This is it. The trilogy ends. The last ride of Delta Squad begins. Okay, so Gears of War 3 has been out for like a week or so. This isn't the most new review in the world. Still, there was a lot to go through in my attempt to review the game. Now I love Gears of War. I love the gameplay, the weapons, the art, the levels, the world and the fantastic characters. Epic Games built a large franchise and a compelling story line. The question is, can Epic live up to their namesake and end the franchise in the fashion it deserves?
The first thing I noticed about Gears 3 was the refined gameplay. The cover system has been smoothed out to perfection, the weapons finally seem properly balanced, the trench run is faster and every portion of the gameplay just feels more fluid than ever. Cliff Bleszinski promised the most polished Gears of War game ever with Gears 3, and in that regard, Epic delivered. The gameplay is utterly perfect and many of the new additions make the perfect set up we loved in the previous two installments that much better.
Some of the new additions in gameplay are the ability to revive yourself instead of waiting for a friend. Just rapidly tap A until your character begins to pick himself up, and your back in the game. This is way easier said than done, as your enemies will always want to curb stomp your face into mush. You can also swap weapons and ammo with your teammates, as well as spot weapons, ammo and even enemies. Each of these elements further emphasizes the team aspect of the gameply. Thanks to the four player co-op, working as a team is easier (and more fun) than ever.
New weapons have been added to the game, and old weapons have been overhauled to be perfectly balanced. The Gnasher Shotgun was once a instant death cannon. Now, the Shotgun has been depowered, and other guns like the Lancer have been upgraded to remain competitive. A new shotgun, the sawed off shotgun, has been added so that a instant death cannon still exists, but not without a downside. The reload times are brutal, the ammo is astoundingly limited, and the range is piss poor. Still, the sawed off shotgun deals devastating damage. Its high risk high reward, but beware, as one wrong step, one second of hesitation could be the decider of life and death. Other new weapons include the Vulcan, a shoulder mounted doom cannon that requires two players in order to use it. The one shot is a sniper rifle/bazooka that will do just as advertised. Kill with one shot. The retro lancer is a new assault rifle that was used during the Pendulum Wars. Its old, but still effective. Instead of a chainsaw bayonet, the retro lancer is armed with a classic knife bayonet. The charge maneuver is particularly awesome and even more satisfying than the chainsawing an opponent to death. The lancer, the gnasher, the hammerburst, all your favorite weapons are back and most have their own executions. The Lancer execution is my personal favorite. The scorcher and the sawed off shotgun have some good ones too.
Multiplayer is as good and frustrating as ever. Fortunately, the balancing issues have removed a lot of the frustration and the dedicated servers have evened things out. There are very few exploits in the multiplayer. Now, its skill versus skill. Which I can appreciate. Multiplayer has gone through some enhancements too. A new level system not dissimilar to Modern Warfare or Red Dead Redemption offers players a chance to earn rewards. Executions, weapons skins and even playable characters are all unlocked based on your accomplishments. There are tons of cool new toys to earn along the way which is sure to increase the repaly value immensely. Other than those enchantments, multiplayer plays pretty much the same as always.
Most of the modes are back, some have been combined. For example, King of the Hill and Annex have been combined to create the new King of the Hill. Horde Mode has been enhanced. Horde Mode 2.0 now has players earning money to create and upgrade bases. You can now build defense barriers, turrets, sentry guns, decoys and even mobile mech suits. The more money you earn, the more you can build. Challenges that pop up every so often put some extra dough in your wallet. Challenges like "Get 7 head shots this round," or "Get through a round without anyone dying." It adds a new element of challenge to an already fun mode. Another new addition to Horde mode that increases the challenge is the boss fights. At the end of every 10 rounds, Queen Myraah sends a badass uber-locust to attack you and your team. Brumaks, Berserkers, Corpsers, and Reavers just to name a few of the bosses you may encounter. It makes Horde Mode ten times more intense than ever, and adds a lot to the fun factor. Beast mode is essentially a reverse Horde mode, allowing players to take on the role of the Locust Horde and eliminate the COG. Its a fun addition, but ultimately lacks the intensity of the other modes.
In short, the multiplayer has been more or less refined to perfection than offering anything new to the table. The level up system offers loads of replay value as well as a sense of accomplishment. It's not hard to unlock character skins (for the most part), though it is disappointing that characters like Kim, Tai, RAAM and Skorge were completely overlooked when it came time to add multiplayer skins. Most of the new maps are underwhelming, with the exceptions of Overpass and Checkout, the latter of which being almost too small. Some of the controls have been altered for reasons I am unsure of. Instead of picking up ammo and weapons by tapping X, you now have to hold X. It's strange at first, and more often then not, you may find yourself continuing to tap X even after you are well used to the alteration. Another problem I have is that the radius a player needs to be within in order to revive another player or execute an opponent seems to have been reduced. I found myself more often than not running circles around my comrades tapping X for somewhere around 15 seconds trying to revive him. This is even more frustrating when trying to execute an opponent and he keeps running away.
Multiplayer isn't the only thing Gears of War 3 is about. The game also features a campaign mode that tells a very well paced and extremely gratifying story. Players like me who have been on the ground floor of the series and have read as many comics and novels as possible won't be disappointed. All the question that need to be answered are, while some questions are left in the air to maintain a sense of mystery rather than forcing a continuation. Make no mistake, this is the last Gears of War story. Every plot thread gets tied up tightly and each character arc gets closed off.
