Review: Gears of War 3
Gears of War 3 is the epic conclusion to the trilogy that we've all been waiting for. Does the final chapter in the series prove to be worth the wait?
- Worth The Time?If time were worth money, then you could consider this game a great financial investment. Which is to say, yes.
- Things LovedThe attention to detail is magnificent. The story mode provided some good set pieces. The action is frantic and furious regardless of what mode you play. The social experience is unparalleled. So much to do, so much to unlock.
- Things HatedThe story tries too hard sometimes, and comes across as tacky and contrived instead of classy and sincere.
- RecommendationYou mean you haven't bought the game yet?
- Name: Gears of War 3
- Genre: Third Person Shooter
- Players: 1 or 2 (Split-Screen)
- Multiplayer: Online Co-op & Competitive
- Platforms: Xbox 360
- Developer: Epic Games
- Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
- Price: R589 (Limited Edition) -- BT Games
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
When asked to describe the Gears of War series, words like cover mechanics and executions come into play, with lancers and bullet sponges thrown in for effect.
Rarely however, is the term “genre-defining” used. A sad fact since the series is undoubtedly one of the most genre-defining of the current stable of what was previously known as “next-gen” games, of the era of the Xbox 360 and PS3.
Sure it didn’t do anything first, but it bloody well popularised — and more importantly, standardised — a lot of previously under-appreciated game mechanics.
The series so far has introduced such elements as the aforementioned cover mechanics, executions, weapons with chainsaws on them (sorry Warhammer) and enemies able to take bullets by the truckload, as well a proper co-operative experience that takes full advantage of a second player if they’re present in the game.
Gears of War 3 brings all of that to the table, and actually finds ways to bring even more.
Immediately upon inserting the disc into your Xbox 360 and starting the game up, you are presented with, well okay there’s introductory cinematics first; obligatory logos and such, but once you are into the main menu for the game you are presented with an abundance of options.
To call Gears of War 3 the most complete Gears package yet, would be the understatement of the year.
In no particular order, going from top to bottom on the main menu screen, you get the Campaign mode (in either Standard of Arcade), Versus mode, Beast mode and Horde mode, all of which have a Public and Private option, with the former allowing you to go online with random other people, while the latter keeps things more personal and “friends-only”.
The game also places you into your own party that can be either publicly joined — by friends or the gaming public — or invite only.
Epic Games makes sure you understand full and clear that Gears of War 3 is a game you play with friends, and one where the options are abundant.
Let’s start off with the Singleplayer aspect of the game: The Campaign mode.
Prior to actually getting into any of the actual content, you are presented with various options upon entering Campaign mode. These include the standard Standard campaign, as well as the Arcade campaign mode which scores you based on your kills and so on, much like any of the other modes would, and there’s also a Select Chapter feature for if you want to go back and replay something. New players to the series or those who’ve not played the story for a while also get a handy, dandy “Previously on Gears…” option that attempts to get them up to speed. I didn’t find it quite adequate though.
Okay, let’s talk story.
If I had to describe the story of this third game in as few words as possible, I would simply call it:
A valiant attempt.
See, Gears of War 3 tries — hard — to be a deep and emotional experience, a cinematic experience as well. It tries to do what the Call of Duty series did with Modern Warfare by attempting to create an engrossing rollercoaster ride of high points and low points, with the odd epic “WTF” moment thrown in for effect.
Sadly, it doesn’t quite pull it off, and for alarmingly silly reasons.
The characters introduced in this third iteration bear mention, if only for the fact that their inclusion serves only to fit certain stereotypes and to fill the numbers during various parts of the story. While interesting enough in their own respects, they are all relatively forgettable once all is said and done.
To further elaborate on the other silly reasons would require going into key events in the story mode and spoilers dictate that such an elaboration will not occur in this review. Suffice to say, Gears of War 3’s attempt at providing a cinematic and emotional experience is all too blatant and can be seen from miles away, which is a pity since it’s actually not that bad.
Not that bad is an understatement actually.
To its credit, while Epic Games didn’t quite succeed in creating an emotionally engaging experience with Gears of War 3, they nevertheless succeeded at providing an intriguing, climactic end to the trilogy of games. Even if said end makes no real sense whatsoever, in the grander scheme of things.
