Outside of the Halo franchise, Epic Games’ Gears of War series was intended to be a major player for the Xbox 360. The first Gears was a (literally) bloody hit. Gears of War 2 expanded that success and garnered its own rave reviews, and the final installment looks to top things off. Gears of War 3 is able to do more than that, making great improvements and creating a incredibly satisfying end to the series.
What Is It?
Gears of War 3 is the ending to humanity’s war against the Locust and their Lambent “offspring”. You’re still Marcus Fenix, one of the top soldiers in the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG), and have yet another retooled Delta Squad from the previous Gears. The war has been dragging and confidence has turned into desperation; hope is now fear. There’s a series refresher course, but newcomers won’t be completely alienated. Bits of dialogue will get you caught up with choices made and how they’ve affected your current situation, which takes place a couple years after the events of Gears 2.
The COG has all but dissolved. Their Chairman Prescott has abandoned his role and his people, choosing to save himself and the elite. The Gears continue to fight but are forced to do so from a giant warship and various outposts. Most cities are in ruins, if not sunk, and are controlled by the Stranded- groups of militants who for good reasons have turned away from the government and defend their turf. Fenix is leading his new Delta Squad members into a hell they don't expect to come back from.
Why Should I Care?
For obvious reasons, there’s the intrigue to finish the Gears of War series. The second installment left itself open to plenty of resolution and Gears 3 does a fine job of handling that. Essentially every question is answered. There’s no reason to force the series to drag on, so you can feel content with what you’ve experienced.
Gears’ story, while perhaps not one that will go down in any gaming history, is certainly an interesting one. It has had its political aspects without necessarily being too political. Gears was a very brutish game, so Gears 2 dived deeper into emotion. Gears 3 capitalizes on both and has you care more for Delta Squad. Augustus Cole is a perfect example. A fan favorite for his eccentric personality, you now learn a little more about Cole and how beloved of an athlete he was. The interaction between characters is solid; the writing rarely borderlines on cheesy and generally points it out if it gets there. For such a burly set of characters, it’s a nice, appropriate change of pace.
Gears 3 will give a solid amount of gameplay. Casual mode should take roughly 10 hours for an experienced Gears player taking some time to look for collectibles and appreciate the gorgeous settings. It’s more involving than what has been seen before, especially with the addition of 4-player online co-op (which is handled well, but I’ll get into the servers in a bit). You will definitely want 3 others with you when Gears starts pulling all the stops out. Boss-type characters come out mid-level to push you to your brink. Potential problems with that are headaches it might cause on higher difficulties when you have Locust coming in droves. You’ll want to head online with it to escape those and you’ll have a great new mode waiting for you.
Beast Mode is the new mode and the Locust’s answer to Horde Mode. It doesn’t operate quite the same way; you use cash to purchase Locust types through 12 rounds of play. Each Locust has their advantage for destroying barriers or killing. Your goal is to defeat various standard soldiers and a variety of “Heroes”, who are main Gears characters thrown in as bosses. They can only be executed or completely manhandled by a heavy Locust. The real fun comes from simply playing as a Locust, especially a Locust like the giant serapede (think of an armored centipede that can electrocute people). It’s much more interesting, but that’s not to say Horde Mode still isn’t fun.
Horde 2.0 has been given the cash-based overhaul to purchase barriers, weapons, ammo and bases for your squad. The original mode in Gears 2 required basic preliminary strategy just to stay alive. Horde 2.0 gives you the ability to make you think more and keep your teammates in mind. You’ll be forced to spend cash wisely to ensure you have barriers but plenty of ammo. The cash system was probably the most necessary way to go, though. It ends up making Horde more manageable and less imposing.
You'll still find the standard fare multiplayer gametypes like Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill and so on. Gears 3’s multiplayer moves faster than what was seen in the last installment. Gears 2 wasn’t the most fun and felt like a shotgun-fest, which is what made Horde so much more important. This Gears makes things more enjoyable so even casual online players can have a decent time with new executions to give added bloody pleasure. Nearly every weapon now has its own special execution, such as the Retro Lancer using a bull rush to spear your enemy with a bayonet and rip them apart in the air. You know, safe-for-work type moves.
The main problem with “standard” multiplayer is how it handles rankings. You maintain a single rank throughout the entire game, which skews how you get matched up. Entering multiplayer with a rank of 10, I was promptly matched up with the likes of 40s, 50s and even the occasional 60. It wasn’t the best situation, as you can imagine. You may need to rely on your teammates a little more than usual at the start if you aren’t the among the best Gears online players. Originally, another knock was in order for the dedicated servers for any online play. It took at least 10 minutes to search and establish any matches, which was only alleviated by the lack of lag during games. However, that was quickly patched by the weekend and getting into matches is now a breeze.
Finally, there’s no denying that Gears was always meant to be a intense, huge-feeling series. Delta Squad is made up of huge guys- maybe not so much Baird, but he's not scrawny by any means. That led the game to feeling clunky and heavy. Gears 2 felt a little easier to handle but occasionally still felt like a hassle. Gears 3 retooled the mechanics to makes the game feel much more comfortable. Popping in and out of cover is much easier than before and you won’t find yourself getting stuck as often. Controller options to increase sensitivity make handling the game that much better.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
There are enough improvements in Gears of War 3 to argue against it being the best of the series. Gears had been doing quite a bit right, but there were kinks that needed to be addressed. It felt heavy; adding in Horde maybe took the joy out of regular multiplayer (perhaps ironic because Horde was necessary to keep interest). What Gears of War 3 presents is more of a complete package. The story gives you a better reason to care, and you have an improved multiplayer component that gives the game a far longer shelf life. Rather than a drab Seriously 2.0 achievement goal of racking up 100,000 kills, you have levels to meet and items to unlock for bragging rights.
Simply put, Gears of War 3 gives you plenty of reasons to come back to the series and keep playing. Honestly? That’s what you should expect and receive from a worthy sequel.