Review: Gears of War 3

September 26, 2011, By Christian Davis

My fondest moment from the first Gears of War was my encounter with the Berserker for the first time. I was with my brothers playing co-op and we honestly had no idea what to expect. I was nervous and excited about the blind behemoth that was going to pummel us to death. It was a long, fun, entertaining battle that ended gloriously; followed by a sigh of relief. That feeling became synonymous with my Gears of War 3 experience. It’s a constant barrage of gigantic Locust and Lambent hostiles that keeps the story fast paced the second you take control of Marcus. It’s the equivalent of watching an adrenaline filled action movie that is directed by Christopher Nolan and had its action scenes created by Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I was uncontrollably excited to finish the campaign for a video game. It’s not to say that the main storyline for other titles don’t entice me at all, it’s more so the fact that the characters from Gears of War 3 all lost something and I wanted to know more about them and their tragic pasts. Not only does Epic Games deliver an exceptional story, it improves upon what the past titles failed to do and create multiple storylines filled with interesting and relatively complex relationships that shatter how the minimalist plotlines in the past were. It’s no longer, “Kill Locust! Hoorah!” It’s much more about surviving the final part of this prolonged war for survival. The main reason why the campaign has been on my mind for so long is because I actually cared about the characters and what they were going through this time around. Seeing familiar faces really had me smile or sigh in relief that they were still alive. Alternatively, seeing my first major character death had me instantly reminisce about my time with them and I even grew to miss them.

Emotion has always been something that Gears has been about. Some have said it felt forced with songs like “Mad World” appearing in the franchise debut trailer but this time around, it comes so effortlessly and you’re captivated by the drama and turmoil that these characters are going through. There’s one scene in particular when Cole Train heads back home and tries to trade ammunition and weapons for food. It really shows how far the human race has fallen because of this war and that everyone and everything is taking a toll.

One of the most emotional flashbacks occurs during this portion of the game too. We end up at the Thrashball Stadium where Augustus Cole obtained his fame and it’s both awesome and incredibly sad. When the team arrives at the Thrashball stadium, they’re met with a Lambent stalk that’s spewing out an endless amount of the infected Locust.

This scene is cleverly disguised as a flashback. The best part about these flashbacks are that they’re not just cinematics you watch, you actually play through them. In this instance, Cole is dressed up in his Thrashball uniform and is running through the field with a bomb in hand. His goal? Plant it on the Lambent stalk that has arisen in the center of his home field. When the mission is completed, it phases back into the current time frame and the stalk is burning down in a blaze of glory. It’s great to see how Cole Train much of a respected figure Cole Train used to be and how badly he wants that life back.

The game is full of memorable moments like that and you just can’t help but continue playing the very long campaign (around 10 to 12 hours).  One thing that cannot go unmentioned is the locales that you’ll be fighting for your life in. For a world that’s nearly dead and submerged in destruction, it’s gorgeous. The backdrops of this game are vast and highly detailed. It makes you wish that Gears of War 3 was an open world title that you can go and explore the entire landscape. Unfortunately it’s an exceedingly deadly place to live and it’s covered with Locust and several forms of Lambent. One of the toughest creatures that I encountered was this gargantuan monstrosity that threw fiery balls of plasma at me. Taking a single hit from these fireballs had me become well acquainted with the respawn screen. The feeling of satisfaction after taking one of these monsters down was well worth it and that feeling never left me. Then after that I had to go up against a Brumack and then after that I took control of this Locust craft and shot down other giant Locusts and… you get the picture.

There is literally nothing wrong with the Gears of War 3 campaign. It’s a phenomenal journey and going through it with friends makes it so much better. With the campaign having so much finesse and polish, don’t think that the multiplayer was slacked on at all. This is the ultimate Gears of War multiplayer experience and it’s going to be hard breaking yourself away from the game.

When it came to multiplayer, Gears in the past has been fun, but had its issues. The first title turned every encounter into a shotgun battle and grew dull. The second which added diversity to the weapon arsenal, but in turn was plagued with a slow matchmaking system and severe lag. Gears of War 3 is essentially flawless. If you’ve read my beta impressions then you’d know that I loved the game so much. Thankfully, it hasn’t changed one bit. It’s fast paced, it’s addicting, and I don’t want to stop playing it, which is unfortunate for the other multiplayer intensive games that are coming out towards the end of this year. They have some serious competition. The game is so unbelievably tight and defined that I can’t play anything that isn’t as polished. Otherwise, it may fall to the back of the line that Gears of War 3 is leading.

There’s still one last piece to Gears of War 3 and that’s the incredible horde mode. There really are two types: Horde 2.0 and Beast mode. Beast mode turns the tables and has the player take control of Locust who must take down the humans. You start off with a low tier creature such as a ticker and work your way up to a Berseker or Grinder for example. It’s really fun and interesting to control the Locust at first, and then the mode just gets kind of boring. If you manage to save up enough points and get the Berserker, the game is practically over and any challenge that was there is just gone. The experience got a bit worse because after the 12th round, the mode just ended. It was a great idea that just didn’t fully realize its complete potential. After one play through, you won’t really want to revisit the mode again.  Supposedly, there’s going to be more waves added to this mode, but that also means they could charge for them. The thought of that is just disappointing really.

Something that goes above and beyond was the improved horde mode called Horde 2.0. I liked Horde mode in Gears of War 2, but never did I imagine I would love it so much more in the third installment that I’d look forward to playing it for hours and hours. The overhauled mode adds an economy which can be used to purchase defenses such as turrets and decoys. It adds this slight element of a tower defense game and it’s just so, so addicting. This time around, if you die, you can buy yourself back in if you’ve saved up enough cash. Need more ammo for that boom shot? Buy some or save it for the next and obviously harder round. This mode even has boss fights now. Can you just imagine having to worry about a Brumack with a Berseker running around, a digger launcher mine heading your way, along several Lambent shooting at you? And that’s before wave 16.

Epic Games has created the definitive Gears of War experience. The trilogy that started 6 years ago is unfortunately over and I couldn’t feel more complete. It’s always sad to see a series end, but this is definitely the best way for it to go out. When it’s all over, you’re left with satisfaction and that’s something every game should have. Well I revisit the campaign? Your damn right I will. If you have an Xbox, you owe it to yourself to pick this game up, but be careful, all your other games will be neglected severely.

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