are minor in an otherwise stellar visual package.
Gears of War 3 offers a ton of content and is extremely accessible, and if you don’t feel up to speed about the story or fear you might be gobbled up online by ruthless, shotgun-toting players – then you should be pleased to know that there are “previously on Gears of War“video snippets to check out and bots to practice against in the online modes. Either way, Gears of War 3 has something for everybody. Overall
Gears of War 3 lacks the freshness of its predecessors, as it’s much more evolutionary than revolutionary. But sprinkled across this gore fest are elements of accessibility, depth and flexibility. It refines every facet and mechanic imaginable and offers up a tremendous amount of content that will keep players compelled and deprived of sleep for weeks to come. If you hated the previous games, then steer clear, but anyone with an Xbox 360 should pick up this superb third-person shooter right away, and without hesitation.