Review: Gears of War 3
Well that was awesome. The final game of the Gears of War trilogy comes and goes with a bang, a boom, a splatter and the rev of a good chainsaw. But most of all, it was a blast. Fun to play, great for multiplayer mayhem and with a pretty good story to boot. I recently finished the story mode campaign, but I plan on playing the multiplayer modes for the next several months. It’s got a great lasting appeal. Gears of War 3 is just as hectic, epic and shotguntastic as the first two games.
So no trilogy curse, as far as I’m concerned. I give it a 5 out of 5: Great.
Should I have expected anything less? This was one of my most highly anticipated games of the year, and it’s lived up to every expectation. Gears 1 was the first game I bought on my X-Box 360, and Gears 2 came along a few years later. While the story hasn’t been Shakespeare, the gameplay has been top notch in game after game after game. That’s not to say the story is lame. It may have started off as simple in the first game, but by this third chapter, we were dealing with real depth and character emotion. I was definitely shocked on more than one occasion with the story this time around. And the death of Dom’s wife in Gears 2 was quite sad.
But we’re here to talk about Gears of War 3, maybe the best of the trilogy.
I say it may be the best of the trilogy mostly because I no longer remember Gears of War 1, and Gears of War 2 was awhile ago as well. So Gears of War 3 gets that title because it kicked ass and is still fresh in my mind. The perfect score of 5/5 is a relative thing. This isn’t a perfect game, I guess. But it’s damn great. I don’t have many, if any complaints. And if I do, they’re mostly nitpicks that I’ll get to in a moment. First let’s talk about what this game does right. And by ‘right’, of course, I mean awesome.
Gears of War revels in its brutality. Blood and gore are at epic levels, and I’m cool with that. Maybe I’m desensitized, I don’t really know. The gore is just cartoony enough that it’s not scary or off-putting. Most of the time you’re killing evil aliens or infected monsters anyway. Who cares about killing them? But it’s in this brutality that gives Gears of War its edge, it’s unique feel that makes it such a popular game. I’ve written about this before, but it’s key to my enjoyment of the franchise.
Gears of War is all about weight.
In this series, you play one of several heavily-armored space marines repelling an alien invasion of your home planet. It’s characters are big, bulky and carry around a lot of badass guns. So in creating its gameplay engine, the game-makers do their best to make it feel like you’re controlling a heavy, somewhat cumbersome character. Not to say the gameplay is slow, far from it. But you can feel real weight in your movement, from running to shooting to jumping over small walls. It’s a third-person shooter, so you’re always looking over your character’s back and shoulder. And when they move, the game zooms right in and you move with them. When you shoot, you can practically see and feel each bullet slamming into your opponent’s body.
When you chainsaw them in half, it’s a sick, visceral feeling of pure enjoyment!
Compare this to another popular shooter: Halo. In both games you play a space marine fighting aliens, but in Halo you have no weight. You run, jump and prance around like some kind of fairy. It’s first-person, so all you see is your gun floating on the screen. You fire weightless laser beams for the most part. Playing Gears of War after Halo was a breath of fresh air.
Gears of War has always rested on its gameplay, but by Gears of War 2, it started doing a better job with its story. In Gears of War 3, we finally see the end of the alien invasion and all the other problems that came up throughout the trilogy. A ‘gear’ is a soldier in the army of the COG, the Coalition of Ordered Governments. On Emergence Day, the dreaded Locust army rose up to the surface from their home in underground caverns. Humans didn’t even know they were down there. But something drove the Locust to the surface, launching an all-out war for control of the planet. The games have all focused on the Delta Squadron of the gear army, a small group of four or so Gears whose adventures always end up saving the day. Delta Squad is led by supreme badass Marcus Fenix.
The storylines for each game follow one long adventure/mission for Delta Squad doing something to try and stop/finally defeat the Locust army. In Gears 1 and 2, the story campaign was 2-player, and Marcus would be teamed up with his best pal and brother-from-another-mother Dom. In Gears of War 3, they upped it to a 4-player story campaign. Unfortunately, I have yet to get my full Gears group of friends together to play 4-player co-op. So Alyssa and I once again just played it as 2-player. Still fun. But I can’t wait to play 4-player.
