We won’t tease you for longer than this sentence – Gears of War 3 is awesome. The campaign is epic, with action sequences that are more intense, weapons that are more powerful, enemies that are more formidable and heroes that are more relatable than ever before. The multiplayer is extremely generous, with a horde of new maps and new modes that are instant classics, as well as perfectly suitable for either competition or cooperation, experts or beginners. All aspects considered, this is a spectacular shooter.
Gears of War 3, however, is not just another shooter. This is the end to a trilogy, the final (for now) chapter in one of this console generation’s defining franchises. As such, it arrives with a lot of lofty expectations. Fans want much more than an awesome game. They want the absolute best game in the series, and a satisfying conclusion to the story they’ve invested in for half a decade. By those high yet not unreasonable standards, Gears of War 3 falls short – only by a little, but enough to affect our score and our discussion. First, though, the awesome…
Remember your climactic battle against a screen-smothering sea monster near the very end of Gears of War 2? Well, that guy shows up less than half an hour into Gears of War 3, chomps down on the deck of your island-sized warship and can only be defeated with the help of a near-indestructible, rocket-fitted mech suit. In other words, this campaign is crazy ambitious. While the length is pretty much the same as previous entries, the scale is anything but, and creatures that once qualified as game-finishing bosses now appear routinely in the middle of missions, often demanding you defeat them with nothing more than the weapons at hand.
Brumaks as big as Tyrannosaurs? We lost count of how many we faced. Corpsers that make the spider in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings seem downright cuddly? They show up in multiple forms, from burrowing baby to seriously pissed-off mommy. Berserkers, the charging bulls of the Gears universe? Upgraded to leave trails of poisonous acid in their wake. Even regular enemies are scarier and nastier than before – the new breeds of Lambent Locust don’t just die when you shoot them, they explode into nightmarish second lives, full of squirmy tentacle arms and decapitated head snakes, requiring you to kill them all over again. It’s wild and it’s intense.
Most of the missions and weapons are equally so, as if the developers behind Gears of War 3 know this is a last hurrah and want to throw every idea they’ve ever brainstormed, no matter how large or how ludicrous, into the game. You’ll vaporize opponents with a single blast of the One Shot rifle. You’ll bayonet them like kabob sticks with the Retro Lancer. You’ll hijack a blimp and dogfight other blimps across a missile-streaked sky. You’ll sit in a submarine’s turret bubble, hunting alien fish beasts and watching sunken BioShock-esque cities float by. You’ll launch huge catapults at huger targets a mile across the map, following the trajectory of your fiery, fleshy ammunition through a high-speed first-person perspective. You’ll visit everything from military bases to suburban supermarkets, from a city made of ash to a city made of money.
And that “everything must go!” vibe extends to the characters as well. No, we’re not saying they all die (we’re not not saying that, either, of course) – what we mean is that, since this is a final act, nearly everyone gets at least one moment in the story to shine. Marcus Fenix is still the hero, but fan favorite Cole Train is the star of four heartwarming chapters, Dom’s search for closure with his wife Maria is featured prominently, and Baird actually comes across as lovable, or at least likable, by the end. Anya and new female lead Sam bring some welcome diversity to the squad, while Carmine brings unexpected badass-ery. Heck, you’ll probably even root for generically gruff Colonel Hoffman.
What falls short, then? Why isn’t Gears of War 3 the best game in the franchise? Read on to the next page...
The heroes are more believable and the enemies are more indomitable. The weapons are satisfying and some of the action sequences are stunning. We spent the entire first page of this review drooling over what’s better in Gears of War 3’s campaign, and yet… we just weren’t as impressed as when we first played through Gears of War 1 and 2, nor were we completely satisfied by the conclusion of the trilogy. Although we’d had a massive amount of fun, something was keeping this game from feeling as climactic as we’d hoped. Something was off.
That “something” is difficult to fully define and describe, but here are a few contributing factors. First, the story is a tad predictable. Before starting Gears of War 3, we conducted an experiment, writing down a list of characters we expected to survive and a list of characters we expected to selflessly sacrifice themselves in noble battle. We were correct on all but one. The driving mission behind the entire narrative, meanwhile – and the key to winning the entire war against the Locust – doesn’t seem too different from tracking down a “sonic resonator” in the original game, and honestly comes across as less dramatic than the sinking of humanity’s only stronghold in the second game. Plus, the pacing loses a lot of steam and creativity in the middle when you realize you haven’t seen Cole, Baird or Dom for hours and you’ve spent the last several missions scouring for fuel, rotors and generator switches in the Gears equivalent of warehouses. Thank goodness the game’s concluding act is also the best.
