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

The Silverback mech is like a miniature Brumak

Remember the finale to Gears of War 2, when you seized control of the Godzilla-sized Brumak, then crushed hundreds of ant-sized Locust beneath your feet and fists with extremely satisfying ease? The new Silverback mech isn’t quite as powerful as that, but considering you get to pilot it within the first hour of the game – unleashing its endless arsenal of rockets directly into the eyes and mouth of a massive Leviathan sea squid (a monster that, just a single game ago, was big enough for a final boss and not a beginning boss) – we feel safe in saying that the stakes and bar have been raised for Gears 3. Switch the Silverback to defensive hunkering mode and the thing is practically invincible.

You play as Cole Train more than any other character

In the first act, anyway. Marcus continues to be the central character of Gears 3, but after playing him (as well as Dom, Jace and Anya) for a mere two chapters, you jump into the shoes of Cole (with Baird, Carmine and new heroine Sam) for the next four chapters. Even more surprising is that this long section of the campaign doesn’t just star our favorite Thrashball MVP – it’s all about him.

After you beat the Leviathan with Marcus et al, the game flashes back one hour to show you how the other half of the squad made it to the battle. Where are they? Visiting the Cole Train’s hometown for supplies, a quest that takes them through many of his old haunts, introduces them to a bunch of his still very enthusiastic fans and gives Cole a series of heroic moments to shine. He protects a playground from lambent Locust. He suits up in a loader mech, kicking down doors and smashing away cars to deliver a box of food to the needy. He refuses to use Sam as a bargaining chip with the horny Stranded man who guards the town gate. He’s kind, humble and friendly to his former neighbors, including the community leader who doesn’t trust him and isn’t impressed by his celebrity. Cole even has a touching scene in which he finds a cardboard cutout of himself in the local supermarket, stares at this symbol of his past wistfully, but then moves on to finish the mission at hand. And then…

You play Thrashball!

Cole’s mission finally takes him to the Thrashball stadium in which he played before Emergence Day, a crumbling monument to his former glory days filled with banners and statues of his likeness. When a Locust stalk smashes through the playing field and threatens a group of innocent Stranded, Cole risks his life to drop a bomb at the base of the stalk… but as he runs across the turf, his imagination takes over and suddenly the environment is transformed. The stadium is new and gleaming again. The bomb is a ball and the Locust enemies are opposing Thrashball players. The crowd is cheering, chanting his name as he scores the touchdown and saves the day.

It’s a lovely sequence, and if every character receives a similar treatment at some point in the game, Gears of War 3’s story could be pretty special.

Carmine almost dies %26ndash; twice

And once when he’s almost crushed by a piece of plummeting playground equipment. Will the oldest, toughest brother in Gears of War’s most expendable family survive to see the ending? The developers clearly enjoy toying with the fact that we don’t know the results of the “Carmine Live or Die?” poll – expect an extremely close call every time the poor guy is on screen.

As the game’s Executive Producer Rod Fergusson points out to us, however, “Gears has never been afraid to kill off characters.” To prove this, the first act of Gears 3 ends with a potentially lethal cliffhanger. Cole, Baird, Sam and Carmine cross an enormous bridge, massacring dozens of Locust to reach a point directly above the CNV Sovereign and Leviathan boss. To help finish Marcus’s battle below, they drop a crate of exploding Tickers on the sea creature’s head and the plan works too well, also causing the bridge to crumble below their feet. The last thing we see before the fade to black is half our cast of characters tumbling into nothingness. For the rest, we’ll have to wait until September 20.

Aug 15, 2011

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