Gears of War 3 campaign preview: Hands-on with the first two hours of the game

Think you know what to expect from Gears of War 3 just because you played through Gears 1 and Gears 2? We understand this will sound extremely clichéd, but… think again. Epic’s developers have had nearly three years to prepare this latest chapter in the franchise, and since it could also be the last chapter for most if not all of these characters, they’ve made sure it’s much more than a by-the-numbers sequel.

In other words, Gears of War 3 will surprise you. In fact, while playing through the campaign’s first act for this preview, we found ourselves reaching for a notebook to scribble down surprising moments again and again. Here are the 9 best.

Gears of War 3 opens with an Inception-style dream sequence

Marcus Fenix is sitting in a dank, dark jail cell, his punishment for disobeying military orders to rescue his father, Adam Fenix. After four years, a friend arrives to bust him out and get him back to the frontlines. Only the friend isn’t Dom Santiago… it’s Anya Stroud. And this isn’t a flashback to the first scene in Gears of War 1, though the dialogue is almost the same… it’s a surreal dream sequence in which Marcus, after following Anya down a crumbling hallway and through a brightly glowing door, relives his final moments of freedom.

Relives? No, recreates. The latter word is more accurate because, as you play a younger Marcus and Dom fighting off waves of Locust in front of the Fenix mansion, you can actually watch as the environment – trees, gates, walls – are materialized and folded into place, Inception-style, around you. Then a giant Corpser spider shows up, a bunch of rubble falls on top of poor old Adam and Marcus wakes up from this recurring nightmare.

Dom is a tomato farmer

Back in the present, you control Marcus on the decks of the CNV Sovereign, a COG warship inhabited by a relatively small group of survivors. The boat is being attacked by Locust and you must gather a squad for battle. Jace Stratton (the new guy, voiced by hip-hop star Drake) and Anya (now an armored soldier) are ready, but where’s Dom?

If the tragic events of Gears of War 2 or the “f**k off” character art released for Gears of War 3 are any indication, he’s probably holed up in a corner somewhere with a pile of empty booze bottles and an epic tear-soaked beard. Only he’s not. He’s happily tending to a tomato garden. Wearing jean overalls. The sadness and bitterness we’ve been promised in trailers are barely on display, so what finally inspires those feelings to erupt? The first collectible war journal – a psychiatry report on Dom hidden nearby – could hold some answers.

The world of Sera finally feels real

Gears of War’s setting has always been decrepitly beautiful, but because you’re running around with a bunch of beefy super soldiers, it’s rarely felt like a real world that was once inhabited by real people leading real lives. Explore the CNV Sovereign for five minutes, however, and you’ll believe. A couple of guys argue over a crossword puzzle. Another reads the same book over and over, “hoping for a different ending,” because it’s the only one available on the ship. In the recreation room is a foosball – ahem, Thrashball – table and in the dining room is a vending machine with a 10-year-old bag of chips that Jace has been trying to get at for months. There’s a sense of community, of history.

Those are the small touches. When the squad emerges on the top deck to face off against the invading Locust, you see the big touches. Like a glittering ocean and expansive sky composed of colors other than brown. Like the quaint little seaside towns perched on cliffs in the distance. In later chapters, you’ll visit a playground and supermarket. For the time being at least, Marcus and his team are not trapped in mysterious research facilities or creepy underground lairs, and the Sera seems worth fighting to restore.

The Locust are more disgusting than ever

For most of Gears 3’s first act, you’re gunning down the lambent Locust – a mutated, pulsating, highly explosive breed of monsters that were introduced near the end of Gears 2 and that splatter the screen with dripping, neon yellow goo when they’re killed instead of the usual crimson blood.

The color may be slightly less gruesome, but the lambent Locust are not. If anything, they’re more hideous, and with the power to randomly transform into a variety of new forms – sometimes two additional arms grow out of their shoulders, sometimes their decapitated heads evolve into slithering snakes – they’re certainly more unpredictable.

Marcus is more interesting than ever

Gears 1 and Gears 2 established hero Marcus Fenix as an excellent warrior, and a leader loyal to his squad, but not as a three-dimensional human being. Sure, he’s disobeyed orders, but when will he take complete charge of his and humanity’s fate? Sure, he’s exchanged a few longing glances with Anya and a few sympathetic ones with Dom, but when will he display deep, raw emotion?

Now. Or at least before the end of Gears 3, if this first act is any hint. We see his newfound strength when, in the middle of battle, Chairman Prescott lands on the ship in a helicopter and demands both answers and protection. Instead, Marcus dumps him in an office, telling the oily politician to shut up and sit still until the squad can come back to interrogate him. And we see his newfound sentiment when, upon viewing a disc delivered by Prescott with a message from Adam Fenix, Marcus’s face immediately melts. The tough guy who puts the mission above all else is temporarily gone and he’s just a son who wants to find his father at any cost.

Charlie Barratt
I enjoy sunshine, the company of kittens and turning frowns upside down. I am also a fan of sarcasm. Let's be friends!