And that’s all we wanted, really.
For that reason, though it clearly wasn’t quite the intention of the developers, you cannot fault their ability to provide memorable battles and set-pieces that will be visited and re-visited many times over and still have the surreal feel to it that can only come from playing with friends and doing really cool things.
The story mode in Gears of War 3 starts off pretty much just shoving you into some place somewhere and within minutes the action is frantic and zany. Epic Games knows that you’ve played this game before and they trust your muscle memory to pull through for you, and for that reason you are thrown right into the thick of things before you even realise the game has actually started.
This theme then carries over through the rest of the game, where you are thrown into ridiculously crazy battles which in previous games would have probably been boss battles but are now just simple skirmishes. There is enough variety and frantic action that the game never gets boring or monotonous even though you are essentially just shoving mass amounts of bullets into the mouths of enemies and repeating after each Active Reload, stopping only to chainsaw the unlucky one who got too close to you.
The game introduces a new type of enemy known as the Lambent, who will explode once killed and provide entirely new levels of frustration for those brave enough to dare play through the game on Insane. Even more so for those who dare to take on a Lambent Berserker.
Just fucking die already!
Often in the story mode, as a result of the Lambent and Locust not being too friendly with each other, you come to certain parts where the two types of enemy will square off against each other and you are more than welcome to just sit tight in cover and finish off the survivors once they are done enjoying their momentary victory, because you’re a nice guy like that.
All of this coupled with a few new and interesting weapons such as the ridiculously overpowered (if you can handle the recoil) Retro Lancer and the even more ridiculously overpowered (but ultimately useless unless used against bigger enemies) Oneshot, makes for a story mode that is entertaining, intriguing, and not all that bad.
Once you’re done with the Campaign mode, assuming you don’t wish to immediately revisit it with friends on Insane, or play through the Arcade part of it, the obvious next mode for you would be Versus. Now that you’re making Locust-killing look easy, you no doubt want to take it online and shoot actual players in the face, with your shotgun.
The game types for the Versus component of Gears of War 3 have been reduced in number from previous games, but not at all in a bad way. Instead of dropping the less popular game modes from previous games, Epic Games have instead gone and revised them, combining certain games modes and providing entirely new and unique experiences.
The six game types that you may partake in are Warzone, Execution, Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Capture the Leader and Wingman. All game types save for the last one offer five on five battles with either — ideally — humans or bots to fill in the gaps.
Warzone and Execution play out pretty much the same way in that once you take enough damage, you are downed and if not revived by a squad member, you die and must wait till the next round. The key difference is that in Execution, that’s right you guessed it, a downed enemy must be executed in order for their death to actually occur.
Team Deathmatch is your typical deathmatch styled game that has previously been sorely missed in the Gears series. In this version of it your team is granted fifteen respawns in total, and once those are depleted, if a squad member dies, that’s it for them. Even if that squad member never initially suffered a death in the first place.
King of the Hill is a capture point styled game type that has randomly spawning points on the map that must be assaulted and held for a while, in order to get points. Think of Battlefield’s Conquest mode and you’re on the right track here, except instead of gay tickets you get actual cool points instead.
Capture the Leader combines two favourites from Gears of War 2, and has you as a team defending a leader that the game randomly appoints, while simultaneously assaulting the other team’s leader as they attempt to do the same. You gain actual cool points for the amount of time that you have the leader in possession. Think Capture the Flag, but the flag fights back.
Finally, Wingman is a pretty unique and high-pressure game type that pits four teams of two against each other in an all-out deathmatch. In each round, it is up to your team to get the most kills, which can be stolen from other players or earned through conventional means. What this then means is that you cannot allow others to steal your kills once you down an enemy. It is certainly the most frantic game type of the lot.
All of these game types, like pretty much everything else in the game, rewards those who play as a team and places incredible focus not on the individual but on the squad as an entire unit. It is imperative that teamwork be prioritised, in order to garner success, especially online.
We’re all familiar with the idea behind Horde mode now. In fact, we’re so familiar by it that other developers have started to incorporate the mode into their own games while calling it something else.
In Gears of War 3, Horde mode is at its finest. Gone are the plain maps where you simply set up shop on a corner somewhere and allow enemy waves to funnel into your bullets, at least until they run out. Now you have specialised maps which allow for the placement of structures and offer money for each kill you make, and for completing various bonus objectives.
