September 20, 2011 by Paul Curtin
Nearly five years have passed since the original breakthrough Gears of War was released on November 7, 2006, aka “Emergence Day”, which not only marks the initial Locust invasion against mankind in the massively popular franchise’s story, but for gamers its meaning also runs deeper. Armed with one of the most memorable advertising campaigns in gaming history via an unforgettable marketing launch against a haunting “Mad World” cover, E-Day signifies the first game to truly showcase the potential of the Xbox 360 and revolutionize the industry, spawning hordes of wannabes and copycats.
But with the first sequel’s hampering multiplayer issues, developer Epic Games needed to do just about everything right in the third and final game to keep fans happy. Especially since the Gears of War series has become one of the premiere exclusives on the Xbox 360, all eyes are on Epic to see if they can capture lightning in a bottle once more and live up to their name.
Gears of War 3 takes place eighteen months after the humans sink their last major city in an effort to flood the Locust caves underneath and wipe out the enemy. Marcus, Dom, and the rest of the gang are back one last time to save the world, but this time the Locust are no longer their biggest threat, with more powerful mutated Lambent Locust now plaguing the planet and killing both humans and Locust. Not only are there new enemies to fight, but there are tons of new characters added to help add to the Gears universe. And the characters are what make the Gears series one of, if not the most, iconic games of all time.
Based on ’80s hulked-up action film stars like Schwarzenegger and Stallone, main characters Marcus Fenix, Dominic Santiago, and Augustus Cole are larger-than-life super soldiers with hearts of gold. But unlike the cheesy incoherent dialog from the Terminator and Rambo, Epic Games has been able to combine their graphics technology with talented voice actors to deliver lines far better and make the game’s stars far bigger and more bad-ass looking than Arnie and Sly could have ever been with truckloads of steroids and human growth hormone. Even Anya has been given a bigger role and now fights alongside the COG brothers in the campaign and online.
The story in Gears 3 is far stronger than the first two games and has its share of tear-jerking moments, including a beautifully executed sequence that pays homage to the original’s trailer and is certainly one of the best of the year. Even more sadly however, there are still MANY questions left unanswered and plot holes. The campaign’s length is the same as in previous games, clocking in around 12 hours. With many other games on the market having 20+ hours of gameplay, there’s no excuse why Epic couldn’t have added more story to help clear up some confusion and give fans more closure.
There are Gears of War novels that go into more detail, but even the books don’t give definitive answers and only help fans put together potential theories, and I’m sure most Gears fans don’t read the books and aren’t even aware of their existence; it’s why they choose to play the games, and the final in the trilogy should have given logical conclusions to most of the bigger questions, as game designer Cliffy B. had promised. There is campaign DLC planned and most likely another game already in development for future systems (Gears of War: Exile), but this is supposed to be the last time we’ll see these main characters, and it would have been nice to tie up some loose ends in their finale.
Besides the amazing storytelling and character development, what makes Gears one of the top games in the industry is the spectacular graphics. Gears is made by Epic Games, which is the same studio behind Unreal Tournament and more importantly, the Unreal Engine, which a huge amount of games both big and small have used over the course of the past ten years. With Epic being the creators of the graphics engine, it’s no shocker that they know how to use it best. Most studios today can use the Unreal Engine 3 to make good looking games, but the true quality of a game shows when jaw-dropping visuals are able to be achieved with almost no load times between cutscenes and gameplay, which Gears 3 does flawlessly.
The scenery not only looks better, but is far bigger and allows for far more epic battles with four squad members (both offline and online) that don’t take place in as linear of levels as previous games. It’s fitting that the original Gears was the first game to set the bar for graphics on 7th-generation systems, and now Epic is doing it once again five years later as the Xbox 360 is on its way out.
More important than the stunning locations produced by the Unreal Engine 3 is the gameplay that takes place on the beautifully destroyed set pieces. Of course, you’ll get to experience riveting battles in a wide variety of stylishly delightful locales, but wait until you have to traverse through a Hammer-of-Dawn-annihilated ghost town and tiptoe amongst the creepy and sullen ashen statues of the city’s former families, as first teased in one of the game’s depressing trailers. It’s disturbingly reminiscent of post-WWII Hiroshima.
