When Gears of War released in 2006 it became THE exclusive title for the Xbox 360, and was one of the first truly “must-own” titles for the system. We were told that the series was planned as a trilogy, a bold statement to be sure. But here we are five years later with the release of the third and supposedly final game in the series.
Two years have passed since the events of the last game, and things have only gotten worse for humanity. The Locust numbers are dwindling, the Lambent forces have begun erupting around the world and are just as bad, if not worse. With the story of Delta Squad wrapping up and the most comprehensive multiplayer outing of the three games, Gears of War 3 aims big, but is it what we’ve all been waiting for?
Before you even start the campaign you’re given the option to watch a video which recaps the story so far, which, even if you’ve played through the other two games recently, is a very nice addition. It wraps up everything we know and fills us in a little bit on how things have changed since the end of the second game.
Things start off feeling very familiar to those who played the first game, and after a very strange opening sequence which does a nice job of letting you get familiar with the controls, you’re put in the shoes of Marcus Fenix in his quarters. What remains of the COG are all living on a large ship, as there is no longer a true safe place on land to live.
As the ship floats through Lambent infested waters, it’s not long before the alarms are sounded as the ship comes under attack. After fighting off the attack, word reaches Marcus that his dad is still alive and he might have a solution to finally end this war once and for all.
The campaign in Gears of War 3 has what is easily the most varied color pallet and environments of the series, which is very refreshing. The game retains the series staple of cover based combat, but the use of the incredibly famous “chest high walls” is done incredibly well. Though they’re still everywhere, they feel more organic than in the previous two games. You won’t be fighting in buildings where the walls just happened to only blow up the top two thirds, leaving the perfect cover. Instead you’ll be seeing more sandbags or boxes, or even standard tables which can be kicked over to create temporary cover.
Those of you who are here for the story will not be disappointed, and while I don’t want to spoil even a single aspect of it there are surprises and emotional bombs dropped all over the place which will surely have everybody talking for awhile to come.
The AI is surprisingly sharp, both of the enemies and your teammates. The campaign actually lets you “mark” an enemy to have your teammates focus on them, which is helpful for the times when they’re shooting at the lone Locust in the back and ignoring the army pulling from the other side. There are times where they can potentially clear out entire areas by themselves, though it’s not the best idea to do this. You don’t have to babysit them though, and they always feel like they’re actually helping.
The Lambent bring another interesting change to the battlefield via their means of deployment. Whereas the Locust of the first two games would appear from emergence holes which could be closed with a grenade, the Lambent spawn from “Lambent Stalks” which erupt from the ground. Each stalk will have a couple of pods on it which spew out enemies, and must be shot off to stop this. The Lambent themselves are very different from the Locust despite their similar appearance. The biggest difference aside from their glowing appearance is that they’ll explode when killed, bursting into a shower of Immulsion.
Of course while the beginning of the game is all Lambent enemies, it’s not too long before the Locust Horde rears their ugly head again and things get even more interesting, as these two forces don’t exactly get along. This turns the battlefield into an all out three way war whenever both forces are on the battlefield, though unfortunately this isn’t as often as I would have liked.
The campaign can be tackled solo or with a partner either offline or online, but in a first for the series you can actually play the campaign with up to four players online, which is absolutely wonderful. This feels natural as well, as throughout the entire game there are almost always at least four members on your team. In addition an “Arcade” option is available which adds scoring for each kill, a nice touch for more replay and co-op incentive.
Of course, while Gears of War was always noted for having a rather strong story and single player campaign, that’s not the only thing it has to offer.
The multiplayer that everybody has come to love returns in full force, stronger than ever. This is thanks in large to the addition of dedicated servers, which we got a taste of during the Beta earlier this year. Little has changed since then outside of a few balancing tweaks to the weapons and maps that were available at the time. Every game has been solid and lag-free to this point, which is an absolute relief.
Even with the small number of people playing right now I never had trouble finding a room, and even in game modes with only a few people playing the game can replace missing players with bots to keep the action going. Unfortunately, the bots aren’t the brightest in the bunch and should you find yourself on a team with more than one of them you might find yourself wishing you were just down a man. This might be the result of them being set on an easier difficulty, as in private games it’s possible to set them on anything from Casual to Insane, and perhaps they’ll get turned up higher for Ranked modes.