Review by John Cranston
The final instalment of the Gears of War trilogy was released by Epic Games in September this year and I’m finally writing about it. It’s testament to its quality that every time I’ve tried to sit down at my desk I have ended up playing it instead. It’s the jewel in the crown of the third-person shooter genre.
Marcus Fenix, the broad-shouldered, battle-scarred beefcake faces his final challenge in a fight for survival against humanity’s latest and greatest threat. With more blood-soaked action and satisfying game modes than its predecessors, Gears of War 3 is a necessary purchase for all Xbox 360 owners.
Times have been tough for the humans living on Serra, having seen the end of The Pendulum Wars – a prolonged global conflict – they then had to face the harrowing aftermath of Emergence Day – when an army of subterranean humanoids calling themselves “the Locust” decided to attack humanity in payback for the massive damage being caused to the planet by the previous war. The events of Gears of War and Gears of War 2 dealt with humanity’s fight back against the Locust, which ultimately resulted in the creation of a new and deadlier foe – the Lambent.
Caused by over-exposure to the bio-luminescent fuel source known as Imulsion, this mass outbreak of mutation knew no limits and affected human and Locust alike, from the lowliest wretch to the behemoth Brumak. Forced into refuge and made leaderless by the disappearance of their leader, the COG have disbanded, leaving Marcus, Dom, Anya et al to find some way of surviving attacks from their many foes in this harsh and unforgiving world.
When it emerges (pardon the pun) that Marcus’ presumed deceased father is in fact alive and being held captive at a secret Locust research facility, Marcus has to rely on his band of brothers and sisters (yes, there are playable female characters) to find a way through wave after wave of opposing forces. Thankfully taking a rest from the oft-mocked grey and brown palletes of old, this new adventure is set during Sera’s summer and so is filled with lush landscapes rich with swathes of colour.
Giving the artistic team a chance to pretty things up is a welcome touch and it’s clear that Epic are stretching the amount they can do with the graphical capabilities of a single-disc Xbox 360 game. The new environs help offset the grimy tones of the Locust and the garishly glowing Lambent and add some much needed diversity to the levels. The inclusion of a number of dream sequences also provide some unique visual experiences, though they are not used to full effect as part of the overall narrative.
Those familiar with the previous titles will know that there was always a sense that the game was a two-man effort from brothers-in-arms Marcus and Dom, with the occasional swap-in from less significant and oft-killed characters. This time around there’s a greater sense of teamwork, each of the characters have been given more lines and more screen time as the COG’s now split up into squads of four. Best of all, you can play the campaign co-operatively with a group of four people, which is great fun.
The story itself is a mess, being the end of the trilogy I would expect a more coherent and conclusive finale which answers all the questions the series has thus far raised, but instead you just get an overwhelmingly pointless romp through an explosive and action-packed world, a long gauntlet of corridor shooting interspersed with cut-scenes. It’s not that the campaign wasn’t fun or exciting, it’s just that it failed, as its forebears did, to engage me emotionally or intellectually.
Fortunately, where the story let me down, every other part of the Gears experience makes up for it tenfold. The range of enemies and the diversity of armaments with which to dispose of them means you’re always discovering new and fun ways to kill, the sheer volume of hidden goals and tracked statistics is on par with Halo Reach and the range of modes to play and the ease of setting up online parties for matchmaking or custom games is commendable.
The campaign is replayable in both the traditional mode and a point-scoring arcade mode, made better with the addition of game-changing “mutators”. The versus mode has a plethora of traditional match types for up to 10 players, as well as the inclusion of a unique mode every weekend as part of Epic Games’ efforts to keep the community engaged for the long term. There’s the expanded Horde mode, which is even better now it has tower-defence traits, and the play-as-the-bad-guys Beast mode, which is perfect as a short but brutal counterpart. Both are designed for teams of five players, but can be attempted with a smaller number if desired.
As you progress through the many modes you’ll earn experience points which unlock new characters, weapon skins, fortification upgrades and such, while a robust medal system means you can be recognised for your abilities, be it sniping, base building or ally reviving. This creates a much more coherent and unified experience for Gears players, a refreshing change from the dissonant single player/co-op/multiplayer ethos that pervades other significant shooters.
With a long list of scheduled downloadable content to come, if you end up enjoying the Gears experience as much as I did you’ll probably want to purchase the Season Pass. For the uninitiated, this pass acts as a discounted pre-order on said content, so you can stay up to date with all the new maps and missions over the year, at a cost of 2400 Microsoft Points (approximately £18), which equates to a 33% saving.
Gears of War 3 could possibly be the landmark third-person shooter that this generation of consoles is remembered by. With the exception of Vanquish, I can’t say that I’ve played a game that creates the same level of unadulterated excitement. Even if you’re not particularly well versed in the Gears mythos, if you take revelry in turning countless enemies inside out with the meatiest weapons this side of an Arnie film then you have no excuse for avoiding this game.
Gears of War 3 scores 9 out of 10