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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gears of War 3 (9.3/10)

I love the Gears of War series. Seriously, I went out and bought the books that tell the story in between the games. I've even got my own COG tags (thank you GameStop and their PowerUp Rewards program). For the longest time whenever my best friend was in town we would play the first game because the co-op was a blast (probably beat that game over a dozen times easy). As I say, I love these games, but how does the closing chapter of Delta squad's fight against the Locust finally conclude?

The Gears narrative has always forced the player to take certain things for granted... like the fact that all the protagonists seem to be modeled after Ray Lewis, a weapon of mass destruction can be used for tactical strikes without killing everyone in the city, machine guns have chainsaws on them, and the evil Queen of the underground monsters looks and sounds like Judi Dench. What I'm saying is that if you can sit back, crack a beer and lose yourself in the mythology they've created, you'll be less likely to focus on the glaring plot holes that plague the story.

In Gears of War 3 the story delves even further into the weird. After some thought I've decided not to give any plot points at all not because I don't want to spoil anything, but rather because I don't want to waste a ton of time trying to explain it. Now, I'll readily admit I bought the books. They are excellent by the way, if you're a fan of the series you owe it to yourself to peruse them. Check them out, they are by Karen Traviss. The books go a long way to setting up the back-story, adding to the history and mythology Epic has created, and developing the characters. If you didn't read the books, a lot of these little details that expand the universe will be lost on you and you'll be wondering who on earth all these people are.

But from the beginning, even if you've played the first two games, there are new characters and moments that I never felt were properly explained. I played it through again with my friend when he was in town, and I can't remember the number of times he would ask a question about what was going on, and my sole response was "It's in the books...." There are a lot of moments that are clearly intended to surprise and shock (and to a certain extent they do) but it all felt a little too predictable, with a great deal that the writers are asking you to take as a matter of course irregardless of whether or not it's remotely believable. Again, maybe I'm biased because of the books, but there are a lot of questions that went unanswered. If this is, in fact, that last hurrah for the series, then I might feel the slightest bit let down in this regard. Still, I appreciate any series that has become popular enough to branch out to other media: if you read the books you'll get the full story. It's up to you.

But to be honest, the story really just serves as a vehicle for the gameplay, which is once again on the top of its game. The third person, cover-based shooting seems to polarize people: either you love it or you decidedly don't. I count myself firmly in the former camp. It's not just that the weapons are fun, but both the ally and enemy AI are improved greatly and it's got the best cover mechanic in gaming as far as I'm concerned. The fact is that it all flows together virtually seamlessly. 

Early on you'll notice new characters are now joining Delta on the battlefield. It's humanity's last stand and everyone is gearing up (sorry, couldn't resist). Anya has left the operations center and picked up a Lancer, as have some other friends. The problem with having four player co-op is the ally AI will sometimes get in your way... more often than it should. Having someone walk in your line of fire is always tedious. Don't get me wrong, your teammates are more than decent, but what's weird is they aren't always consistent. Allies will lay down fire and actively finish off downed enemies (something I always found amusing), but towards the end of the campaign it seemed like they just stopped trying. I like the fact that having four players fighting together at once means that they can heal you easier. However, the opposite is also true: you need to pay attention and make sure you heal them. And then there are those moments when they will do something inexplicable. Sometimes you'll be down, crawling towards them, slowly dying, and they'll run right past you. Other times, rather than taking cover like a sane person, they will just stand there, getting peppered and taking it.

Gears of War is known, perhaps more than anything else, for making a habit of giving gamers awesome weapons with which to wield destruction. From the iconic Lancer with it's chainsaw bayonet, to the Torque Bow (my favorite) with exploding arrows. Come on, the most famous, the Hammer of Dawn, shoots lasers from space! The new game introduces new options to the arsenal of Delta squad like the One Shot. This massive, super-heavy but incredibly powerful rifle will take out a Reaver with... that's right kids, one shot!  The Locust "Digger" sends out burrowing grenades that will pop up in your face and explode. There are also some old school additions, like a sawed-off shotgun and the Retro Lancer with blade bayonet which is perfect for charging. Hell, you can even pick up a massive cleaver and swing it around melee style if you like. With so many choices at your disposal, it's difficult to know what to choose! Oh, and new weapons mean new finishing moves. Nice!

The original Gears of War set a graphical standard at the time of it's release. It really showed what the new generation of consoles could do. Sure, it's a bit dated now, but this third installment looks absolutely fantastic. You can tell the good people at Epic have been hard at work-gorgeous environments, great lighting and particle effects, and cutscenes that are the best in the series by far.

One minor complaint might be that there are too many vehicle sections. Despite the Brumak bit at the end of Gears 2 (which I loved, by the way), I don't know that these parts fit well with these games. At least this time around you don't have to drive poorly controlled vehicles. They are "on-rails" as it were, so all you have to do just shoot stuff. Actually, I take that back. One addition to the vehicle sections that is welcome is the inclusion of mechs. These machines are called the Silverbacks... and they are suitably badass, as mechs should be. These moments serve as a nice break, but I always end up feeling like this kind of stuff is just filler, used to elongate the game.

The first Gears included finding collectible COG tags. Gears 2 added to this by having intel items that, when found, popped up text that further explained the backstory or adding flavor to the universe. I love hunting for this sort of stuff, and Gears 3 rewards those who like to check every nook and cranny. There is a lot to find, and some of them are fiendishly well hidden.

I've never been huge into online mulitplayer, but I have to say I enjoy Gears of War online. The differing mechanics and cover system make it just different enough, plus you have a whole slew of options. If you don't like playing against other people, grab a couple of buddies and play Horde mode (and the new antithesis, Beast mode, where you control the Locust against the COG). Plus, you can play the campaign all the way through with four player online co-op now.

So how does the third and presumably final installment of this franchise fall in relation to it's brethren? To be honest, I'm going to score them all the same. While the story was a little disjointed, I feel like the gameplay is better than ever. If nothing else, it speaks to the consistency that Epic has brought to the table. Sadly, the ride is over, and I'll admit I'm a little melancholy about it. But having said that, I know the Gears games will have a place on my shelf for the long haul. Marcus and the boys (and girls) from Delta aren't going anywhere. 


Score = 9.3 / 10

1 comment:

  1. Gears of War 3 is one of the best games I have played for a long time, is full and no action or shooter fans will love. The story is better than the first number of twists and turns, and Gears 3 has great characters and dubbing. One thing Gears 3 is that many of the games have no replay value.