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Gears of War 3 Review

Gears of War 3 Screenshot - 848040

2011 is definitely the year of the threequel when it comes to video games. We’ve already seen the third chapters in the Killzone and Resistance sagas thus far, and later this year we’ll take part in third renditions of the Modern Warfare, Resistance and Battlefield. In-between all these releases, however, stands a game that will be an instant seller no matter what the press has to say about it – Gears of War 3. The avid following behind this series, well fueled by Cliff Bleszinski and his talented team at Epic Games – has been well earned by the first two parts of the series thus far…but estimate all you like, nothing can prepare you for the captivating journey that awaits you the third time around.

There’s a pretty good story behind the action here, mostly dealing with Marcus Fenix. Following the decline of Jacinto from Gears 2 (18 months later), he’s still haunted by the fact that his father Adam has perished due to the uprising of the Locust Horde, but as the game begins, he receives a startling piece of information indicating that his dad is, in fact, alive. Using every bit of strength he’s got left in him (along with his team of trusted brothers in arms), Marcus sets out to find Adam and crush every piece of Locust trash that gets in his way.

That could be a satisfying arc in itself, but Gears of War 3 also focuses on other members of Delta in the game, making it feel like a real team effort. For instance, you get a better idea of what’s going through Baird’s head as you travel alongside him, and for a lengthened period of time, you get control of a series favorite – I won’t say who, but you’ll know exactly who I’m talking about once you hear him speak. It’s great that Epic Games has refused to make this a one-man show, instead focusing on the team as an entirety. After all, no man (or woman) wins a battle on their own. Especially one of this magnitude.

This ties in to one of Gears of War 3’s biggest improvements – expanded co-op. Instead of just teaming up with one buddy to take down Locusts, you instead have openings for three others, working as a team of four. Though miscommunication may occur in this mode (especially for inexperienced players who ask, “Hey, how do you saw a guy in half?”), we have no complaints in regards to how well it runs. Get yourself a well-oiled team of pros and you can tackle the world, whether it’s going through story missions or trying your luck at the ever-going onslaught of enemies that come at you in Horde 2.0.

Yes, it’s called 2.0 for a reason. Horde is greatly improved over the last rendition, even though it didn’t really need it. Instead of just going wave after wave with pre-set weapons and conditions, you can actually adapt your experience with each passing wave. See, you earn cash depending on how many enemies you kill per wave, which you can easily turn around on new defensive toys to place around your chosen command post, including turrets (both automatic and manual), laser fencing and the new Silverback mech, which can either dish out gunfire while moving or missiles while sitting still. We recommend saving up your cash for this – it’s very effective, especially against bosses.

But let’s say you’ve had enough of Horde and want to try something new. Epic Games has you covered with the inclusion of a new Beast mode. Here, the developer turns the tables and puts you in control of Locust Horde forces, trying to kill as many humans as possible within a certain time limit. At first, you’ll start small with the likes of Wretches and Tickers, but the more folks you kill, the more your army expands, and soon you’ll be taking out the human trash with Berserkers and Boomers. It’s a bit twisted to say the least (and without a tutorial, it’s easy to be confused), but a sweet addition that will keep players just as entertained as the traditional multiplayer.

If that’s not enough, Epic Games also felt compelled to include an Arcade Mode, where one or more players can compete for high scores on simple killing runs. The scores are then transferred to a leaderboard, where friends can compare their best runs and continually try to outdo each other on new ones. If the Beast and Horde modes weren’t competitive enough, this definitely pushes the multiplayer factor over the top.

Now, how does Gears play? Well, the developer sticks mostly with what works, and that’s a good thing. Whether you’re performing brutal melee attacks, flinging grenades at groups of Locust to great effect, or firing away with the likes of a Hammerburst, Sawed-Off Shotgun or (our personal favorite) Digger Launcher, you’ll find the combat has really found its groove here, just a little bit past the level that Gears of War 2 set a couple of years ago. The firefights are still incredibly intense, especially with increasingly impatient Lambent armies, including pods that spew out enemies every so often and huge fireball hurlers that take a whole lot of ammunition to bring down. You’ll be scampering for cover and seeking out every last bit of ammo you can find – even the retro lancer. Say what you want about its firing capabilities, but charging at a soldier with a bayonet style attack is brutally satisfying.

We should also mention the new Silverback mech. You might’ve seen this briefly during the game’s presentation on a previous episode of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon…y’know, the one where he couldn’t shoot the Leviathan in the eye? Anyway, the mech, while not as brutally strong as a Brumak, is quite effective, being able to shoot a machine gun while running around or planting itself to fire missiles. Either way, it’s great to have in your arsenal…and ideal to save up for in Horde 2.0. You’ll thank us later when you’re trying to take down a fleet of Lambent Berserkers.

