Review: Gears of War 3
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.
Warzone, Execution, and King of the Hill (Annex) return from previous games with the addition of Capture the Leader (each team has a leader which must be captured as a meat shield and held for points) and Team Deathmatch, which is essentially Warzone with respawns. Rather than having a number of kills to victory, each team has a shared pool of lives making each death equally as important as each kill.
The spawning system in Team Deathmatch can be downright frustrating at times, as it doesn’t seem to set the spot around you and your teammates as a safe zone so it’s not entirely unlikely to find the entire enemy team spawning nearby or sometimes even in the same room as you.
The insanely popular Horde mode returns and, like the rest of the game, is bigger and better than ever. Rather than just dropping players into the map, you now have to set up a command post as your base and can purchase upgrades around the map to slow down or destroy the Locust forces. Turrets, spikes, decoys and weapons all cost money which is earned by gaining kills.
The game ends after 50 rounds just as in the previous game, with a boss fight every ten levels. These can be quite intimidating on your own, and even with a full team can be quite an intense battle. One problem with the bosses however is that some of them are so large that they’ll get stuck in the environment, and while still deadly can be an easy kill depending on where they spawned.
Additionally you’ll sometimes be given a special objective such as “get X executions this round” or “get X kills with the chainsaw.” These will reward you with bonus money and a weapon drop if you succeed and can greatly turn the tide of the battle, if you can pull them off.
Joining Horde is the new Beast mode, which turns the tables. In this you play as the Locust Horde, attacking a team of AI as the human forces. In Beast mode your entire goal is to destroy all of the humans, though this is easier said than done since they have access to all the upgrades you do in Horde. Things start off easy enough with five enemies and a handful of defenses, but the further you get the better their equipment and weapons.
Of course, the same applies to you. Beast uses the same money system which is how you select which Locust you want to play as. You start off with a handful of options such as Tickers or Wretches, unlocking more choices as you progress. Eventually you’ll have access to more powerful enemies like the Kantus or even a Berzerker! Few things are as satisfying as plowing into an army of COG warriors as a Berzerker and ruining their day.
The humans will mostly be Stranded, but each round will have a few “Heroes” which are of course the main characters from the Campaign. These characters operate on “Execution” rules, where when they’re down you must physically get up close and take them down. This adds an interesting dynamic that can make things quite difficult, especially in later levels where almost the entire team will consist of Heroes.
Teamwork is extremely important in Beast, probably more so than it is in Horde mode. While I was able to beat all 12 rounds solo on Casual, turning the difficulty even just to Normal made things quite difficult. I imagine Insane is going to be quite a daunting task, even with a full group of friends.
Both of these modes are incredibly fun whether you’re playing with friends, finding a random game or playing by yourself. These will both be as huge of a draw as Horde was in Gears of War 2, and fans of that or any of the imitators it’s had over the years will surely be satisfied. However, I feel there’s a little bit of a missed opportunity by not featuring a combined mode of Horde and Beast, with human players on both sides.
Customization is one of the largest parts of the multiplayer experience and is sure to breath a lot of life into the long term game. The standards of unlockable characters and weapon skins are there, unlocked by leveling up or completing certain objectives in the game, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the star of the show are Mutators, which can be activated at the start of any private Horde or Beast mode game. These drastically change the way the game plays and reward or remove XP bonuses depending on their function.
Some make the game harder, such as removing ammo pickups and forcing you to pick up weapons dropped by enemies. Others make the game easier but ostensibly more fun such as making all melee hits instantly explode enemies. Through my entire experience I’ve only unlocked one of these (the ammo one), and it looks like it’s going to take some work to get all of them.
Custom games return for private multiplayer matches as well, allowing you to change everything. Number of lives, bot difficulty, and of course what the weapon pickups are among other things. This all goes towards increasing the life of the game. I always played a lot of private games in the first two, and it’s nice to have this amount of control return.
This game truly is the definitive Gears of War experience. If you still have a sour taste in your mouth after the multiplayer issues and changes made in the second game, trust me when I say as one of your number that this game alleviates all of those issues. Gears of War 3 brings an exciting and heart-wrenching conclusion to the story and the lives of all these characters we’ve come to love, and you’ll be shocked many times over by the events that unfold.
I went into this review very excited for this game, but as a fan I wanted to be as objective as possible and I can say with all honesty that I’m having a tough time thinking of a single fault. This is truly everything I wanted from a Gears of War game and then some. A few issues in multiplayer aside, this is a nearly flawless conclusion that I’ll be playing for a long time to come. If you’re even remotely a fan of the franchise or third person shooters in general, this is a no-brainer.
- Title: Gears of War 3
- Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
- Developer: EPIC Games
- Publisher: Microsoft
- Release Date: September 20, 2011
- MSRP: $59.99
- Review Copy Info: A copy of this title was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.