Gears of War 3 Review
The credits at the end of Gears of War 3 go on for 14 hours or so. It’s easy to see why: Gears 3 is a fantastic idea polished to near perfection by an enormous crew of talented developers and a bottomless budget. If you’re not a believer yet this probably won’t convert you, but I can’t think of anything I wanted in this installment that Epic doesn’t deliver on.
The nuts and bolts of the Gears machine are the same innards the franchise has always been built on. The tactical, cover-focused combat demands equal parts strategy and execution and rewards excellence in each. The intensely violent audiovisual presentation puts weight behind every action in the game, selling a real sense of physical space and contact. Gears of War is every bit the triple-A shooter Call of Duty or Halo is, but its slower-paced combat provides a unique and fascinating take on the genre.
I would have been happy with 10 more hours of Gears campaign. Epic hit the 10 hours on the nose, but made it better in every way. Including female Gears helps keep the dudebro locker-room machismo to a reasonable level. The few touchy-feely scenes are handled competently. Levels are the same linear series of combat arenas and atmospheric mood pieces, but both aspects are top-notch and the pacing is markedly better than in the earlier games. I can count on my hands the number of times the squad AI annoyed me by jumping into my line of fire or letting a hostile waltz past them to flank me. The encounters provide a constantly shuffling deck of threats that encourage players to experiment with new weapons and tactics. The presentation, of course, is outstanding. Four-player co-op makes it all the sweeter.
The finale puts a satisfying, unequivocal endcap on the storyline, such as it is. Gears has never had terribly compelling fiction and the entire arc of this final chapter is beyond predictable, but at least it’s a coherent story that doesn’t need a wiki and a three-month ARG to decipher. I’ll never hate on anyone declaring their indifference to Gears’ plot, but that’s not the reason to play through the campaign. The hilariously over-the-top set piece moments, especially the Silverback sequences where you control a mech suit with unlimited chaingun/rocket ammo, and outstanding combat are all the reason I need to conquer the campaign.
I would have been entirely satisfied with new maps to shake up the outstanding multiplayer from Gears 2. Epic easily takes care of that with classic modes like Team Deathmatch and Gears favorites like Wingman on brilliant, varied maps. An amazing new mode reminiscent of playing the Infected in Left 4 Dead joins Horde mode on the co-op front. Overwhelming the human defenses as the Locust Horde is a wonderful Gears take on being the bad guys. I love the Counter-Strike style economy of earning cash for breaking fortifications and killing humans, then spending that cash to respawn as anything from a Ticker to a Boomer. This new Beast mode is as compelling to me as Horde mode, Call of Duty’s Spec Ops or Zombies, or any other innovative co-op mode from the last decade.
Gears 3’s smart approach to network play makes it easier than ever to play the modes you want with the people you want, keeping parties together and carrying all of your stats and achievements between co-op, competitive, and campaign play. Online infrastructure is as important as map or weapon design to the long-term health of a multiplayer community, and Epic nails it once again here. The lack of persistent power progression may be an issue for people used to Call of Duty’s ever-deeper equipment and perk unlocks, but I dig Epic’s appearance-only approach. I’m not a big fan of the vast multitude of virtual items like weapon skins on sale through Xbox Live on day one, but if people want to waste their money on horse armor it’s not my problem – as long as the cash items are strictly cosmetic. A ton of character models and other vanity items are unlockable through gameplay as well, so it’s not like you have to be a chump like Fenix forever if you don’t shell out extra cash.
I would have been content using the same arsenal to mow through the Lambent and Locust forces en route to Fenix’s final destination. As it happens, that’s pretty much what I did. The only addition to the basic weaponry catalog, the Retro Lancer, is good for the occasional hilarious bayonet charge execution, but the heavy recoil more than offsets its higher damage rating. The Gorgon pistol is a decent close-range sidearm, but I prefer the utility of the standard issue snub pistol. The candy weapon selection is bolstered by a bunch of novelty fare that pales in comparison to the good old Boomshot. Incendiary grenades are fun, but their slow burn effect is functionally too similar to ink grenades for my taste. Nonetheless, it’s not like the Gears arsenal was lacking in any area in the last game.
Gears of War 3 doesn’t do anything radical, not that anyone expected it to. Only the staunchest Gears haters will find much fault here, though. This is the best execution yet of an idea that spawned one of the biggest modern franchises in all of gaming. What’s not to love?