Although Gears 3 doesn’t have any massive changes from the previous two games, it’s clear that big changes weren’t what Epic was going for and their primary focus was on perfecting the gameplay. The evolution of controls, character movement, and weapon mechanics gets better and better with each game, and Gears 3 clearly stands out as superior in every way from previous games. The control scheme has been slightly tweaked to make interacting with the environment easier and transitioning in and out of cover smoother than ever. Plus to keep gameplay fresh, minor tweaks have been made to the previous weapons and even some new weapons have been added to the arsenal like the Sawed-Off Shotgun that instantly turns anybody within two feet into giblets, the Retro Lancer that kicks like a mule and has a knife bayonet instead of a chainsaw to impale foes, and the One Shot that also instantly kills anybody in its path but works more like a mash-up of the Hammer of Dawn and Sniper Rifle. There are even new Silverback mech suits in some areas for when guns just aren’t enough.
Like the singleplayer campaign, multiplayer is back and better than ever. One of the biggest problems with the first game was Epic tried to do everything they could to stop friends from playing together in ranked matches. Obviously a dumb decision that they realized so they tried to implement a Halo/Call of Duty multiplayer matchmaking system that in theory seemed great but turned out to be a complete nightmare and one of the worst multiplayer launches in gaming history, leaving most gamers unable to play online at all for months after the game’s release. To fix all their problems, Epic has revamped the matchmaking system once more and once again, perfected it.
Even better than the all new matchmaking, statistics, and leveling system that allows character and weapon skins to be unlocked is the fact that Epic is using dedicated servers to host all online games, something that’s very rare these days in multiplayer gaming due to the high cost to monitor and maintain. So no more waiting forever to find a match, no more massive lag spikes, and best of all, no more host advantage. Player favorite modes like Warzone and Elimination are back and play the same as before with new modes added like Team Deathmatch, which gives each team 15 lives which once depleted switches their life system to elimination with no respawns. Guardian and Submission have been merged into Capture the Leader where each team has a leader that must be captured and held for 30 seconds. There’s also King of the Hill, which plays very similarly to Annex from previous games.
In addition to competitive multiplayer, Horde Mode is also back and crazier than ever. When playing Horde in Gears 2, I constantly thought how it could be even better with the addition of massive bosses from the campaign, like Berserkers, Reavers, and Brumaks. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one that felt that way, and all the biggest and baddest foes you’ll come across in the campaign have been added to “Horde Mode 2.0” and make for some of the craziest battles of all time that are actually more epic than those found in the campaign itself. Horde Mode also now plays more like a tower defense type game with the ability to earn money for kills and completing waves and spend that money building defensive structures like decoys, barbed-wire fences, turrets, and more. If the addition of bigger bosses and tower defense elements wasn’t enough, there’s a completely new Beast Mode which allows players to assume the opposite role of the attacking Locust and try to kill the defending COG A.I. enemies.
Besides leaving many questions unanswered for potential future DLC and games, Gears of War 3 does just about everything right. From the improvements to the visuals, story, gameplay, and multiplayer, Gears 3 is everything a fan of the series could want from a third game and something that will blow the minds of gamers who have yet to play any of the previous games. With 8th generation gaming systems right around the corner it’s likely that Gears of War 3 is Xbox 360’s swan song with it easily being the best looking game on the 360 and one of the best looking games of all time. It’s sad to finally see the series come to an end, but we can’t wait to see where Epic takes the Gears series next. Gears of War 3 gets 5 out of 5 stars (Masterpiece).
- Amazing, cinematic story with plenty of tear-jerking moments
- Multiplayer has been fixed and works flawlessly with tons of new features
- The best looking graphics on the Xbox 360 and one of the best looking games of all time
- Controls have been refined and make for even smoother gameplay than before
- Four-player co-op campaign via local system or online
- Story leaves most of the bigger questions unanswered
- A.I. squad members can sometimes rush ahead and cause action to be missed