Gears of War 3ESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: 3rd Person: Action
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Online Cooperative: 2-4
System link: 2-10
Online Players: 2-10
10MB Game save
It all began a number of years ago E3 so long ago, in a darkened VIP room filled with developers and press attendees. The Outcast and I were to have a hands on demo of Epic’s and Microsoft’s new game franchise: Gears of War. We knew very little of the title prior to the demo, but I did know it was promised to be of the Triple A variety. After 30 minutes, and a new faceplate later, we emerged and it was here I realized that Gears of War sunk its bloody hooks into me. Well Gears of War 3 is now on store shelves and here is what we thought of the retail copy we got.
Upon firing up Gears 3 I noticed color. While the first 2 games were pretty much devoid of any vibrant color, there are many areas of lively and beautiful coloring throughout Gears 3. The series has faced a myriad of criticisms regarding its muted colour palette in the past, but Gears 3 should dispel any criticism this time around. It is the series most colourful game to date, peppered with lush greenery, bright lights, and luscious blue skies. Even the night-time scenes, of which there are many, are more colourful than prior games; and in a kind of round-about way this finally allows Epic to realise the 'destroyed beauty' it plugged so heavily in the early years.
To be honest the game’s graphics are outstanding, and there's little to complain about, apart from the occasional jaggy shadow or odd frame rate issue. Motion throughout is slick, with zero signs of clipping anywhere. It seems Epic has also learned to squeeze out even more horsepower from its vaunted Unreal Engine; I can only imagine how hard the Xbox 360 hardware is working. The surface textures are also more varied, and pop in is rare, helping to create a more interesting game world than its predecessors.
One thing I found a bit odd was how the characters have changed. All the characters have seemly shed some weight the result being that their facial expressions are sharper and more pronounced. T he Cole Train seems the most different to me, as his bulk has dwindled, and so has his dark skin. I’m not sure of what it is, but most characters do not look like they did in Gears 2. Overall this is not a bad thing; I suppose they have all lost weight from the fight and perhaps the lack of quality and quantity of food being available.
There is a new character or two in town, and I have to say that I am not a fan of the Lambent. I think they look far too hokey as opposed to the Locust. I do like the mix Epic has thrown in fighting both of them and how this shows huge differences in their body types and fighting styles. The Lambent do look their mutated part, with some bordering on the freakish, almost Resident Evil type. Their explosions are pretty fantastic, as it can blind out the entire screen with light as they go off. I do miss the popping of heads with the Longshot, and to see the remaining body fall with blood pouring out is always good for a smile. While those moments are present in the game they have become few and far between, perhaps one of my minor gripes with the game.
The voice acting and dialogue is also a cut above previous instalments. I always thought the tender moments sounded and felt a bit forced in the older games. The script and graphics portray the story with much more feeling this time, drawing in the gamer. Of course who wants to hear about the tender moments when you have the all kinds of beasts chasing after you?
Gears 3 is entirely encoded in Dolby digital, so from the opening intro until the last Lambent falls, you are surrounded in high quality sound. I particularly love hearing beats coming in from my surround speakers, as the aural effect is incredible. The sounds are also very much localized as you can pick out where the fight is. This especially rings true in Horde Mode, as you can hear the rumbling of enemies from almost anywhere on the map. I constantly had to turn down my sub as the shaking and booming gets quite annoying for others around the house, but of course I secretly love it. I also love hearing and watching the chunks of cement or bricks from a wall fall off from close fire from enemies. The chunks that fall sound exactly like a building coming apart, the effect is quite exhilarating. The hectic action and booming gunplay is perfectly executed, anyone with any kind of sound system should be happy with Gears’ sonic thunder.
Gears 3 picks up the storyline about 18 months after the events of Gears 2. The third instalment begins with humanity on its last legs and Sera struggling to cope with the new Lambent threat, and subsequent mutant creatures. The exposure to Imulsion has created a whole array of horrific monsters to fight. Delta squad has been forced to live on the Sovereign, a huge tanker out on open water along with the rest of what remains of COG. The opening battle is to clear the decks for a long missing dignitary, who had long been thought to abandon the COG.
The Gears story has been a constant throughout the series, but it never really gripped me in the way Gears 3 has. This time around Epic has carved a story that makes you feel like you’re part of something big, the sense of urgency is much higher, almost palpable. It’s the togetherness and that sense of being part of a brotherhood that gives the Gears campaign so much pull. The characters are more pronounced with their fragile state of mind and hearts on their sleeves for all to see and feel. This is by far the most serious of the trilogy, which is a good thing in my opinion. It shows how the game and story has evolved over the years, and it also shows polish that the first two games could not have come close to matching. Don’t get me wrong, there is still that silly wit of Cole or Baird, and even Fenix’s dry humour to take the edge off things throughout the game; but it’s with way more control and precision.