The story is as such: Marcus and Delta Squad are not only battling the Locust, but there’s now a third army, the Lambent. Basically, the planet’s version of oil is this yellow, glowing substance found inside the planet called imulsion. And as we learn in this game, imulsion isn’t just an energy source, it’s a living parasitic organism. It’s been taking over both Locust and human bodies, turning them into zombie-esque Lambent. But Marcus’ long-lost father has developed a way to stop both the Lambent and the Locust in one fell swoop, but he’s being held prisoner in this hidden, abandoned location.
Delta Squad must fight their way across the planet to save Marcus’ father and activate his weapon.
The levels are a nice variation. We get deserts, cities, burned-out cities, zeppelins, submarines and, finally, a resort hotel final level. The first two games mostly took place underground in Locust tunnels or temples, so the wide variety in this game was fun. The story, though, is a little confusing now that I think about it. We visited all these places thanks to various macguffins, but I don’t think any of them actually succeeded. First we needed to unlock some computer disc…then we needed fuel for our submarine…then we needed a different sort of fuel for our submarine…then we finally get to the last level and save Marcus’ father. But all the various macguffins seem meaningless now. It was all just an excuse to take cover behind waist-high objects and shoot at aliens.
Which is all we really want out of this game.
I liked the ending. After the day was saved and the evil armies defeated, the surviving humans celebrated and shared a bit of camaraderie. I hope this isn’t the last we see of this series.
The weapons are fun. The classics are still around from the first game, like the chainsaw/machine gun called a Lancer. They’ve improved its long range accuracy, so it’s easier and more fun to use. The classic Gnasher Shotgun is around, capable of blowing away an enemy in one hit if you time it just right. Sniper rifles (Longshots), grenade-launchers (Boomshots), Torque Bows and more are all back. There are two really good new weapons: the Sawed-Off Shotgun and the Retro Lancer. The Sawed-Off is just like the Gnasher, but stronger. If you get close enough and aim just right, you’ll kill instantly. But it’s a devil to reload.
The Retro Lancer is the true joy. Instead of a chainsaw bayonet like the regular Lancer, the Retro Lancer has a normal stabby bayonet. If you hit the charge button, you go into a gallop that hopefully ends by skewering your opponent and lifting their body off the ground. It’s bloody brilliant! Somehow the game-makers created a weapon just as viscerally exciting as the chainsaw.
I like the characters in this game. They don’t get much more than surface deep, but some of them will surprise you. They banter nicely together, and after three games with them, I’m definitely on their side. The main four of Delta Squad: Marcus, Dom, Baird and the Cole Train have come along together nicely, and their interactions and dialogue are fun to watch. When they get funny, they’re funny. When they get really emotional and have some high drama, I feel it myself. Always sad to lose a beloved hero to some noble sacrifice. But as with the second game, they’ve added more random side characters. A large portion of this campaign has you playing as the new side characters instead of the beloved classic of Delta Squad. That’s not as much fun.
But the great thing about having so many characters is that there are so many more options for Multiplayer.
The Story Campaign is only half of the game. The other half is Versus matches and other modes designed for teaming up with other players over the Internet. That is where the true awesomeness of the game resides. I’ve got a dedicated group of friends who get Gear together. Alyssa, Shannon, Duane and more. We put our headsets on and sit back, playing match after match of Gears Multiplayer. Sometimes we battle the computer, sometimes we battle other people out there in the world. There are deathmatches, capture the flag, horde mode, beast mode and more. I haven’t played them all yet, but most of them are a total blast.
I’ll spend the better part of the rest of the year just playing Multiplayer Gears of War. It’s that much fun, especially with friends. All the frenzy and hectic slaughter of the campaign, but amped up to 11 since you’re playing other people, who are just as smart and usually far more skilled. Sometimes I’ll get my ass kicked, and that sucks. And sometimes I’ll kick total ass, which is awesome. And sometimes there will be battles that come down to the very last second, where every movement, every bullet could mean the difference between win or lose. Pulling out a victory after a grueling, bloody, mind-searingly intense match is a true victory indeed!
It’s gaming that I live for! And that’s why I love Gears of War.