It starts with a Command Post.
Building that tells the game that not only are you ready to begin those fifty waves of murder and mayhem, but also that you know exactly where you wish to make a stand. The game then accommodates for this by offering you various options of fortification through constructions such as floor-wire barricades that slow down enemies as they attempt to cross it, or decoys to distract enemies while you fill them with bullets, or sentry turrets to provide that much needed extra firepower.
All constructed objects cost money and are upgradeable to a point, and more construction options are unlocked as you construct and repair the initial ones.
It’s a good system that works well, and what it means for the self-respecting Horde mode player is that the waves are far more tougher with the already established tenth “Boss” wave from the previous game now throwing seemingly insurmountable odds in your direction on a constant basis. These can range from the relatively laughable Reavers or a Brumak — yes I said relatively laughable — all the way up to a Lambent Berserker who will laugh at you as she destroys your team and your morale.
“Pray for Reavers.”
Every few waves also comes with a bonus objective, a task that must be accomplished by the end of that wave, with the reward being extra ammo, cash and bonus weapons. These tasks range from completing a wave within a set amount of time, to achieving a certain number of headshots, or killing a certain type of enemy in a certain way. Certainly.
Horde mode has never looked this good.
Beast mode is a new introduction to the series which takes Horde mode and flips it on its head. Instead of playing as a silly COG soldier, you instead get to play as one of the various types of Locust as you assault fortified positions containing either Stranded or COG soldiers. It’s essentially reverse Horde mode, and it’s awesome.
It’s also far shorter than Horde mode, tipping in at just twelve waves in total, each progressively harder. Each wave has a time limit in which you must kill all the humans and you have various tiers of Locust to choose from depending on how much of cash you earn from either killing humans or destroying fortifications. As a Locust, you cannot auto-heal but are given access to various special types of Locust each with their own ability.
Just wait till you unlock the Berserker.
Throughout the various modes of Arcade Campaign, Versus, Horde and Best, you are awarded ribbons and badges for completing various tasks in the game. These can go from simple ones like having the most kills in a round or getting two or three quick kills in succession, to some tougher ones like finishing the entire Horde mode in a single sitting, or getting forty kills without dying.
The difference between ribbons and badges is that a ribbon is simply awarded to you after a round of whatever game mode you’re playing, whereas a badge is an accumulation over time that once awarded to you, can be wielded as a logo next to your name, with a little title such as “COG Tease” or “Beta Tester” for those who have played in the beta previously.
Badges also have upgrades, starting off at Bronze, then going to Silver, Gold and Onyx, with increasing requirements per level. This isn’t something unfamiliar to the gaming world by now, so it’s nothing to write home about in that respect, but as expected, some of these medals will require many hundreds of hours of work in order to acquire them, if at all.
Like finishing Horde mode on Insane, for example.
The combination of a levelling system that awards you experience regardless of what mode you play, together with the addition of ribbons and wield-able badges, makes for quite the rewarding experience all throughout the game.
As if that’s not enough, you also get character and weapon unlocks. With the character unlocks, that’s pretty self explanatory: you unlock characters from either the campaign or previous games. With weapons, a certain number of kills with a specific weapon unlocks the execution with that weapon, but you are also awarded weapon skin unlocks if you meet certain requirements as you play the game.
I rock my Lancer with the Gold skin on.
There’s certainly something for everyone, though. Even pink weapon skin unlocks for your kitchen-based warfare. It’s true.
Gears of War 3 does for social gaming what Facebook has done for social networks.
It isn’t by any stretch of the imagination, “perfect”, but what it does, it does well. And it somehow manages to integrate and standardise the experience for everyone who tries it out.
No matter what game mode you play, no matter who you choose to play it with, the game emphasizes teamwork and coordination, constantly rewarding those players who are able to play not for themselves but for their squad instead.
This is one of the few games where you can play every mode on your own with no need for social interaction, but you never will because that’s just no fun and the social aspect of the game is what it’s all about.
Would I call it the best Gears of War game yet? I’d rather call it the most complete package, instead.
Take from that what you will.
Now, please excuse me while I head back to the game. I need to finish it on Insane and– holy fuck, what killed me?