It’s been five years since Emergence Day when Xbox360 owners were first introduced to Marcus, Dom and the plethora of creatures that make up the army of the sub-terrain dwelling Locust Horde. Since that day, many games have tried to emulate and build upon the mechanics introduced to us in the original Gears of War and a few have even worked out well. Now Epic is back with the third instalment, but is there enough here to keep them on the high ground in the cover shooter genre?
Gears of War 3 (GoW3) takes place after the events of the second game. Jacinto has been sunk and the humans appear to be besting the Locust menace. However, a new threat has emerged in the form of the Lambent and it’s up to the ensemble COGS cast to negotiate peace on Sera (their home planet) the only way they know how: with big guns, a macho attitude and more than a splattering of good ol fashioned ‘bromance.’
Lighten Up Guys - Gears of War has traditionally been known as a graphical A-lister and GOW3 is no exception. Although there is no real leap in quality from previous iterations, what is very noticeable is a much brighter colour palette. The dark browns and greens that have become synonymous with the series has been replaced with a much more welcoming sunny morning hue. The ruined buildings and mortar marked streets are all still very much there, but Sera just feels, somehow more vibrant. The scope of the game is much bigger now and instead of fighting inside the belly of a giant fish you can expect to be roadie running through wide open streets with much more verticality in the scenes than we have seen before.
Two’s Company, Fours a Blast – The campaign is a full on assault on the senses that moves you from one brilliantly crafted sandbox battle to the next and rarely lets up. The gameplay itself is very reminiscent of the first two games barring the addition of a few new guns. Gears of War was one of the first Xbox 360 titles to offer the campaign as a cooperative experience and in this version the numbers have been expanded from cosy 2 player intimacy, to a massive 4 player fragathon. The co-op experience is a drop-in/drop-out option that is as good, if not better than any co-op campaign I have played to date with player 1 usually controlling Marcus or whatever character is considered most vital to the plot in any particular chapter and additional players assuming the role of one of the myriad of additional COG characters.
There is also an additional arcade mode which is essentially the campaign but with scoring and the option to turn on a plethora of optional multipliers, like making the enemy tougher, giving players infinite ammo or my favourite ‘Headless Chicken’ which makes any enemy who is hit with a headshot turn on his Locust companions. The arcade scoring, co-op experience, variable difficulty and mutators’ means that GOW3 really is a campaign that bears up to multiple play-throughs.
Dedicated Servers FTW - Moving away from the campaign and to the multiplayer, which propelled the series into the phenomenon it has become, we have more of what you would come to expect from GoW competitive multiplayer. Warzone, Execution and Wingman all return in a largely unchanged format. Capture the leader has evolved from capture the flag, where the flag is now a player controlled character, and also a new team deathmatch mode which gives teams 15 respawns with the winner being the team that takes out the others respawns and then dispatches of them entirely. All in all, multiplayer is what people have come to expect from the franchise with one important and gleefully accepted change... It actually works. No more looking at leaderboards and determining the host by the fact that he has 50 kills and has not died once. In the previous games I would say that when the net code worked it was excellent, but unfortunately only 1 in 10 games seemed to be enjoyable. That statistic has been switched on its head with only a fraction of the games now feeling unbalanced. I can only hope that developers take heed of what Epic have done here and we see titles that place stability and consistency above numbers and features to tick off on the back of the box on their list of priorities.
A Ribbon Round The Package - To complete the experience there are two additional co-op modes. First there is HORDE 2.0 which is an expanded version of the co-op experience we were introduced to in GoW2. Up to 5 players are tasked with surviving wave after wave of increasingly tougher enemies. GoW 3 evolved this game mode into what could become the mainstay of the game for years to come. Players are now awarded money with every kill and that money can be used to buy barriers, turrets and gun emplacements with a constant levelling system that unlocks better versions of all defensive items as they are purchased. After every 10 waves, players are faced with a boss level in which anything from a couple of berserkers to a giant looming Brumak can appear and must be dispatched.
Lastly, we have the all new Beast mode which switches the principal of HORDE 2.0 to the player being the Locust and reaping havoc on the humans for 12 waves. Players start by choosing relatively low level Locust, like tickers, and progressing up to being able to choose things like the marauding Berserker. This is an incredibly fun, if not limited in the long run, diversion from the meat and bones of the game and this reviewer eagerly awaits the inevitable Horde VS Beast multiplayer mode.
GRINDS MY GEARS
That’s Not a Plot - Gears of War has always been something of a busted flush concerning plot and character development. Epic have tried to push a story onto the player but have never really succeeded in getting past the point of giving the player oodles of enemies to kill and then breaking away to a sentimental though usually somewhat ridiculous emotional heart string pull. There is, one mid game subplot, however, that although pretty obviously telegraphed, will go down in videogame history and improves on the plot involving Dom’s wife Maria in the second game. Although the campaign brings the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion for me, it does suffer from the trap of throwing so many new COG characters at the player it becomes difficult to keep up with who is who. It would have been nice to have spent more time with Marcus and Dom in what is supposed to be the final act of their storyline arc.
I think I’ve Heard That One Before - It is a real mission to find anything noteworthy to talk about as far as the audio is concerned. The score remains very similar, sound effects and voice acting again is largely unchanged with the obvious exception of new characters and weapons. The new ‘one-shot’ will send a chill up the spine of any multiplayer as the obvious beep and the constant hum of the laser warns of an impending vaporisation. Of course there are few more rewarding noises than the familiar chime when clearing an area or finding a collectable. Nothing is really new, but nothing is jarringly out of place.
Gears Of War 3 features the veritable smorgasbord of options so everyone from the rabid multiplayer killbot to the casual dad playing on the weekend should find something to satisfy and is a definite improvement on what Epic has done before. The campaign is more enjoyable and coherent than the second game. The multiplayer is the experience you’ve known was hiding behind the frustrations of the older versions. Horde mode is brilliant for the people who enjoy gaming with friends but are a little fearful of dipping their toe into the cutthroat multiplayer experience. Beast is a welcome, if somewhat shallow diversion. All in all, although the game is definitely more of an evolution than revolution it has certainly evolved in all the right places and has enough content to keep players happy for months.