Gears of War 3 is incredibly (almost stupidly) easy on anything less than
Hardcore difficulty. Because of its potential four-player co-op, the game must
provide you with at least three AI partners at all times, and these guys are
frustratingly helpful. They’ll charge ahead and kill half the enemies while you’re
still searching for collectables and ammunition. They’ll finish off bosses when
you’re not looking. They’ll revive you every time, but also steal your
executions every time. Fortunately, there’s a wonderful solution…
Gears of War 3 is a great game to play solo; it’s an unforgettable game to play with friends. Anyone who’s tried the groundbreaking co-op in Gears 1 or Gears 2 already knows this, of course, but now that experience comes with even more reward. In addition to the simple increase from two to four players – the impact of which can’t be overstated or overhyped – this entry adds more missions with divergent pathways, weapons that require multiple people to operate and an arcade mode that tracks kills, encouraging competition along with the cooperation.
That’s merely the campaign. Horde Mode is better, too, with new tower defense elements and waves of enemies that include boss creatures. If fighting a Brumak in the expansive environments of a story mission sounds exciting, imagine that same monster on a cramped multiplayer map, attempting to squeeze his behemoth head through a doorway as you and your squad frantically strategize how best to spend your funds. Bigger guns? Repaired barriers? Additional control centers?
Beast Mode is the refreshing opposite – a complete and utter change of pace from everything else offered in Gears of War 3. Playing as the Locust monsters instead of the human soldiers has the potential for gimmicky afterthought, but this may be the most brutally satisfying part of the whole package. Nothing is quite as addictive as detonating a group of unsuspecting enemies with a Ticker, clawing them to pieces with a Wretch, shattering their eardrums with a Kantus, electrocuting them with the pinchers of a Serapede and then simply smashing them into paste with the charge of a Berserker. All within a single match.
Despite our slight disappointment with the campaign, Gears of War 3’s multiplayer has never been better. We’ve already raved about the cooperative aspects, but the competitive maps and modes are equally fantastic. Some improvements are immediately obvious, like the new XP leveling system which unlocks prizes or the medal menu that tracks achievements such as how many times you’ve killed with a grenade tag, or a mortar, or in a spree. Others are less so, like the fan service Easter egg in which an instrumental version of “Mad World” occasionally plays on the classic map Gridlock, or the ‘80s laugh track you can add to any match.
What’s most impressive about the multiplayer, however, are the ten maps – each memorable for totally unique reasons, and each worthy of a different style of strategy. Sandbar is a sprawling tropical paradise with countless beautiful spots to snipe from, while Checkout is a tiny cluttered supermarket where only shotguns and short-range rifles make sense. Overpass features a single turret that everyone will struggle for as the broken concrete ground shifts suddenly beneath their feet, while Trenches features a blinding sandstorm that drives everyone underground for cover at least once a match. The list goes on, but you’ll want to discover some of the maps’ secrets and surprises for yourself. Suffice to say, Gears of War 3’s multiplayer and co-op more than make up for whatever’s lacking in the campaign.
Gears of War / Gears of War 2? Yes and no. While the multiplayer and four-player co-op in Gears of War 3 are the best the series has produced, the campaign will probably leave you a little disappointed. Its action is bigger and brawnier than what’s come before, but the story and pacing (as well as some of the new characters and environments) aren’t everything you’d hope for in a trilogy conclusion. Think of it as Return of the Jedi syndrome.
Halo: Reach? Yes. Both Xbox shooters feature some of the best multiplayer available on consoles, but Gears of War 3’s co-op is more fun and more diverse. And even though the campaign falls a little flat at times, its story is still incredibly important to the canon and its heroes are still the icons we want to play as – the same can’t be said for Halo: Reach.
Resistance 3? Sorry, but even though the comparison is understandable – an exclusive PS3 trilogy and an exclusive 360 trilogy happen to reach their third entries during the same month – we’re not walking into that fanboy crossfire here. Chances are you’ve only invested in one of these franchises by playing the previous two games, so pick that. Otherwise, you’re lucky enough to own multiple consoles and shouldn’t be bothered with such silly rivalries.
Gears of War 3 boasts the best co-op and multiplayer of the series, by far, easily making up for the less-than-satisfying campaign. The end of the trilogy may not live up to your epic expectations, but somewhere in the tenth – or hundredth – hour of Beast and Horde 2.0 modes, you’ll forgive it.
Sep 15, 2011
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