While being a game critic has its definite advantages—the pants off dance off parties, the jet-setting lifestyle (between work and my house) and the ability to taunt my friends by sending them online game invites to play titles that aren’t out yet — it also has a few disadvantages too. One of those is that when playing certain games, you have to put aside personal feelings and look at a game through an extremely critical eye. The game can be amazing. It could change the gaming world forever, but you still have to see and note the little problems, glitches and things that were off.
For instance, having repetitive and bland dialog won’t make a game any less fun to play, but it means the title isn’t perfect. I want that clear before delving into my Gears of War 3 review, mainly to make myself feel a bit better for not giving the game a 10 or 9.5, which in my heart it deserves.
Gears 3 is a fantastic game, one of the best of the year so far. The only asterisk attached to calling it a game of the year contender is that October and November are so ridiculously packed with ambitious big name games that it would be like printing a Super Bowl championship shirt for a team after week one. There is plenty of gaming still to go this year, but that shouldn’t take away from Gears 3. Even if every one of the upcoming titles sends you to a magical happy place, that won’t change the fact that Gears 3 is an amazingly well-polished game with a ton of content to keep players involved for months, even years to come.
There are a few little imperfections that bring the score down a bit, but that shouldn’t stop you from picking up what is easily the best 360 exclusive this year, and one of the best games of the year.
Crush, kill, destroy. Repeat.
Video game developers hate the world. Even if it isn’t our world, they hate it and love to see it on the brink of total collapse. You could probably name five games with that plot off the top of your head. This month alone had another very similar themed game in Resistance 3 for the PS3, and it won’t be the last this year.
In Gears 3, the Earth stand-in, Sera, plays host to three separate factions all fighting for survival and dominance: Humanity, the Locust and the Lambent. Of the three, humanity is in the worst position, but thanks to the infection that can turn anyone or thing into a Lambent, the locusts aren’t faring much better. What’s left of humanity is scattered and is simply trying to survive.
The game begins 18 months after the events of Gears 2, where — spoilers ahead — things did not end all that well. After the fall of the last human city, the core group of characters are now living on a ship called the “Raven’s Nest,” and are constantly on the move to survive. Dom, traumatized from the events of Gears 2, is tending vegetables, Marcus is Marcus, and both Cole and Baird are back as well. There are a handful of new characters too, including the third Carmine, brother to the other Carmines who each wore proverbial red shirts and bit it in the previous games. There was even a competition of sorts where fans decided if the new Carmine lives or dies. For those aware of the competition, the subplot is handled well, and the game teases you throughout.
The COGs are no longer a military force, but rather a group of survivors clinging together because they really don’t have anywhere else to go. When Marcus Fenix receives a cryptic message from his dead father, with what could be a glimmer of hope, the COGs gear up and go on the offensive.
The first two games painted an interesting, but ultimately unremarkable picture. There were plenty of awesome moments, but that was all they were — moments. The actual overall plot was basically nothing more than: see enemies, kill enemies. Epic tried to spice that up with Dom’s story in Gears 2, but the characters were never really fleshed out enough to have much emotional resonance. It didn’t hurt the game all that much, but it didn’t help it either. Gears 3 is easily the best of the series, and part of that comes from the story, which (finally) fills in big pieces of back story about the characters. In the first few minutes, a dream sequence manages to give more depth in mere minutes to a few of the characters than most of what the last two games offered. When the series started, the world is already trashed, and Sera is little more than a place that the battles happen. Gears 3 does an excellent job of connecting the history of the world and the characters to their present-day circumstances.
There are still a few issues with the story — the dialog is sometimes repetitive, and no one will accuse the characters of being clever with their one liners — but the world of Sera, including the civilians who have been mostly absent in the previous games, are better fleshed out.
If you didn’t like the stories of the last two games, especially the second where the Food Lite, AKA the Lambent, were introduced, then the story of Gears 3 probably won’t win you over. It is the best and most complete story in the trilogy, but it won’t win over people who aren’t already interested at least a little bit. The action drives the game far more than the plot. Many of the questions of the series are answered as well, but the story has always been a weak point for the series.
Cataclysm is pretty
Although the story feels familiar, Gears 3 is the best-looking title in the franchise by a mile. The levels are linear, but they look amazing and the game has much more variety as you progress than its predecessors did. Sera is still a grim world filled with a broken civilization in ruins, which the previous games may have gone a bit too far in order to make that point. In Gears 3 that is still present, but the settings are more interesting and in many cases, more alive.
The game is polished and well thought out. It looks great and there is a sense that the developers wanted the final game in the trilogy to shine, so everything is there for a reason. There are a few technical issues though, which slightly mar the gleam.
I should point out that I have talked to others that have played this game, and they did not report the same issues that I had. And even if they had, there is likely a patch on the way to correct some or all of them, but there are a few bugs.
