Gears of War 3 review

  • Campaign’s intense action and ferocious enemies
  • Brutal yin and yang of Horde and Beast modes
  • Quality and diversity evident in every multiplayer map
  • Occasionally too predictable and too familiar story
  • Your kill-stealing, glory-hogging AI partners
  • Hanging out with Ice-T instead of Cole, Dom or Baird

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…

An epic campaign

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...

A not-so-epic campaign

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.

Finally, 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…

Must play co-op

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.

The best Gears multiplayer yet

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.

Is it better than...?

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.

Just for you, Metacritic!

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

More Info

Release date: Sep 20 2011 - Xbox 360 (US)
Sep 20 2011 - Xbox 360 (UK)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Published by: Microsoft
Developed by: Epic Games
Franchise: Gears of War
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language


  • onyx precursers - March 26, 2012 12:19 a.m.

    this game is freak-in awesome the beta rocked the only thing is my profile data recently reset me back to level one for no reason it has taken me 4 months to get back up to my rank with a least 10 of my 15 onyx medals i would love to know how to fix this
  • dell215 - October 2, 2011 5:09 a.m.

    Well idk about everyone on here but,as far as the story goes,its a good one but not great,but the multiplayer features alone make this the best 3rd person shooter ever,now as far as comparing gears 3 and resistance 3,ima leave that subject alone cause I'm not a fanboy,I played both games,and they both offer something some what different,besides this gears is 3rd person shooter and should not be compared to resistance 3 at all,its stupid to compare them,what you fanboys should all do is rejoice in the fact that your living in this time and playing great games and please stop all the stupid and useless comments,and just play your games and have fun,I could tell you which game I liked more,but will you listen?,hell no you won't,cause mostlikely your a fanboy and you only want to hear or read what you want so what's the point,just have fun playing your games and stop all this hate towards games especially if you haven't even gave the game a chance and played it for yourself,play it first before you judge it,trust me you will enjoy it,you probably won't admit it,but YOU WILL ENJOY IT!
  • gilgamesh310 - September 29, 2011 1:12 p.m.

    Darkwun, they are design choices but they are design choices that sap a lot of fun out of games. The regenerating heal, cover shooting mechanic and weapon limits are mainstream stallwarts of this generation and any game that doesn't have them is better off.
  • eric-tha-don - September 27, 2011 2:28 a.m.

    gears of war sucks. and with that conclusion..i dont deserve to live.
  • Darkwun - September 24, 2011 6:07 a.m.

    Those are design choices, they hardly make it an inferiorgame. They're both great games that cater to a different audience but that can be enjoyed by many who are open to both concepts. GR did well to avoid a fanboy war, people like F*CK just cater to the bull that one game HAS to better than the other. Reviews exist to give an informed opinion of a game of which to base your purchases on. Not to give fanboys ammunition
  • Darkwun - September 23, 2011 4:10 a.m.

    Great review but I wish I never read it! strayed too close to spoiler territory, and though the twists were obvious, it's a little different to have suspicions yourself about certain plot occurences, than have them pretty much confirmed in the review so your damn well EXPECTING them to happen rather than just thinking "I bet it will." kinda ruined the immersion of the moment! Lets face it, anyone in their right mind is going to know who you're talking about rom the review so it's pretty much a downright confirmation! It was further marred by my new housemate talking over the scene... EFF OFF MAN! Gears doesn't have many deep scenes, stop pulling me out of the game! he then decided to do it AGAIN at the unexpected death... a hole. On the whole I preferred the campaign over Gears 1 & 2. Marcus' character was more 3D, the story had more depth and they even managed to squeeze a Koehler's gun moment in there. Actual plot techniques in a Gears game? I'll take that! Though Griffin... what a useless pile of turd... seriously... what was the point!
  • Zepaw - September 18, 2011 5:11 p.m.

    Nice landmine avoidance with Resistance 3.
  • forestfire55 - September 17, 2011 11:16 a.m.

    Sorry i poasted the same thing like 8 times by accident
  • forestfire55 - September 17, 2011 11:01 a.m.

    Hey Charlie, I know you may never read this but i have read alot of your posts and i have to say i am sorry. Alot of us (gamers) tend to think its our way or no way. I have been a fan for years and i have seen people mad over the years over nothing. No man should ever need to argue an 8, let alone a 9.
  • ProfessorChief - September 17, 2011 1:31 a.m.

    Great review Charlie! Never liked the multiplayer in Gears much, but I had fun playing the beta. Think I'll dive further into it with this one. You've sold me on it for sure!
  • JayQ - September 16, 2011 12:29 p.m.

    I just checked and yea, Drake got replaced by Michael B. Jordan thank god. Just thought I'd throw that in there since you specifically mentioned Drake in your "things you'll hate" section.
  • GamesRadarCharlieBarratt - September 16, 2011 1:13 p.m.

    My God, you're right. Thank you for pointing out the error - it shall be corrected in the review post haste! The criticism still stands, as that character steals too much time from the characters we want to see, but at least now I know it's not to accommodate another celebrity voiceover (ahem, Ice-T).
  • Fox_Mulder - September 17, 2011 3:28 p.m.

    Oh good. I thought Jace was being voiced by Drake, thank the G that didn't pan out. I think Nolan North voiced Jace for the two lines he had in GOW2, so hopefully he will sound more like he did in the second game.
  • JayQ - September 16, 2011 12:23 p.m.

    wait, last i herd Drake got replaced due to schedule conflicts.
  • manateesta - September 16, 2011 12:20 p.m.

    Awesome review Charlie, I am glad to hear there have been improvements on multiplayer. I have always been a fan of the GOW multiplayer, but GOW 2 turned me off because I wasn't willing to put up with host BS and glitches when there were other games to play. At the time of GOW 1's release there wasn't much else, so I just stuck with it. I feel GOW's multiplayer has a much different feel then most FPS's and I would love to give it another go.
  • AuthorityFigure - September 16, 2011 2:03 a.m.

    Those asking for a particular score make the game seem so needy and unworthy.
  • Grif - September 15, 2011 9:56 p.m.

    Nice review Charlie, it was a very good read. And as good as you say it is, I'll probably let it pass. It's just not my kind of game. (The Halo fanboy in me will not let me buy it LOL or maybe it's the lack of money and Xbox).

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