Review: Gears of War 3 (360)

5
Game Name: Gears of War 3
Platforms: 360
Publisher(s): Microsoft
Developer(s): Epic Games
Genre(s): Third Person Shooter
Release Date: September 20, 2011
ESRB Rating: M

 

 

The release of Gears of War 3 is bittersweet in some ways.  To me, Gears of War is a franchise that always showcased the potential of the new consoles, before the masses even laid hands on the XBox 360.  Hell, it was the single reason I purchased an XBox at launch; before you jump on that, let me say I was aware that Gears wouldn’t come out for nearly a year after the launch, and you just let me justify my purchases however I damn well please.  Back to the subject at hand, Gears of War was a franchise I was destined to love, and that’s probably why I’ve beaten the first game at least fourteen times since its release (all difficulties and co-op possibilities explored too!).

But you’re not here to read about Gears of War, or to hear a list of things that should have been fixed in Gears of War 2.  You’re here for one thing, and one thing only: is Gears of War 3 worth your time and money?  Now, this review is written for a specific group of people.  As the game came out yesterday, most of you already have made the decision to purchase the game day one.  Hell, this review didn’t get written on time because I was so absorbed in the title.  No, this review is for those of you on the fence, those of you considering a 360, and those of you that wanted it day one, but decided to hold off for whatever reason (the only excuse is a funeral, wedding.  I’ll also accept a note from the doctor).

My answer to this all important question after the jump.

Is Gears of War 3 worth your time and money?  Hell yes.  There, I made it easy, you don’t even have to read the rest of the article now, you can just get in your car and go buy it right now.  Don’t worry, this review will be here when you get back.  It is fine, we’ll wait.

Those of you still here, I’ll assume need more convincing.

The total packageGears of War 3 boasts a campaign that will take you about eleven or so hours to get through.  I think it took me around eleven on the hardest available difficulty, playing by myself.  Naturally, adding co-op partners and lowering the difficulty will probably bring it down to ten or so, but it is a healthy length compared to some AAA titles that are coming out.  On top of that, you have the option of co-op with yourself and a friend or, if you’re incredibly popular, three other friends to take the Locust and Lambent on with a team of four.  Not only that, you can play the campaign straight or in Arcade mode, which adds scoring to the mix.  So right off the bat, we have three different ways to experience the campaign (single, co-op, 4 player) between two modes (Regular and Arcade).  That’s not even getting into the competitive multiplayer (which in and of itself contains at least five modes) and the other two cooperative modes: Horde and Beast.  That’s a lot of variety, and an insane amount of content compared to most titles these days.

Incredibly replayable:  After I beat the campaign yesterday, I thought about writing this review.  Instead, I jumped from the campaign to the multiplayer.  I’m already itching to replay the campaign on Insane, as well as grab some friends for co-op.  This is when I realized the incredible strength of Gears 3, as well as the variety.  I had about ten friends playing the game consistently all day yesterday, and nearly every single one of them was focusing on something different.  Andrew was playing the campaign in co-op.  Alex was blasting away at multiplayer.  Mecha was dominating Horde mode.  A few were in Beast Mode.  Nearly all of us were doing different things, and that says something about how many options there are, as well as how strong those modes can be to hold everyone’s attention.

Let’s discuss the campaign.

Brothers to the End:  I admire Gear 3 for actually doing what few AAA titles do these days: end.  This is the end of this franchise, at least how we know it.  There’s no BS coda, no hidden ending, nothing.  It is a conclusion, and a solid one at that.  Unlike Halo, which refuses to end, Epic has remained in control of its vision and property through the finale.

Oooh, pretty:  The game is amazing looking.  Some of the little quirks we’ve come to expect from the Unreal engine are still there (turn fast enough and you can watch textures flicker!), but they don’t really ruin the visual experience.  3D is a nice addition, but wasn’t essential, especially at the cost of the resolution.  Facial and character animations have greatly improved, which in turns makes it easier to feel for the characters.  Perhaps most refreshingly, the color palette has expanded beyond the browns and grays of the original title, continuing an effort started in Gears 2.  In fact, some of the environments make me recall the visual style of Bulletstorm

What was that?!  If you have surround sound, you’ll be in for a treat.  Gears 3, like its predecessors, has great audio design.  You can hear enemies scuttle behind you, commands being shouted over the bullets, and the explosions pack a punch.  The game is an aural treat, and even works to your benefit in multiplayer.  I’ve managed to catch several people sneaking up on me through audio alone.  Even Erika’s cat seems spellbound by the experience, or at least concerned by the strange sounds bouncing around our living room.

