Everyone loves a trilogy. Gears of War is coming to a close with its third installment and to its credit it’s one helluva ending for the series. You’ll get closure for most of the main characters and see it to a fulfilling conclusion with only a few loose ends… that will one day inevitably be answered in GEARS OF WAR 4, or whatever they call it. The videogame industry doesn’t just let a cash cow sit idle, after all, but for now we can all pretend that this is the end because it works. It absolutely works.
We rejoin Delta team eighteen months after the events of the second game, floating around in a ship trying to figure out what to do now. They’re battered and beaten and not doing too well, trying to grow crops on board and survive the best they can as they scavenge for fuel and weapons at various ports. As for the war, the lightmass bomb didn’t stop the Locust, dropping an entire city into the ground didn’t stop them, and now the COG has effectively dissolved with the disappearance of Chairman Prescott. The remaining soldiers head to various strongholds around the world and Marcus Fenix and his team are floating around trying to keep the fight going. Of course, the Locust isn’t the only problem now- the infected, explosive Lambent creatures have continued their push onto the world, now appearing from the inside of pods on giant stalks that pop out of the ground. There are a few new mutations you’ll face, some that are reminiscent of the Las Plagas creatures from the Resident Evil series, complete with tentacles and horrific anatomy.
Marcus and crew soon find out that his father is indeed still alive as hinted at the end of the second game, and they set off across the world to find him and stop the Lambent for good.
That may seem as cliched as can be but the story’s actually the best of the trilogy thus far, even though it’s still filled with melodrama and cheap attempts at wringing emotion out of these one-note characters. Fans of the single most hysterical moment of this very silly series will be pleased to note that Dom gets a similar scene in this one. In fact, it’s probably even better, being that it’s a big slow-motion moment punctuated by the most eye-rolling choice of music possible. You’ll see.
Look, Epic Games- we understand that you want to change up the excellent action of the series with an stirring story that we get invested in, but you have to stop taking cues from Michael Bay movies. None of these emotional cutscenes are earned and they nearly all fall flat. I mean, even after spending dozens of hours with Marcus Fenix do we even know who he is? He’s got a gruff voice and he’s a good leader, and you’ve heard that he was a war hero till he disgraced himself by abandoning his post trying to rescue his father, but that’s about it. You know nothing of him, and this is the main character! Course, maybe they expect us to read those Gears of War novels… (snicker)
But even though the characters are boring as can be the story of this world is fascinating, and you’ll finally get to experience the story instead of just being told about it. Plus, you’ll be able to sit through the sillier moments because the action is so damn exciting, just setpiece after setpiece.
The gameplay is as tight as ever, the cover system still working beautifully, although it’s still a pain in the ass to have to stop in cover in order to leap over it. The variety of weapons has been expanded this time and you’ll find lots of new goodies to play with like Retro Lancers (with a bayonet instead of a chainsaw), incendiary grenades, incredibly powerful Double Barrelled Shotguns, Digger launchers (boomshots that burrow under the ground), and a massive Vulcan Cannon, which requires a friend’s help to carry the ammo box around and feed bullets into the gun. Another big addition are the Silverbacks, rideable mechs that come equipped with gattling guns and rocket launchers, as well as unarmed versions that can fulfill all your Aliens fantasies.
You’ll need to switch up your weapons frequently, because your foes will change just as fast. There are portions of this game when you’ll be fighting Lambents and Locusts at the same time, and there’s a bit of strategy in choosing how to smartly face each one. You’ll really have to be ready for anything, since the new and improved engine (which looks just staggeringly beautiful) is getting a workout with the huge number of characters on screen.
The environment itself has finally become a character as well. It seems they’ve taken criticisms of the first two games to heart because instead of the boring, drab grey world it’s absolutely brimming with color, somewhat similar to the world Epic presented in Bulletstorm. This may be the first time the planet Sera feels like a genuine world, as you’ll be traversing much of it trying to get to your final location, visiting all sorts of varied locations on the way. Some are places you’ve only heard of, like a city that was hit by the Hammer of Dawn when the COG tried to eliminate the Locust by destroying entire cities that were still populated with people. Expect haunting visions ripped straight out of Pompeii.
You also run into a lot of Stranded and various minor characters, which helps make the world feel lived-in and populated, and not simply just two guys walking around fighting their own personal war.
Besides, it’s four guys this time! The single best feature of the game is the online 4-player co-op. You can play through the entire campaign with friends and even try an Arcade mode that scores you based on how fast you kill, somewhat like Halo’s mode of the same name. Through the campaign the characters in play change, and even playing solo you’ll experience the fight through a few different eyes. It gives the game a very fresh feeling, even though of course all the characters play exactly the same. Even the women!
Oh yes, the fairer sex finally dirty their hands this time, with longtime character Anya finally dropping her comm and picking up a lancer. It’s amusing to note that the women are as impossibly gorgeous as all the men are impossibly beefy. The world through Epic Games’ eyes.
But there are no huge surprises. The game just plays incredibly well, polished and honed to a sleek experience with nearly no fat on it. When you’ve gotten your fill of the campaign you can jump into the many multiplayer modes, including a brand new Horde mode. The popular five-player wave-based mode has made some changes that will please some and annoy others. This time you’re given money to buy various defenses and fortify your position- everything from caltrops and decoys to turrets and every kind of weapon. Each one costs a certain amount of money and can be upgraded to more sturdy and useful foritifications, although of course the enemy can tear them down, forcing you to repair them between rounds. It actually plays a bit like the Zombies mode in the recent Call of Duty games and personally, I like it. It adds a nice level of progression to the game and it gives you a reason to keep playing different levels, but I can see people wishing for the simple purity of the mode from the second game.
On the flipside we have Beast mode, which is pretty much Horde mode from the Locust perspective. You earn cash by destroying installations and killing enemies, including hero characters from the game. There’s just nothing more fun that trying to kill the people you’ve been keeping alive for so long, smashing Fenix in the face as he growls “Revive me!” to his teammates.. You can spend that blood money on various Locust figures, everything from lowly Tickers to the nearly-blind (and nearly-indestructible) Berserkers. Those are easily the most fun to play as of course, just destruction in Locust form, even if it feels like someone’s smeared Vaseline on your screen. It makes for a fun experience, especially with a group of people. It’s just a shame that they couldn’t have combined both modes and had a Locust team trying to kill COG players.
The multiplayer is mostly the same as you’ve been playing. The one significant improvement is the new Team Deathmatch mode, which now gives each team a pool of 15 lives they can use. This makes for a more thrilling and consistent game, as you’re constantly heading back into the action and trying not to be the guy that spends up all of your team’s lives. There’s also Capture the Leader (a combination of Guardian and Submission), King of the Hill (Annex) and Wingman modes, and all sorts of maps and options. You can level up and unlock new characters, weapon skins and such, and the XP can be earned in any game mode, even the campaign. It allows you to feel like you’re working towards something no matter what you’re doing in the game, and for one really well-rounded package.
Gears of War 3 is easily the best of the series, but it’s not going to be swaying anyone. At this point you know if you like the game or not, and should base your purchase on that. I love the big stupid series, the same way I love Bad Boys 2. Stupid as shit, fun as hell, and even better when you’re liquored up with buddies. The co-op experience is among the best in the business, and the improved multiplayer means you’ll be playing it long after you’ve helped all your friends through the campaign.
A fitting end for the trilogy… until the next one, of course.