Gears of War 3 is the long awaited final installment of a trilogy that has always given gamers a different kind of shooter. While you will find yourself moving around constantly in the Halo series and strategically holding back in Rainbow Six, Gears of War 3 offers balance. Gone are the days of hiding behind cover for a minute or two while you figure the situation out or wait for the Locusts to move in on your position, thus leaving their cover. That was always my main concern with the previous two Gears of War titles, you could always just wait it out. However, these issues has been addressed and addressed well in Gears of War 3.
In the original Gears of War (which, believe it or not, was released five years ago next week) there were no consequences for, and let’s not beat around the bush, camping and waiting for the advantage. You can’t do that here. Epic Games came up with a new respawn system for the Locusts and essentially the longer you sit back, the more resistance you’re gonna come up against when you finally decide to move. I didn’t encounter any point in the game where I had to spend more than 20-30 seconds behind cover and if you choose to hide for a longer period of time then I’d suggest using it to dig your own grave.
The graphics are almost flawless, both in terms of gameplay and cinematics. From facial expressions to the impact of bullets on your opposition, you will rarely be left disappointed. Blood, as you would expect from any game in the franchise, flies everywhere at every opportunity – including the familiar ‘splat’ on the 3rd person camera. It’s like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, but with guns, huge bugs, massive explosions and much better special effects than the movie. I Approve.
Obviously it just wouldn’t be Gears of War without Marcus Fenix and “the Cole Train”, so they return with their quirky and hilarious dialog. Delta Squad also has a couple of new additions, including Samantha Bryne, who is the first female Gear that can be controlled during gameplay.
The campaign mode in Gears of War 3 is by no means just ‘filler’, like in some other shooters, to supplement the online multiplayer modes. It comes with a gripping and emotional storyline that leaves you constantly begging relatives, partners and friends for ‘5 more minutes’, and not just because you’re having fun, but also because you want to see what happens to the lead characters. There are many surprises within the campaign and the character development is amazingly detailed. The ‘acting’ throughout the game and its cut-scenes couldn’t have been better, which really gives the game an edge over its competitors and helps to draw you into the story as it unfolds.
Personally, my favorite part of the two previous Gears of War titles has been the co-op mode and this time round has been no different. I grabbed my buddy and we took it by storm in 2 player split-screen, regardless of the fact we could have done it with up to 3 additional players over Xbox Live and in full-screen. The sense of teamwork and accomplishment is much greater when you’re sitting next to your partner in murderous activities. We spent a solid 6-8 hours playing through the campaign before we had to call it a day, mainly because of the previously mentioned partners who were no longer willing to accept our pleas for “5 more minutes”. It was 2am, after-all.
If you don’t have someone that can play through the campaign with you at hand, the Xbox Live 5 player co-op is a great experience, especially when you are partnered with people who will use their mic. You do have people dropping out which can be a little frustrating at times, but it’s definitely not a deal breaker.
In terms of Xbox Live gameplay, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. All the staples are there that we have come to love over time. Team Deathmatch is a new multiplayer mode that replaces the old ‘Warzone’, with the only real difference being that there is now a limit on the amount of deaths per team – which varies depending on the preset rules. Each team has 5 players and must kill the opposition as many times as possible, the fewer times you die the better. Simple but addictive stuff!
Capture the Territory is another awesome mode, but nothing we haven’t seen before. Blast your way into an area, stay put for a few seconds to take control of it and then defend it – or move onto the next one, depending on your tactics. I had a lot of fun in this mode as it requires a lot of co-operation with your team mates and can lead to some thrilling games where the ‘most skilled killers’ don’t necessarily always win. This mode is all about team work and aimlessly chasing kills can expose your team to losing bases, so objective orientated players will hold the advantage here.
Gears of War 3 does bring something different to the table though in ‘Capture the Leader’. If you played the previous Gears of War games then you will probably recognize the concept straight away. What Epic have done is simply merge two of the most popular multiplayer modes from the past titles (Guardian and Submission) into one and delivered an exceptional experience. Y our objective is to break into the opposition’s base and capture their leader (who is AI controlled) by any means necessary. You will then hold them prisoner for as long as possible while your enemies come after you. The leader will try to break free occasionally and inflict damage on the hostage taker to aid any would-be saviors. The team who holds the opposing leader for the longest period of time within the preset time frame wins.
Horde mode has also been carried over from previous versions, but now offers the ability to fortify your defensive position between waves of AI controlled Locusts with money earned for your kills. This makes the mode a lot more strategic and adds another dimension to the gameplay as you all scurry around trying to build things in the relevant positions before the next wave marches through the door! Epic Games did however turn this mode on its head with Beast mode, which puts you on the opposite side and challenges you to break through fortifications and kill the squad defending, all within 12 waves. There is a map pack for this mode available online but it isn’t a necessity as you can still play those maps with anyone in your party, you just can’t host the game.
Epic Games also made things a little easier for new gamers to the Gears franchise. If you want to start playing online but don’t fancy coming up against the big boys straight away, you can be entered into a match-making pool with only new players. How effective this will be remains to be seen as the more advanced players may get into it and ruin the party. But the concept is a great one and the quality of the execution can only be judged over time. If you are new though, this should certainly be your first stop as you enter the online arena.
Overall this is an exceptionally well-polished game, with stunning visuals and engaging gameplay. The various difficulty settings allow pretty much anyone to pick up a controller and jump into the action, while the most skilled veterans are also catered for. The campaign alone is enough to keep you busy for a weekend of solid gaming and when you’re done with that I highly recommend trying out the various online multiplayer modes as they can (if you’re into that sort of thing) add an almost endless supply of entertainment. The only part of Gears of War 3 that I was disappointed with was the end, because it finally hit me that this was the last time I would be popping a Gears of War DVD into my Xbox 360 and playing through new content. It’s a shame that the series has ended, but ultimately it has done itself great justice and brought down the curtain in a stunning manner.