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Platform

Xbox 360

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Microsoft

 

Developer

Epic Games

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

September 20, 2011

 

 

- Surprisingly deep campaign (that’s still heavy on action and manliness)
- Visually orgasmic set pieces and action sequences
- Numerous (and addicting) multiplayer features, challenges, and unlockables

 

 

- Multiplayer is still unforgiving, highly competitive
- Campaign is breathtaking, but still brisk
- Beast Mode lacking in longevity, extra features

 

 

Review: Gears of War (360)

Review: Gears of War 2 (360)

Review: Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (360)

Review: Shadows of the Damned (360)

 

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Gears of War 3

Score: 9.5 / 10

 

gears of war 3          gears of war 3

 

One could argue that the original Gears of War was responsible for kick-starting the current console generation of blockbuster gaming experiences; much like what the movie Jaws did for summer blockbusters, the big-budget visuals, high octane action sequences and competitive online multiplayer was soon followed by similar Hollywood-inspired releases such as Bioshock, Uncharted, Modern Warfare and several other titles that matched the bombastic imagery of summer movies while raising the cultural awareness and popularity of videogames at its highest level yet.

And while the industry continues to advance further in both technology and popularity, how does Epic Games’ premiere console franchise hold up today? With its third and reportedly (but unlikely) final entry, does Gears of War 3 manage to deliver the most dynamic action experience yet while also challenging Call of Duty

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for multiplayer dominance?

Set eighteen months after Gears of War 2, humanity continues the long struggle to reclaim their home planet Sera from the Locust, the underground enemy force that was supposedly wiped out after Marcus Fenix and his fellow COG soldiers sacrificed their city of Jacinto to flood the Locusts’ tunnels. After the disbandment of their

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coalition, the former Gears must now face a new threat in the Lambent without a home or government to go back to, followed by the eventual retaliation of the original Locust horde. With their backs into a proverbial wall, Marcus must obtain new allies while discovering the secret from his father (previously thought to be dead) in order to come out victorious in what is undoubtedly humanity’s last stand.

It should go without saying that the Gears of War series isn’t known for its well-written narrative or deeply portrayed characters…which is why it may be something of a shock to see the kind of effort put forth this time around; Rather than start things off with a bang, Gears 3 instead opens up with a whimper, showcasing what passes for an ordinary life for Marcus and his weary war buddies. Even when the bullets start flying, the story still adds an unexpected level of depth to the cookie-cutter cast (including Cole Train, of all people), signifying their feelings of despair over the things they have lost; Even more shocking is the subtle approach given, considering how the previous game practically beat players over the head with the subplot concerning Dom’s missing wife. While there are still plenty of cheesy quips as well as the usual level of G.I. Joe-centric machismo that is expected of these steroid-infused soldiers, author Karen Traviss manages to convey not only a sense of closure for the series, but also succeeds in creating an actual connection between the players and the characters in what may be their last hurrah.

But the most effective storytelling device in the Gears series has always been its visuals; ever the premiere showpiece for Epic’s Unreal Engine, the giblet-rendering brown-filtered tech is as impressive as it was four years ago; In fact, it may be safe to call Gears of War 3 the most graphically impressive Xbox 360 game to date. The sheer amount of destroyable debris, scorching pyrotechnics, massively detailed monstrosities, bullets and explosions flying every which way is positively disorienting…and that’s just the first area. Dilapidated buildings and ash-covered streets are familiar locales, but the improved amount of detail on an already impressive visual showcase as well as new lighting and hair effects (seriously, even the strands on the back of Marcus’ head swish with startling detail) truly amaze despite a few framerate dips during cutscenes. In what may be the last major showcase for the Xbox 360 and Unreal Engine 3, Gears of War 3 reinforces the notion that videogames today can go toe-to-toe with even the most Michael Bay-centric of Hollywood visuals.

 

gears of war 3          gears of war 3

 

While the gameplay itself may not have received as significant an upgrade as the visuals, the small amount of changes do a great deal in strengthening the already-strong elements. Players engage in third person shootouts while hiding behind and/or vaulting over cover as before, but the most significant addition is the ability to “spot” visible targets with a click of the left analog stick. While only marginally handy in the offline campaign, it can be incredibly helpful in informing fellow online teammates of the position of an enemy or to tell them to focus their firepower on the designated target, whether in co-op or multiplayer.

Speaking of co-op, Gears 3 no longer restricts friends to the Marcus and Dom duo, and instead allows up to four players at a time to play through the entire campaign. The new matchmaking options also gives players the option to allow anyone to drop in or out of their campaign sessions at any time, or restrict access only to people on their friend list. There is also the ability to play the campaign in “Arcade Mode”, which is virtually identical save for a scoring system that allows co-op partners to gain points for every enemy killed; by steadily racking up kills, each player contributes to a shared multiplier that allows higher scores that are tallied up at the end of each act. It adds a fun incentive to replay the story chapters in order to achieve those bragging rights as well as experience points.

Even though the campaign runs longer than the previous two games, it’s still a short (but certainly thrilling) ride that can be finished in under five or six hours. Good thing Epic chose to give Gears 3 the most feature-filled multiplayer options out of the entire trilogy. The same competitive multiplayer modes from the second game all make a return appearance, with the biggest change made to Team Deathmatch. This 5-on-5 shootout between Cog and Locust players now features a shared spawn pool, where each teammate killed on either side subtracts a number from the pool. When the spawns reach zero, every player on that team is given one more life to preserve, and one last chance to take out the opposing team. This feature allows for longer matches without resorting to King of the Hill (also present) and is ultimately more balanced for players who usually learn to strategize after the first few deaths. For those preferring the old “one life per match” rule, they are also available in Warzone and Execution, respectively. Capture The Leader and Wingman also return for alternate multiplayer sessions, and all games now benefit from dedicated servers in order to combat the long-criticized host advantage that ultimately sullied the online experience from Gears 2.