At one point, I was in a heated fight with the Lambent. I made them all regret being born and wiped them off of the planet, while my AI teammates prepared for a gate to open and more enemies to flood in. Then nothing happened. It was a bit anticlimactic, and for a possible hero of humanity to be stopped by a thin door was demoralizing. I was forced to restart at the last checkpoint when I realized that it was a glitch, not a tactic. This happened a few more times, where a triggered event failed to happen and I was forced to restart. Thankfully, the checkpoints are located frequently, but it was still annoying.
More than once my gun also disappeared, usually immediately following a cut scene. I could only assume that my character had chosen the path of peace, and instead of fighting decided to use passive resistance. It was a bad idea. Switching to another weapon and back fixed it, but it wasn’t the only minor glitch. Enemies occasionally will be seen walking through walls, and one enemy even managed to phase out of existence to avoid me, which was a devilishly clever way to defeat me, as my character likely would have starved to death, trapped as he was in one area. I showed him who was boss by using the ultimate weapon — the reset — but I had to applaud his moxy.
These are minor and infrequent events that don’t take away from the game and will hopefully be patched soon but they were frustrating.
Gears of gameplay
The plot of a game is an important component, as is the level design and all that, but if the gameplay isn’t solid neither of those things matter. The Gears gameplay returns in all its glory, and that is a good thing. In an industry crowded with first-person shooters, Gears of War 3 offers a good change of pace thanks to some solid controls. The reload slide returns, which takes some getting used to the first time you use it, but becomes a sort of mini-game every time you reload and makes every reload count.
The cover system remains much the same, so if you hated it in Gears 2, your hatred will continue unabated. For everyone else though, it is a solid mechanic. All of the guns from previous games return as well, and they are joined by a handful of new weapons. They all operate well and have a consistent logic to them. There are plenty of weapons, and some of the new additions like the Vulcan (which requires two people to operate) are fun to use, but weapons have never been a huge strong point for the franchise. Then again, maybe that is just compared to some series like Resistance 3, which have a ridiculous amount of weapons options.
One minor fault with the campaign — actually it is more of a warning than a fault — is the level of difficulty. On normal, the game is simple. You can actually just charge most of the enemies and chainsaw them to death, one after another, and still beat the game in 12 hours or less. This is easily fixed by increasing the level of difficulty, but it is odd and it makes the easiest setting so simple you may want to try playing with only a handgun or something to up the challenge.
Multiplayer: Adding value since the Internets were born
The Gears 3 campaign is fun, and it offers a split-screen co-op, which could make the story alone last for nearly 30 hours if you beat it, then do it again with a buddy. Throw in a four-person online co-op, and you could spend more than 40 hours on the campaign alone, and that could make it worth your money by itself. But that is only one part of the online side.
Returning to the franchise is the competitive multiplayer. Ten player enter,1 player leave! Unless, ya know, you are playing teams, then it is five on a side, competing in five game modes: Team Deathmatch, Warzone (Team Deathmatch, but one life per player per round), Execution (you must execute an enemy to kill them), Capture the Leader (where you try to capture and hold the designated enemy leader while defending your own) and Wingman (Five two-man teams). The games now run on dedicated servers, which is a good evolution from the last game, plus a deep level progression system complete with mini-achievements makes the leveling addictive. New unlockable weapons and character skins help too.
Horde mode returns as well, with two new twists. The first is not just a twist, but a new game mode called Beast, which flips the script and puts you in the role of the horde, trying to kill the humans that are bunkered in. As you progress you unlock new locust and lambent to use, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. It isn’t quite as satisfying as horde, but it is a fun diversion.
The second twist is the inclusion of money to the horde mode. You earn cash each round for kills, and every few rounds a challenge will pop up—sometimes it is a time challenge, sometimes it is a specific objective like shooting the tanks of a flamethrower-wielding enemy. If you succeed you earn cash (and more experience points). With this cash you can buy things around the map, like barriers, turrets and decoys to help you survive. On top of that, the things you can buy also level up through experience, so the more barriers you build or repair, the better they will become as that particular level increases.
It isn’t a massive change, but it is something new that adds to an already impressive game mode that four players can play together online as wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies charge you.
The thing about Gears’ online is that it, combined with a strong campaign, make this game one of the best values of the year. There is so much to do, and it is all so well done, that Gears 3 will likely have a strong community. For those who like the competitive multiplayer aspect (and the co-op) but are burned out on FPS games, Gears 3 will be there waiting when all your friends are playing Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 online.
Gears of War 3 has a few flaws that I wish I could overlook, but they are minor. I really want to give this game a 9.5 or 10, but hopefully my stupid criteria won’t stop anyone from recognizing that Gears of War 3 is an amazing game, with a ton of value. Epic may have actually found a fairly good way to slow down the second-hand sales of this game, by making it freaking awesome and packed with replay value. Maybe others will follow suit.
If you are even remotely interested in the Gears of War franchise, then this game will not disappoint. A good campaign finally opens up the world of Sera, and numerous online options make Gears of War 3 one of the best games of the year. Consider that discussion “to be continued” for now, but Gears earned a place in the conversation.
Score: 9 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Microsoft Studios)