Before I start, I’m going to ask you to be gentle with me – I’ve never written a games review before, so chances are I will makes a complete hash of this, especially since I’m a massive fanboy of this particular franchise! Oh, and I’ll try and avoid any massive spoilers, but no promises…
Right, Gears of War 3. For those of you not familiar with the series I shall attempt to summarise; the planet of Sera has been invaded by a race of subterranean monsters known as the Locust Horde. They’ve attacked for reasons unknown, and are bent on the total eradication of Human life on Sera. The COG (Coalition of Ordered Governments) leads the fight against the Locust, and in a kill-or-cure strategy they unleash their orbital weapons satellites, the Hammer of Dawn. Adopting a scorched earth policy they destroy all the major human cities except the capital, Jacinto, which is built on a solid granite plinth, so the Locust can’t burrow up into it. The survivors of the Hammer strikes become stranded, desperate groups of people at war with the Locust and often the COG. Gears 3 see’s the final desperate battles between the COG, the Locust, and the new threat, the Lambent.
Gears of War 3 is the final chapter in the story of Sera’s war against the Locust, capping off a saga that now includes three video games, four books, and a comic book series (I can recommend the books in particular, written by Karen Traviss, because they are excellent!). In order for the story to make sense, players should really have played the two games at least, but to understand all the references made (such as who the Hell Captain Michaelson is), players should read the books, as they span the gap between the sinking of Jacinto at the end of Gears 2 and the start of the new game.
Fans of Gears will know that its distinguishing gameplay feature is its cover system. In games like Halo and Unreal Tournament, circle-strafing and other bizarre tactics rule. Not so here. Cover is a massively important part of staying alive. You heal quicker, can’t usually be shot, and can return fire from relative safety. The mechanics of taking cover have been smoothed even further than in the previous game, almost eradicating those annoying moments where you attempt to leap into cover and instead leap out into the open and receive a face full of bullets. You can now roadie-run straight into cover, avoiding the headshot-inviting moment of standing upright after running to cover.
However, whilst getting into cover is now easier, staying in it isn’t. The AI is now far more aggressive (in particular that governing the actions of the Lambent), and especially on higher difficulties will try and flank you, forcing you to move to new cover to deal with the evolving threat. There are also a handful of enemy weapons that make a mockery of most cover such as the Savage Boomer’s Digger Launcher which fires a burrowing projectile that digs under your current piece of bullet-blocking scenery and then explodes like a grenade.
All your old favourite weapons are still there (although they’ve all been tweaked) – The Lancer, Hammerburst, Longshot, Boomshot, etc. but this time they’re joined by a selection of other pieces of death-dealing hardware. I’ve already mentioned the Digger, there’s also the Retro Lancer which has a nasty bayonet and hits like a truck but with massive amounts of recoil, the Vulcan cannon which requires two player to use it – one to unleash a withering hail of fire and one to feed the ammo. The sawed-off shotgun, which is a sawed-off double barrel shotgun that does horrendous damage at close range but seems to take an age to reload, and last but far from least the One Shot, a beast of a gun that does exactly what it says – kills almost all enemies in a single shot.
The new weapons for the most part fit smoothly into the Gears world (the One Shot seems a tad out of place, but not too far), and give even greater flexibility both in the campaign and the popular online multiplayer.
Which leads me very nicely onto the multiplayer. It’s now a fairly established fact that online multiplayer is the big draw for most console gamers. It’s what keeps player coming back long after they’ve completed the games single player mode on all available difficulites, and it adds massive re-playability if done right. And Gears has done right. As well as the ubiquitous team deathmatches, capture the flag (in Gears it’s called Capture the Leader, because you actually have to capture the enemy leader!), and king of the hill game types, there’s Horde. Horde mode was introduced in Gears 2 and has since been imitated by nearly all the big FPS titles (Halo Reach’s Firefight, COD: BO zombie mode for instance), and due to its popularity has obviously returned in Gears 3. This time however, Epic Games looked at how the players were playing the game, and what tactics they were using, and listened to the fans online and actually incorporated these things into the new version.
So now, in Horde 2.0 (as it’s called), you earn cash for killing the attacking waves of Locust and use that cash to buy defences. Everything from caltrops to fully automated defence turrets can be purchased to help you survive the fury of the horde.
Another new addition to the multiplayer aspect of the game is Beast Mode. In this game you get to play the bad guys, the Locust Horde. Everything from the scurrying Feral Tickers, to Bloodmounts and the nigh unstoppable Berserkers. The objective is to wipe out the human defenders which gradually increase in difficulty (starting with a handful of Stranded with meagre defences up to Chairman Prescott and his elite Onyx Guard). It costs points to spawn as a new Locust, points which are earned buy destroying/damaging defences and humans. It’s not the longest gametype, there being only eleven waves, but it is monstrously (see what I did there?) good fun.
Not to say that the campaign mode should be glossed over. The story for Gears 3 was written by Karen Traviss, so ties in seamlessly with the novels she wrote, and is amazing. It wraps up all the loose ends and answers the questions that have been fuelling speculation on forums across the internet (y’know, like why does Queen Myrrah know Marcus and his Dad? What’s Prescott really up to? And where the Hell did the Lambent come from?!). It also supports online co-op through the campaign for two players, which is pretty much a must for the Insane difficulty setting.
All in all, it is the best Gears of War game. Unlike Bungie’s Halo: Reach which promised so much but ultimately failed to live up to the hype, Gears 3 is as good as it claims to be, and is fitting conclusion to an amazing saga.