Don’t worry, Gears 3 isn’t just a case of more intensity with no real innovation, the game plays even better than before. Epic has also honed the game’s weapon offerings, geared towards the new beasts that revolve around the Imulsion factor. You can now choose from the Retro Lancer, the Lancer, and the Hammerburst. I like how Epic has given choice to the player in terms of what ranged combat they partake in. The Retro Lancer is slightly less accurate than the regular and steadfast Lancer, but it does have a rather large and sharp appendage in front to ram enemies multiple times to kill off anything that should wander in front of it. The Hammerburst is more powerful than any of the Lancers, but it has a segmented rate of fire. You can’t just hold and fire, noobs will have to remind themselves to re-fire the trigger finger. The same can be said for the games shotgun family, which include the Sawed-Off Shotgun and the Gnasher. The Sawed-Off Shotgun is the most powerful of the shotguns, having a much wider spread but less reach than the Gnasher. In the right hands the gun can render you almost invincible when equipped, packing way more punch than any other gun at close range. You should be careful though as the re-load times are long and it can a bit hairy if you are fumbling with re-loading.
The next weapon I want to speak about befuddles me, and it has me a bit upset. I’m not sure why, but Epic has made the Longshot a power weapon, meaning ammo crates don’t replenish its stock. The Longshot has always been my favourite mode of killing; I would even give up my shotguns for it. Besides how can you argue it’s not one of the best visual kills, popping heads open like pumpkins is the best. In Gears 3, I often found myself carrying around my sniper with 1 or 2 rounds remaining, hoping to find the box that would replenish it; but I never did. That being said though, if you happen to find a weapon that you have no use for, chances are you will need it soon. Boomshots are a plenty this time around, and you will have to use them. My only wish is not to lose the weapon I had to drop to get said Boomshot. Remember where you drop them as it still may be there for you to recover. In terms of new weapons other than those above, players can expect to have fun with the Digger, the One-Shot and others scattered throughout the game.
Anyone familiar with the game’s controls will be able to jump right in again, although there are a couple of subtle but noticeable changes. I really quite liked how Gears 2 handled and flowed; I got very used to the weapons, and the reloading. In Gears 2 I began to dominate instead of being dominated by others. I noticed two changes to the Gears control scheme right off the hop with Gears 3. First was the picking up of ammo. Before it was an easy tap of the X button and your player would kneel down and quickly pick up whatever was there. In Gears 3 you have to hold down the X button for couple of seconds, not a big deal I suppose, but enough to make you wonder why the change. The second change is the roadie run. However cool it looks, I have always believed it to be fairly useless. The real vets of the game know how to use it effectively but not I. In Gears 3 the run looks to be faster, and way more responsive. You can cut a jive nicely around obstacles or trouble with way more ease; it is a very welcome adjustment!
While Gears 3 still has the Locust in areas to fight, the Imulsion infected and mutated Lambent is the new threat concerning the remaining COG order. The Imulsion has allowed Epic to create a whole new race of enemies that range from the crab-like Polyps to the hulking Lambent Berserkers. Not all of them are takes on various Locusts either, with the Drudges for instance being able to mutate into various different states. The beast can grow outwards with long arms shooting pure imulsion at you. The explosive Imulsion makes the Lambent a lot tougher of an enemy to face in close quarters. The fear is that any damage inflicted on you, plus the explosion of the beasts, will sometimes put you down and at times completely out. This is magnified at higher levels of difficulty, fortunately though your party of AI teammates are way more intelligent than in previous games. This is another subtle but positive tweak by Epic. Gone, it seems, are the days of your crew running helplessly by you or continually fighting while you bleed out. Another small change in attitude I noticed was with The Locust themselves. They seem more savage in their attacks but way less organized. It seems as if their structure has begun to crumble making them more desperate. I liked that they have begun to assemble gun turrets from old Retro Lancers, as effective and ingenious as that maybe it shows their overall desperation.