The characters:  Look, if you’ve made it this far in the Gears campaigns, you probably love Marcus, Dom, Cole, and Baird as much as I do.  They’re great characters, even if they are overly simplistic.  They’ve always been the heart of the Gears universe, and it is great to see more of them.  My only gripe is the game struggles between spending time with them and adding new characters to the squad, such as Anya (now a Gear), Sam, Jace, and Dizzy.  True, Dizzy and Anya have been in the series before this, but their roles are much more expanded, with them fighting alongside you through the game.  What results is two acts (out of five) where Cole and Baird are heard through radio only, which is slightly disappointing.  However, I’ve always though Cole was great as a supporting character, so it is probably best he isn’t overused.  On top of the characters in your squad, you’ll also interact (and sometimes fight along with) Chairman Prescott, Hoffman, Griffin (look, why they didn’t just simply call him Ice T is beyond me), Carmine, and others.

The scope:  I somewhat agree with Andrew’s assessment of Gears 2 being to large for its own good.  However, I think Gears 3 finds a more manageable balance between the squad based story of the first title with the “let’s go save the world” scope of the second game.  The world feels at stake here, but less because of the actions of the characters and more because it seems like the Lambent infection could take over the planet at any moment.  More importantly, there’s an intimacy among the characters that was missing until this game, and it makes it all the more fascinating to watch these warriors show moments of weakness.

Lots of enemies, lots of way to kill them:  Variety bleeds into the enemies as well.  There are two major forces that try to stop you: the Locust and the Lambent.  However, both of these factions have their own unique enemies, and each enemy has its own unique behavior.  Thus, every combat situation feels unique, placing tactical decisions solely on the player.  Do you take out the sniper in the back first, or do you kill the Kantus whose screams keep reviving your downed foes?  Gears 3 always lets you figure the best route through a firefight, a series strength best on display here.  Also, here’s a free tip: kill the Kantus first.

I suppose you want me to say something negative.

Five is an unlucky number(MINOR SPOILERS: DON’T READ IF YOU WANT A FRESH EXPERIENCE IN THE CAMPAIGN.  SKIP AHEAD TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH) Gears 3 prides itself on a four player co-op experience.  While cool, this decision also impacts the design of the game, as well as the experience from a single player prospective.  For one, there’s never any isolated moments in the game, no Marcus and Dom sections.  Think about Gears and Gears 2.  There are several moments in both titles in which just Marcus and Dom are together.  No Carmine, no Baird, no Cole, just Marcus and Dom.  You don’t get these moments anymore, because Gears 3 refuses to take the Halo route of having random characters in co-op that don’t exist in the storyline (looking at you, second Master Chief).  The result is you now have a small army with you at all times, and the team mate AI is pretty good.  On Hardcore, I never really felt threatened because they were kicking ass all over the place.  According to my stats, I got downed at least 40 times during the campaign, but I think I died less than ten, which gives you an idea of how effective they are.  The bigger problem is whenever a computer controlled player joins your squad of four.  You now have five people with you, which means that new character, that computer controlled ally that just met up with you that your friends could never control…yeah, they’re in trouble.  They’re either going to be maimed, killed, or isolated in some way, which removes some of the tension from your mission, since there are characters that feel “safe”, while others you assume are going to be cast off, never to be seen again.

END SPOILERS!

Look, I could keep going if you wanted.  Really, I could.  While there are a few flaws in the game, the overall package is so tight that I can’t help but recommend it.  Even with some minor quibbles with the campaign, the multiplayer is so good it makes up for the short comings.  Simply put, this is the ultimate Gears of War experience, and an excellent game in and of itself.  There’s something for everyone here, so I think I’m just going to close this out with the wise words of the Cole Train.

“Yeah!  Bring it on, sucka!  That’s my kind of shit!”

Gears of War 3 is available exclusively for the XBox 360.  This reviewer played the campaign through to completion on Hardcore, as well as several rounds of multiplayer (Team Deathmatch, Capture the Leader).  He also wasted a lot of time in the beta and played it at E3, so he’s a little obsessed.  A little.

  • Eric Robbins

    God, I just realized that I didn’t even get to discuss the depth of multiplayer, and how incredibly polished it is throughout.  If you have an XBox 360 and you enjoy these types of games, you really need to consider adding it to your collection.

  • Anonymous

    Gears 3 is good, but it’s no Persona 2.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dustin.hall1 Dustin Hall

    5 stars from Eric on GOW3? I… I had no idea. Never saw it coming!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1063436829 Sean Christy

    one of the best endings to a story i have ever seen