Review – Gears of War
Emergence Day comes early.
Gears of War 2 was a disappointment. I’m not a multiplayer type of guy so I can’t really comment on that side of things but as someone who played through the original Gears in co-op on numerous occasions the campaign in Gears 2 was tedious with a really weak ending. Horde mode was a good introduction but the disc quickly got put away to never be played again. Gears of War 3 has been making all the right noises though and the temptation of co-op lured me back for a third time. Was it worth it?
There can’t be many people reading this who don’t know what Gears of War is. Arguably the most influential game this generation, many games since have copied its cover system, limited colour pallet, Horde mode and co-op functionality. There aren’t many that have done it better though and Gears 3 has fine tuned every aspect of its gameplay for what is supposed to be the final game, at least of this story arc. Played from a third person perspective the basic gameplay revolves around moving forward pumping bullets into every enemy who appears before you. Every piece of furniture or rubble is waist high for perfect cover and every encounter will take place in an arena style area which won’t open up until you’ve killed everything and heard the ‘everything is dead’ chime.
A new range of enemies have been introduced this time in the Lambent (they did exist previously but are far more prevalent now) which require different tactics to the old Locust enemies as they explode on death and are generally much more aggressive. Luckily there has been another major change to the campaign to help, you can now play four player co-op. It doesn’t change the gameplay any and the AI is actually not too bad. There will be times when they are dancing around your downed body still fighting rather than picking you up but they are happy to kill things and they do a decent job of reviving you most of the time, but if you’ve got three friends who all want to play Gears of War with you now you can and it’s a welcome addition.
Graphically the game has also had a upgrade. Both previous Gears games haven’t been slouches in the looks department but Gears 3 blows them out of the water. Character models, lighting, and scale have all been improved and although it does still occur rarely, the texture pop in of other Unreal Engine games has been almost completely wiped out. No longer is the game devoid of colour either, it can be subtle but coloured light streaming down from above, green foliage, even the characters themselves are a little more colourful than before. It all feels solid and glitch free too, which makes Gears 3 feel like a very polished title. The same can be said for the sound as well, particularly the voice acting. It wasn’t bad before, but the dialogue is a lot less macho at times and it works. It could have easily felt forced or uncomfortable but even the more emotional scenes feel in character.
So story-wise things are going to get a little more emotional and this really is the end of this story ark. I can’t say every loose end was tied up (maybe I’d have to read the books for that) but there is no cliffhanger ending, all the main plot points end. The writing is a lot better here or at least it tackles things of more weight than the previous two games an does it well. Another plus point then.
When I first played the original Gears of War, I must say it touched me in all the places a young man likes to be touched. Whilst the story didn’t wow me completely, the cover based gun orgy with a climax of exploding bodies was enough for me to get my jollies off. Now five years on, the conclusion of the trilogy Gears of War 3 arrives with more steroid abusing men (and women) than ever before.
The fundamentals have stayed the same with characters still able to explode enemy’s heads with their hands like rotten coconuts but it does look considerably prettier doing so. The protagonists have been updated slightly according to the story progression although what happened to ‘Cole Train’ to make him look at least 65% retarded will remain a mystery.
The number of weapons in all game modes has increased and whilst it feels like the new weapons are a welcome addition, the ‘Digger’ in particular feels a little unbalanced. There’s been nothing more infuriating than being killed instantly in cover by a homing weapon which travels underground through every obstacle. Digging weapons aside, the game feels quite balanced in campaign and multiplayer. Apart from a few moments of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the campaign is far from impossible even on the top difficulty as long as you keep a sensible head on. Multiplayer soon follows suit once you’ve played it a few times, learnt some of the levels and found out how to counter someone spamming certain weapons.
There is certainly enough variety to keep any player around for a while. With the addition of four player co-op (at last!) and Beast mode I can see myself losing what very little social life I have for quite some time to come.
Secondary Score: 9/10
If the campaign isn’t the main draw for you then the multiplayer has everything from before and more. Horde mode (where you work as a team to defeat wave after wave of enemies) returns but with the addition that you can buy turret defence style upgrades using the points you accrue, such as barbed wire fences to slow down the enemy, decoys and turrets. Buying and repairing these units upgrades them so you can buy better versions of them as you complete waves. Since every time I played Horde mode with my friends in Gears 2 we’d end up holed up somewhere this seems like a natural step and is an improvement to an already addictive mode.
In the vein of Horde mode is Beast mode. Here the tables are turned as you play as the Locust and have to try to take out all the humans who have set up defences. There are only twelve waves in this mode, the goal is to end with as high a money total as possible in the quickest time. To enter the game you need to spend money on a unit. You start off with weak, rather plain units but as you play on you unlock further tiers which make it easier to destroy everyone but cost more money. So do you pay less to attack with a regular gun totting Locust or spend all your hard earned cash on a Berserker and wreck shop? It is a lot of fun seeing the battlefield from a new perspective but whether it’ll keep people’s interest as long as something like Left 4 Dead remains to be seen.
There are your adversarial multiplayer modes as well of course. Team Deathmatch (5v5 deathmatch), Warzone (5v5 deathmatch, no respawns), Execution (5v5 deathmatch, no respawns, must execute downed opponents), Capture the Leader (capture the flag), King of the Hill (hold points on a map) and Wingman (2v2v2v2 deathmatch). If there aren’t enough people then bots fill in the gaps which is a nice touch. People still roll around with shotguns and a few of the new weapons seem very powerful (the Digger seems unstoppable at close range for an explosive weapon) but the switch to dedicated servers is a positive one and every game I’ve played online has been super smooth.
So Gears of War 3 barely makes any mistakes. Obviously if the idea of running forward shooting things sounds awful to you then you may not like it but for everyone else this is an incredibly polished experience which improves on every aspect of the previous two games whist adding more on top. There’s a meaty campaign which can be played with three others on multiple difficulties, other co-op and online adversarial modes to keep you playing, with unlocks spread out to keep you interested and I’m sure there will be DLC to add more (not counting gun skins, obviously). It’s an excellent package all round and it is hard to think of any obvious negatives off the top of my head, which is a rarity and an achievement which should be rewarded.