Of course most gamers want to know how this juggernaut plays online. Gears 3 can be played with up to 4 a four-players online in a co-op campaign. I have been playing in an online 2-player co-op that runs quite good. I have had very few issues with lag and connectivity hiccups at all. One thing of note is you are going to have to share ammo. The boxes seem a bit less plentiful this time around, and I did find myself running out at times. The games mini-battlefields and environments lend themselves more to Gears 1 rather than Gears 2, as they are much more wide open and there is less of that “in close” intense feel. I kind of miss that trapped in feel as it gets your blood going, and may cause you to throw the controller around a bit.
You can also play the campaign in an Arcade mode allowing you to play the game with certain mutators or pre-sets. Essentially, the gameplay experience becomes a competition. Instead of playing together you play for points and glory. There are other modes within the arcade style game that you will have to try to find out what they do.
One of the big additions in Gears 3 the Beast mode, allowing you to play as the Locust and take down a series of AI-controlled human survivors. You must fight against a one-minute clock in each of the 12 waves. Players are tasked with taking down humans on the map, with things getting progressively difficult as you get further into the levels. You will be awarded time boosts along the way and will face Chairman Prescott and the fast and unflappable Onyx Guards in wave 12. The COG troops will have fortifications in the name of turrets, barriers, and other such things at their disposal, so the task is no easy ticket. On the other hand the more you earn, the more Locust you’ll have access to, ranging from Tickers on Tier 1 to Armoured Kantus on Tier 4. My only issue here is the mode, although fun and a nice addition to the Gears world, doesn’t really compare to the legendary and satisfying feel of Horde Mode.
Speaking of Horde Mode, it does remain largely untouched, with a few new ideas scattered throughout. Gamers again fight 50 waves of Locust and Lambent on a whole slew of maps, with some new tweaks for the better. You now earn cash throughout every round, which you can then spend on fortifications for your command base to dig your heels in for the long battles. Fortifications include barriers, decoys, sentries, turrets, and even a Silverback; the mech from the single-player campaign. Most of the barriers can also be upgraded a few times making them extremely strong, but be mindful of the cash you spend as it can evaporate easily when you die without many kills. The difficulty ramps up pretty quickly after the 7th round or thereabout. With this in mind, I recommend that you spend miserly until you really need to. Every 8th wave or so comes with an extra bonus objective within, like kill seven Locust infantry with headshots or chainsaw 15 enemies. Horde Mode makes for fun times, but by the 8th level within each set of 10 things are getting pretty hot in Horde, so extra objectives can go by the wayside. Every 10th wave is a boss wave, in which Brumaks can appear. I found Brumaks can be taken down, but Berserkers and Lambent variants can be next to impossible. Another virtually impossible nasty beast is the new armoured Kantus, but if you have a well-rounded team you should come out successful with minimal frustration. Although tweaked, the Horde Mode is as good and addictive as it’s ever been.
For the real competitive gamers, there is even more fun to be had in the adversarial multiplayer arena. This area has had the most tweaks since Gears 2; the whole system has been polished and refined. Epic has also included a new mode called Team Deathmatch, where each team shares a pool of 20 deaths. Warzone and Execution remain largely the same with little or no changes. Capture the Leader is like an amalgamation of the Guardian and Submission game types from Gears 2, and King of the Hill feels like it has been mixed with Annex. I like playing these modes with a few friends, because it can be embarrassing facing some really good players who end up schooling you into submission. Another small change of note is in Wingman, now with 8 players instead of 10. Not sure of the impact that may have on the games, but I think Epic knows their game well enough to make such changes.
The game ships with 10 maps, including another rendition of Gridlock. It should take players a while before they are craving some new maps to conquer. You can now buy new maps before they come out, in the form of a pre-sale. Epic is offing a Gears Season pass, which allows you to buy the new maps at 33% off the retail price. This deal is only if you buy them now, as they should release quarterly after the initial offering in November. Not a bad deal if you are a Gears junkie, but not so nice if you don’t like the idea. I can see both sides of this decision, but I really do not like micro-transactions; mind you this is for everything that is to come. It may behove you to seize the promotion to save yourself some cash in the long run. My biggest gripe with the game so far is the sheer amount of DLC on the day of launch. Right now you can buy roughly 30 DLC packs which are nothing more than skin packs for your guns. At $3 a piece I won’t say it’s a rip-off, but it is extremely pricey.
One addition to Gears 3 is the Call of Duty like stat system, which also rewards you with smaller incentives and unlocks. Call it long-term goals (get thousands of kills with various weapons for instance), hugely detailed stats and a much more detailed achievement diary. I find somewhat interesting that you can look up your kills, with whatever method you used, and then being able to compare them with your friends or anyone on Xbox LIVE.
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