Saturday, October 15, 2011

Gears of War 3 review

 

Depending on who you are, Gears of War 3's release may or may not excite you. While it still retains the gritty, post-apocalyptic shooter attributes many have grown weary of, Gears 3 manages to scale these obstructions with surprising strength. There's still quite a bit of cover-mongering, macho-one-liners, bizarre story elements and an unyielding multiplayer element, but by the time you've finished you'll appreciate Epic's closure on the final title of the Gears trilogy.  

 Just about a year and a half from where the second game ended, Gears 3 opens with Marcus and company roaming about the open seas. Now that the Lambent have established themselves as a true threat to both the Locust and humanity, Marcus and crew are trying desperately to simply survive. However, Marcus soon receives notice that his father is alive and could hold the key to ending this perpetual conflict once and for all.

The narrative behind the Gears of War saga is one of conflict, drawing sharp contrast from gamers of all suits and it's easy to see why. Unless you've played all the games in their entirety you're going to have a hard time figuring out what's going on. The Lambent, while having a presence in the second title, aren't formally introduced until this game and to be honest, it's sort of a contrived entry. When the first Gears game came out back in 2006 it was all about the Locust, Emergence Day and their undying animosity towards the human race. In Gears 2 everything became more convoluted with the Locust/Lambent civil war and the hint that the Locust might actually be mutated humans. Both games seemed indecisive in the direction they wanted to go with the story and the emotions surrounding it. Thankfully Gears 3 touches on both its predecessors by actually explaining some of these queries.


 

Giving answers without some improvised workaround is one of the greatest strengths Gears 3 has to offer. There still are questions mind you, but instead of leaving the mysteries of the Locust and even some of the human characters ambiguous, by the time the credits roll you'll feel satisfied with most of the conclusion. I say "most" because the story has really gotten out of control and you can thank the writers of the second game for that one. Not everyone will agree, but there was a lot of missed opportunity to expand upon the enigmatic Locust before determining the best way out was through civil war. At least this time around you'll see more realistic emotion and reflection within each character than the exaggerated, cavalier, royal-douchebaggery emotions we've seen in the past. Regardless, Gears 3 actually ends and for that you have to give props to Karen Traviss, the writer brought on in an attempt to save the story from itself. 

Like Gears 2, the third entry has a habit of just throwing new characters into the mix just because it can. You'll be introduced to several new faces who really have only been mentioned in books and other out-of-game lore or DLC. To me, making it almost a necessity to read other forms of media to understand what's going on in the game is lethargic and stupid. Who the hell is this Sam chick? Bernie? Jace? Anya's got a gun now? What? If you've followed the game since its announcement almost everything I've listed makes perfect sense, but the game never explains what's been going on. Sometimes thrusting you into the thick of it works, but in this case it makes more questions than it answers.

 

One of the biggest changes to the campaign is the inclusion of four player co-op. This is a tremendous addition as it allows anybody to jump into the game via Xbox Live. The game certainly prospers from such a great cooperative boost, but it almost makes the game feel like it's a necessity to play with two or more people. You see, regardless of where you go there will always be three people with you at all times and the environments are enormous. Sure, there are sections where you get split up for a few moments, but overall this makes the game far too easy when you're playing alone. Having finished the campaign on the Hardcore setting once by myself, I never once had to worry about whether I was going to die since the AI was always right there to get me back on feet. They also shoot at everything, sometimes from impossible angles and have four times the health you do, making it all the easier for your success. You'll certainly have to do most of the heavy lifting, but if you're going to play this campaign and get the full enjoyment out of it definitely grab a few of your friends and dive in.

After the campaign lies defeated at your righteous hands there are several multiplayer components you can choose from. Besides the standard competitive modes, Horde makes a triumphant return and is indisputably better than its predecessor. This time around you earn cash for killing foes and with it you can erect fortifications, pick up weapons and ammo, or even buy yourself back in if you've suffered an early death. It's more tower defense in nature and every ten waves there's now boss creatures which can range from a nasty Lambent Berserker to a murderous Brumak. Horde is definitely a fun mode, but like Beast it's more of a distraction than anything.

 

Beast is the brand-spankin' new mode that allows you and four others to play as various Locust against 13 waves of AI controlled humans. Think of it as a kind of reverse Horde, but you're on a strict time limit that can be boosted by killing the humans and even their fortifications. As you progress you'll receive cash along with stronger tiers of Locust to choose from. That's right, you can't start out as the Berserker but you can definitely play as her eventually. Once again, it's more distraction material but for what it's worth Beast is interesting. 

Beast and Horde might serve up a healthy portion of enjoyment, but the competitive multiplayer is where the real meat is. Practically all of the previous modes return, including Execution, Warzone and Wingman, but the new kid on the block is Team Deathmatch. Unlike the typical Gears setup, Team Deathmatch gives each team a pool of lives. Each time someone gets vaporized it'll subtract one from the overall pool until one team runs out of guys. I'm not a big fan of this mode as it detracts from the strategic value of a single life and allows the pretty balanced maps to become camping grounds. It's definitely not my favorite mode, but it at least gives the uninitiated and restless folks a chance to come back for more punishment at a quicker pace. 

You'll also notice there's achievements, medals and new ribbons for practically every little thing you do. Died first in a round? Ribbon! Most kills in a round? Ribbon! Most time in cover? Ribbon! Most time downed? Ribbon! I'm not sure how I feel about it, but at least the menus help keep track of everything in a very organized fashion. Oh and remember those "Seriously?" achievements? Well, "Seriously 3.0" is still serious and practically impossible to unlock - as it should be.

 

Gears 3 fully repairs the broken elements of the series and expands upon them to a shockingly wonderful degree. The four-player cooperative campaign is a great touch and the pure variety found in the multiplayer cannot be denied. This game is the definitive Gears experience and while it might be the last of the trilogy and the final entry for Delta Squad, you can bet it's not the last we'll see of this notable franchise.

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