Though ultimately, it’s the community that gives life to a multiplayer game, and Gears of War 3’s players are just as brutal and unforgiving as they were in previous games; a new Casual mode serves as a training ground of sorts for new players, but after a few victories you will automatically “graduate” to standard matches. In addition to spotting targets, another helpful new addition is the ability to see where each map’s power weapons are spawned, either by using an overhead map or with the left bumper. This help keeps everyone informed on where each map weapon is located and can also help reduce the monopolization of said weapons, which can instantly turn the tide of battle with their deadly stopping power.

On the subject of weapons, there are few additions to the ones collected in the first two games, but their inclusion changes the face of the matches drastically. In addition to additional map weapons like the One Shot (which, true to its name, instantly vaporizes anyone caught in its crosshairs) and the Digger (a living explosive that burrows underground and detonates underneath a target’s feet, ala Tremors), players can now start with a modified Lancer (which is more accurate) and Hammerburst (which now has a first person view for more precise aiming), in addition to two new weapons; the Retro Lancer, which deals far more damage than the standard Lancer but also features a bigger spread and kickback, and the Sawed-Off Shotgun, which has a 99% of instantly killing any opponent within its incredibly short range.

The Sawed-Off in particular is a double-edged sword that can either aid newbies with its deadly stopping power, or infuriate players who were already sick of the shotgun-centric matches that the original Gnasher was responsible for (and is still available as an alternative starter weapon). Truth be told, the Sawed-Off would have been better off as a map weapon instead of something immediately available to everyone, but hopefully Epic will continue to improve the multiplayer experience based on player feedback and patches.

Regardless, the competitive multiplayer can be daunting to anyone, no matter what changes may occur, so if facing off against the bottom of the barrel of Xbox Live players doesn’t suit you, there are two co-operative modes to mess with. The ever addicting Horde mode returns and is better than ever, thanks to several improvements to the survival-based experience; taking a cue from players using dropped shields as fortifications, Epic has thrown in the ability to add and upgrade defenses around each map. Said defenses include spiked traps that slow the movement of enemies while also injuring them, decoys that receive the brunt of enemy fire while allowing players to catch the distracted enemies from behind, and turrets for mowing down baddies of all shapes and sizes.

None of these fortifications come free, though; each piece of defense requires money to build, repair, or upgrade…money which can be earned by taking out enemies, reviving players, or simply surviving each round. There are also random challenges to include an extra bonus, such as killing ten enemies with a chainsaw, or killing thirty enemies in less than two minutes. Spending cash on each type of defense will eventually level up the player’s proficiency, allowing for stronger spiked traps (think lasers), decoys, etc. These levels are also permanent, carrying over to each Horde experience. At fifty waves, including random boss encounters as well as Lambent enemies, the Horde mode continues to be one of the single best multiplayer experiences in the Xbox 360’s career, and these new additions only assure that several players’ hours will be spent playing this highly addicting mode.

As if that weren’t enough, there is also the new Beast Mode; essentially reversing the roles, players play as the Locust horde and are tasked with eliminating the AI-controlled human enemies. This mode also features a money system, but instead of spending them on defenses, they are used to purchase one of the different Locust types available; the cash pool is shared in this mode, and every player starts with the same list of selectable creatures, from the explosive Tickers to the shrieking Wretches, but will eventually unlock stronger (and more expensive) tiers of Locust, from the massive Boomers to even the nigh-indestructible Berserkers.

Rather than survive the combination of COGs and Stranded enemies, the goal is to mount an offensive and wipe out all enemies before the timer runs out. When a player is killed, they immediately spend money on a newly spawned Locust. The variety of Locust types and the heavy defenses of the AI humans (the same ones available in standard Horde) require players to think more strategically in order to accomplish their goal; Tickers will die in a few shots, but can instantly detonate and destroy nearby enemies, while the Kantus priests can heal nearby players and use ink grenades. Boomers and Maulers rely on pure stopping power to deliver maximum damage, while the Berserker…well, decimates everything on sight.

With the variety of playable creatures, Beast Mode could very well usurp Horde as the best co-operative Gears of War experience. It’s a shame, then, that there are only twelve waves total, and that unlocked Locust tiers don’t carry over into other games. If Epic ever decides to include additional waves, as well as perhaps a mode that allow playable Locust enemies to fend off against human-controlled opponents, it would only further enhance an already excellent multiplayer mode.

For anyone who wasn’t taken in by the story or multiplayer features of the first two games, Gears of War 3’s miniscule additions probably won’t win you over. That said, there are few gamers with a pulse who would pass up such a meaty package as this, filled to the brim with co-operative and competitive modes, an action-packed campaign that is both thrilling and exhausting to the senses, and a nearly endless amount of collectables in the form of medals, ribbons, challenges, and the rewards obtain thereon. For a series known for addictive nail-biting shootouts as well as breathtaking visuals, this third and possibly final act to the Xbox 360’s first mega blockbuster is a fitting end to one of the most definitive multiplayer experiences in our current console generation.

 

- Jorge Fernandez

(September 28, 2011)

 

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