Your character can also level up over the course of the game, no matter which mode you’re playing. This helps you to gain experience efficiently, never to the point you feel god-like but still feel like you’re getting better with your combat skills over the course of the game. The level cap is 100, so you’ll have a long way to go if you want to join the elite.

This does bring up the question of matchmaking, but judging from the sessions we took part in, this wasn’t really a huge issue. We found plenty of good online matches in various modes, and didn’t really come across any over-powering issues. Granted, this could change once the game goes into wide release next week, but we’re certain that enough balance will be kept in Gears 3 for all to enjoy, both the grinding experts and the newcomers. And hey, if you do have an A game, bring it in Arcade Mode. That’s gonna be competitive for months to come.

We thought Epic Games had emptied everything it had in its tank with Gears of War 2 when it came out a couple of years back. After all, at the time, the game was really one of the best pieces of Xbox 360 software we had seen. Well, call us fools, because Gears 3 pushes the envelope even further. The environments are extraordinary, whether you’re fighting your way through dingy storerooms, floating along a trouble-filled (yet smooth-looking) sea or taking on endless waves of Lambent in a city ravaged by war. It just looks fantastic, a huge step up from what we first saw in the original Gears. The animation is equally eye-popping, especially enemies that explode into huge yellow piles of muck and the blood that spills from an enemy as you cut them in half with a Lancer. The humans look great too, especially the females like Anya and Samantha. It’s nice to see the ladies represent just as strongly as the guys. The frame rate is a firm 30 frames per second throughout, even during the more frantic boss battles. And boy, do we mean frantic. That leviathan we discussed? Merely the appetizer. Wait till you see what’s up ahead.

A side note about visuals – the game does provide support for stereoscopic 3D. Granted, it’s not on the same level as full 1080p support like Killzone 3 and Resistance 3 do on the Xbox 360, but the action moves so satisfyingly fast that you probably won’t care. Epic Games has taken great care integrating it with its Unreal Engine 3, and the effect is just as mesmerizing as you would expect. If you don’t have the 3D set-up, though, don’t fret – Gears 3 is still a dazzling sight.

It helps to have strong audio back up the graphics, and Epic Games doesn’t disappoint here either. The voice cast is once again solid, with the actors from previous games filling their roles with just the right amount of continuation. There are some great newbies along for the ride as well, including Claudia Black (of Uncharted 2 fame – she plays Samantha quite well) and badass Ice-T holding his ground as Griffin. (We were kinda hoping he’d say “Cog killer” over the course of the game…oh, well.) The sound effects are as brutal as always, from the buzz of the Lancer to the meaty explosions that come from your incendiary grenades. And those Locust voices? They’ll still haunt you as they growl for your blood. The epic music score kicks in exactly when it needs to, and it’s the kind of quality stuff that lives up to the previous two games, if not surpassing it so slightly closer to the single player mode’s conclusion. (Of course, feel free to crank up your own mixture of Five Finger Death Punch and White Zombie during multiplayer – just don’t let it drown out your teammates.)

The only downside to Gears 3 is that single player eventually does come to a conclusion, but it’s an ending well worth enduring, unlike Resistance 3’s “what the?” ending. But that doesn’t mean the book is closed on this saga – not by a long shot. In addition to the multiplayer (which will last for months to come, if not years), Epic is promising plenty of DLC, including new story missions and multiplayer maps. It’s a little costly, sure, but you’ll get your money’s worth. And come on…you don’t really think this is the end for Gears of War, do you? Just wait. It’ll return, and it’ll be glorious.

But that’s years from now. For now (and some time to come), Gears of War 3 is an experience that must be taken in by every single Xbox 360 owner. The combat is amongst the best you’re likely to find in an action game, complete with precise, rewarding controls. The presentation is the best yet in the series, right down to the way your character shakes while cutting a Locust in half with his Lancer. And the single player and multiplayer content find just the right amount of balance to keep you playing, even after you think you’ve discovered everything there is to offer. Gears 3 easily trumps Resistance 3 – and even the near-perfect Killzone 3 – as the best threequel we’ve seen in quite some time. Now whether Epic Games can stake that claim by year’s end depends on what the competition brings to the table, but there’s no question they’re ready for a battle. The proof is in the game – and you need to experience it for yourself.

Amazing

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Robert Workman
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