The story revolves around the last remaining members of humanity trying to survive. After the sinking of Jacinto, the Locust were destroyed, and the COG was disbanded. The survivors live as little m ore than refugees. Everyone is Stranded now. But amid the supposed victory, a greater threat has been building. The Lambent have evolved into their own species, and they want Sera for themselves. But the Lambent disease is not just infecting the Locust, the entire planet of Sera is being absorbed and slowly killed by the infection. And when I say planet I don't mean the inhabitants, I mean the actual world. Right down to the core. The only way to stop the Lambent is to find Marcus's father, a scientist long thought to be dead. Delta Squad, lead by Marcus Fenix, must now traverse the world to find him and stop the Lambent infection. But one more problem remains, the Locust are not so dead after all, and Queen Myraah is out for blood, this time actively leading her people into battle rather than berating the opposition from afar.
Gears of War 3 tells a melancholic tale of war, loss, survival and the price you have to pay in order to survive. Its no bed of roses. As I said the story is very well paced and without a doubt does the best job of building tension than any other Gears of War game. Writer Karen Traviss also makes sure not to miss out on those emotional beats. Though none of these emotional moments reach the heights that they did in the breathtakingly well done Dom/Mariah reunion, they do leave a lump in the back of your throat. Don't be ashamed to let one tear run down your face, because things get sad.
One thing that I like about the story is that some of the less appreciated but huge fan favorite characters get some spotlight. Cole and Baird are scene stealing bastards, and I love it. Anya herself takes up arms and join the boys on the front lines. Each character has their own journey. Marcus's journey to find his father takes center stage, Dom is reeling from the death of his wife and loss of his family, Cole is suffering from some kind of mid life crisis ("You ever feel like you're already dead and nobody told you?") and Baird is on a quest to repair JACK, the cute robot buddy that hacked all the doors. JACK has been destroyed and Baird is actively seeking how to fix him.
The story isn't just about the old favorites. A whole host of new characters are added in to keep the story fresh. Well, mostly new. Jace Stratton of the comic books series makes his physical debut in Gears of War 3. He had a voice over cameo in GoW2, but this time he is one of the 8 playable characters during the campaign. Clayton Carmine, eldest of the Carmine siblings is also is a player character. He's a sarcastic warmonger with a penchant for bacon. Although he is playable for the shortest amount of time, he has arguable the biggest "Yes!!!" moment in the game. I was never huge on the Carmine's. I pegged Anthony as the dead by third act guy instantly. I was only surprised at how early he died. Ben was an improvement, and I generally liked his character. I still felt that the characters' popularity was a bit overblown. Clay on the other hand, I thought was awesome. "Eat dirt and die you motherfucker!!!" The last new addition is Sam Byrne, the tough lady with a smart mouth. The fact that she can stand to be Baird on the cheeky, sarcastic whit makes her worthy of respect. All in all, the new additions are fantastic for the most part and fit right in with the rest of Delta. Jace and Anya seem to lack the personality of pretty much everyone else. Everyone else is portrayed so larger than life, yet Jace and Anya have more realistic portrayals. They seem boring in comparison. Due to this fact, Act 4, which primarily focuses on those two, becomes the low point of the game.
All in all, the campaign is a breathtaking adventure. It is probably the best told story out of all three, but I still think that Gears 2 had a better story overall. Unfortunately, what gives Gears 3 the edge over Gears 2 is the level design. Throughout Gears 2, when you weren't running in a curvy line down below the surface, you were stuck in vehicles. This limited the amount of tactics that could be utilized. This time the levels are huge. There are so many different combat strategies that can be utilized is nuts. I remember one time on a bridge while playing with my brother and sister, we were ambushed by a shit ton of Locusts. Remembering that we just took out a squad armed with a troika, I doubled back to the previous battle zone and leaped on the Troika and opened fire. The Horde didn't stand a chance. Afterwards my brother said to me, "Nice job taking that Troika!" Another time I noticed my brother was in a tight spot, being flanked by a Locust with a Lancer. I switched to my Retro Lancer and began my bayonet charge. Less than a mili-second before my brother got sawed in half, I ran up and jammed the bayonet into the Locust buffoon and threw his bloody and lifeless corpse to the ground. The four-player co-op greatly increased the teamwork aspect and I highly recommend playing with three buddies. In fact, if you can't play with four players, it's not worth playing (partially due to the fact that your teammate AI is shit-stupid).
Gears of War 3 brings the story full circle in this well executed finale. The gameplay has been perfected, and the multiplayer overhaul ensures a long investment from fans. In the end, Gears 3 did what I once felt was impossible for any game: surpass the hype. Gears of War 3 is the most complete, most polished, and generally the best damn Gears of War game in the series. The trilogy doesn't go out with a bang, it goes out with a nuclear blast.
I give Gears of War 3 a 10 out of 10. Well done Epic Games. This is the first perfect score I've ever handed out.
Well done and fulfilling story.
Each plot point was tied up and most questions were answered.
Great tension building.
Great voice acting.
The Origins of the Locust was wisely avoided.
Level system is well done.
Huge replay value.
The most satisfying climax in a video game sense Mass Effect 1.
Fun and intense combat.
Cole and Baird finally get some character development.
Each surviving character returns, and some characters from the expanded lore, like Jace Stratton and Bernie Mattaki also make appearnaces.
Excellent visual design.
I could go on and on.
Act 4 in the campaign is slow and disappointing.
The original 4 Delta Squad members seem to take a backseat to some of the new characters (I'm looking at you Sam!).
Revive and Execute radius has be decreased, making reviving friends in the heat of battle more difficult than it should be.
Some perplexing control switch-a-roos.
Most multiplayer maps are underwhelming.
Why weren't Tai, Kim, Bernie, RAAM and Skorge included in the multiplayer?
Anya and Jace have boring personalities compared to everyone else.