“This is where it ends. One way or another.”
Microsoft’s other flagship shooter is back with its third and final instalment. This is the end to a trilogy which has influenced modern gaming mechanics, perhaps more than any other, and the conclusion to an epic story which has engaged millions for half a decade. Is it an explosive conclusion or a whimpering end? Will Gears of War burn out or fade away?
Gears of War 3 is about struggle. It’s about the fight, the battle, the wars. Gears 3 is about the victory but it is just as much about the loss. It’s about love, friendship, loyalty, honour, brotherhood, tragedy, bereavement, sacrifice and new beginnings. Gears of War 3 is about relationships – building and breaking, living and dying.
Gears of War 3 is not about discretion. It’s unreserved, brash. Loud.
From the very first chapter of the campaign mode, the player is thrust into desperate situations with deadly enemies and powerful weapons. Epic simply doesn’t do subtlety in their action sequences and Gears of War 3 epitomises that attitude. It kicks in doors, it blows up buildings and it throws its middle finger in the air at anyone who wants to avoid the fight.
Case in point: Gears of War 3 has, at one point, a kind of stealth mission. How is that stealth achieved? By shooting enemies with automatic weapons until they explode, before they have the chance to sound an alarm. In Gears of War, you shall not sneak.[drop]So it is incredibly fortunate that the mechanics of the fight are so perfectly tuned. The guns all feel weighty and solid to shoot and the range of weaponry available is impressive. The weapon-boosting active reload system returns and it continues to be one of the best innovations in the genre. Special weapons are a joy to find, even though their situation is usually a serendipitous discovery preempting their necessity. It’s a joy to fire these weapons and a pleasure to behold the carnage they give birth to.
The sound design in this latest Gears game is exemplary, as expected, but its greatest contribution to the overall is that it never overpowers. Each thumping boom from a grenade launcher portents an explosion of enemy body parts and a visceral, almost gruesome, landscape of gore. Each rattle of the Lancer, Gears’ trademark weapon, sets in motion a staggered enemy’s descent to the floor. There to crawl for help that is only ever going to be a passing reprieve from the darkness of death.
The growling chainsaws and guttural enemy calls sit perfectly in the grizzled battlefield alongside the explosions and small arms fire. The incidental voice work from all the characters is also very good, although at times it feels slightly stilted, assumedly due to the way it’s triggered by events rather than sequenced by a director. Cutscenes are more efficiently paced and they are surprisingly emotionally charged, considering the setting and the reputation Gears has built.
The battles along the way are won, mostly, by your ensemble cast of ragtag warriors. The thousands of enemies, of various shapes, sizes and species charge headlong into your hail of bullets in blind loyalty to their cause – be it cultural, ethical or the result of some madness brought about by contamination. Allow yourself to be washed over by the bombastic approach. Enjoy the hyperbolic, never say die attitudes on parade and Gears of War 3 extends the Gears universe perfectly and with an intelligence that will be overlooked or ignored by many but which is comparable to any and better than most.
There are multitudinous enemy types, including a few new ones, and they come at you thick and fast. Some types feel a little like bullet sponges but the liberal scattering of ammunition and dropped weaponry means that you’ll always have plenty of firepower at your disposal during the lengthy campaign. With some imaginative set pieces, on rails sections and huge enemy types that act as kind of mid level bosses in places, you will need to familiarise yourself with all the various weapon types and attack strategies for the fight ahead.
The gameplay boils down, in very simplified terms, to working your way through areas of cover, fighting through waves of various enemy types, to find an objective. The fighting is attritional rather than check pointed so it is possible to set up camp behind cover and pick off your enemies until they’re all dead before moving on. At least, that’s possible as long as your enemies don’t rush you. Staying in one spot is often not the best strategy to take, particularly later in the game when enemies require the use of explosives or melée attacks in order to defeat them.
In terms of how it looks, Gears of War has always been at the forefront of visual improvements but this iteration is a little disappointing. It’s not that it looks bad, it just looks like a game wringing the last ounces of worth from an ageing game engine and it has been surpassed on several fronts now.[drop2]The Unreal engine seems in dire need of a big overhaul if it is to compete with the very best visual presentation of the latest home console offerings. What it does is in keeping with previous games in the series and at times it is capable of great beauty, particularly in the scenery and towards the end of the game. Character models and textures will always have a slightly generic look to them outside (and occasionally not) of the cutscenes though, thanks largely to the ubiquity of the incredibly popular game engine. There are also very occasional instances of frame rate slow down during the most strenuous scenes but it is very rare.
Where Gears of War 3 surprises the most is in the narrative. This series has long been the poster child for the fist-bumping, catcalling frat house crowd of gamers, something that Epic has often capitalised on and encouraged in its marketing efforts. Don’t worry, it still has all of that pseudo-military brotherhood spiel and the shameless overconfidence in its delivery. But this time around, Gears feels more like a story about humanity (or should that be Seranity?)
For the first time in my experience with the series, it wasn’t just an extremely enjoyable tear through exploding aliens (sometimes literally). It was an emotional journey too. It is difficult to convey without venturing into spoiler territory but the exploration of relationships in this game is far more complex and interesting than in any previous visit to the Gears universe.
So what of your real life brothers in arms? The game is, as one should expect, extremely well stocked in the multiplayer departments. From a full on, four player online cooperative option on the campaign mode, with drop in and out functionality, to the Versus, Horde and Beast modes that present the player with various wave-based and deathmatch game modes which all seem to be very well built, with a nice mix of maps and unlockable upgrades. The servers for multiplayer are very quiet, as is to be expected before the game’s retail release, but we will revisit the multiplayer modes after release when our bot-filled games will be populated by other humans and we can actually get Beast and Horde modes up and running with reliable regularity.
- Fantastic weaponry and combat.
- Lengthy campaign mode which is playable in cooperative mode.
- Much better narrative than previous games in the series.
- Masses of enemy types and plenty of them rushing at you.
- Great characters with genuine likability.
- Multiplayer is certain to be well populated for a long time to come.
- Starting to look a little flat at times.
Gears of War 3 is the best in the series. While it doesn’t make generational leaps in terms of its visual presentation, and the multiplayer modes are more evolution than revolution, it adds a whole new layer of emotion to the dynamic. Gears has always been the best third person cover-based shooter available but now it rivals most other modern games in terms of narrative, characterisation and empathetic attachment. Put simply, it’s a brilliant end to one of the finest trilogies in gaming.