There are a seldom few games series that have a following as strong as this, and Gears of War 3 makes sure to provide fans with the very best send off to the trilogy it could. There’s no denying it, Gears of War 3 is a fantastic games and one so wonderfully crafted even players yet to be won over by the chest-high cover and testosterone fuelled action are likely to find a new favourite right here.
What helps is how Gears of War 3 is put together. It feels very different to its predecessors, incorporating a more believable world, narrative and characters. The world feels fractured and under stress, with each race – Human, Locust and Lambent – trying their best to survive and rebuild. The pockets of survivors show no love for the Gears after what the war has done to their homes, and you get to see the devastation for yourself as the journey unfolds.
The pacing is also excellent. The drive to push forward maintains momentum throughout with glorious and unique set-pieces of massive, intense battles, turret sections and boss fights before providing a beautifully designed sense of closure to the whole trilogy. It’s emotional, frantic, awe-inspiring and highly polished. It’s storytelling at its best paired with brilliant gunplay to boot.
Your Gears and their weapons continue to feel heavy and impactful as you dash to and shoot from your contextual cover, offering that unique Gears of War feeling. Most of the weapons are the same as before and whilst none of them are overly grand they still pack a punch, and the two new ones, The Digger – that fires a subterranean grenade that buries under cover – and the Retro Lancer – that has a heavy kick back severely reducing accuracy but is very powerful – join your arsenal and offer a couple more ways to kill without feeling superfluous.
The gore is still present as well, with each weapon having their own unique execution moves to gruesomely dispatch your wounded foes, adding nice variety to the act of killing and encouraging experimentation with other weapons. The Lambent also mutate and explode under fire, spewing a fountain of emulsion all over the place. But one aspect of the Gears series, a familiar aesthetic that is absent, or at least far less frequent, are the underground sections and the notorious grey and brown pallet. With the narrative moving forwards and the Locust now above ground, Epic have stretched their design muscles and the power of the Unreal Engine 3 to provide brighter and more varied locations.
Indeed Gears of War 3 is far more vibrant than in the previous two Gears of War titles, with areas of vegetation swaying realistically in the breeze, a whole host of different terrain types, as well as different times of day and weather effects. It looks great, although pre-rendered cinematics are liberally used rather than in-engine ones. The Unreal Engine 3 has been pushed as far as it can go.
Despite combat remaining the core focus for the experience it’s the characters that steal the show. The banter between characters is amusing and entertaining and they show real humanity as the plot thickens, with all your favourite characters gaining enough growth and closure to match the direction of the narrative. There’s also an undeniable feeling of camaraderie, and this stays with you throughout the singleplayer and multiplayer, fitting the “Brother to the End” tagline wonderfully.
The verses multiplayer package consists of many of the modes from Gears of War 2, with Team Deathmatch, Warzone, Execution and Capture the Leader all returning and offering a nice variety of team focused match types. Team Deathmatch, however, has been enhanced with the implementation of a lives counter shared on each team, with respawns draining it and making revivals far more important. The lives counter makes Team Deathmatch far more tactical and interesting; the other modes remain the same and are just as compelling as before with experience points increasing your level and unlocking characters and weapon skins with ribbons and medals.
The new maps share the same benefit of variety as the campaign and their size and design is excellent, ranging from a Thrashball stadium to jungle ruins. Tagging enemy soldiers throws up and indicator of their location and enhances team play nicely and an overhead map at the start of each round shows you what weapons are available if you should want to search them out.
Meanwhile in cooperative multiplayer, Horde mode returns, but with a boss encounter on every tenth level out of 50, and the ability to plant defences and decoys with cash you earn from each kill, adding some tactics to the intense battle for survival. Hoard mode is also mirrored in the new Beast mode, where player take on the role of the horde to kill groups of surviving humans and Gears heroes. You earn cash for each kill, which allows you to purchase different Locust as you progress and as they unlock. As with Horde mode, Beast mode requires some strategy to conquer the 12 rounds as you and your team choose which Locust is best for each situation. For example: Tickers can easily take out spike strips undetected, Boomers are slow moving but bring in the heavy guns for causing damage, Corpsers keep the humans busy being able to absorb the most damage, and so on. It’s a enjoyable mode, although it’s more spectacle than substance and is likely to pushed aside by the rest of the multiplayer experience.
Of course Gears of War wouldn’t be the same without a coop campaign, and once again Gears of War 3 allows two players locally to battle through or the new four player coop online. Additionally Arcade mode shakes things up with the inclusion of personal scores for how well you do in each level, adding a little bit of competitiveness to the experience. Unfortunately weapons are reset to character specific loadouts after each chapter though.
The multiplayer is certainly a comprehensive package and playing coop through the campaign is still a treat. You’ll certainly want to experience the story alone to really take it in, but the friendly AI just can’t compare to that of a human partner. Whilst the AI does fine in battle, it’s still sluggish when it comes to reviving you, and for the harder difficulties it gets frustrating despite liberal checkpoints even within boss encounters and large scale battles.
Gears of War 3 is without a doubt the best in the series. Multiplayer has been polished to the absolute pinnacle of cover based, team battles and the campaign hits all the right notes in bringing this trilogy to its conclusion. This is the game to own an Xbox 360 for.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: Xbox 360 Release Date: 20/09/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Gears of War 3 for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of two days on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.