My review of Gears of War 3 - not the most interesting of reads if you aren't a gamer, but feel free to give it a browse.
The Beginning of the end...
SIX years after we first revved up our chainsaw bayonet, Epic Games brings to a close a franchise that’s redefined the third-person shooter. Bring your protein shake and prepare for Bro-mance: the boys (and girls) are headed out for one final night on the town. It’s going to be a messy one.
Many moons have passed since the Gears blew a hole in Sera and sent Jacinto to a watery grave. Marcus Fenix and the COG crew are floating safely on their new home, the CNV Sovereign, and life has taken on a decidedly more sedate tempo. Dom has cultivated his sentimental side and started talking to plants. Marcus is visited by dreams about his long lost father. It’s all a bit... comfy.
Never fear. It’s not long before the quiet life of the COGs is satisfyingly shattered. The Lambeth, rising from the deep in their eerie twisting stalks (think Jack and the Bean Stalk, but without a golden egg laying chicken at the top), reigning down destruction on the scene of tranquillity. As a grizzly glowing Leviathan nibbles away at the hull of the ship, we’re thrown in at the deep end. The final stand of the COGs has begun. Oh how we’ve missed them.
Epic Games left themselves with a stern challenge after the second instalment of GOW. Two impeccable games – one helping define the launch of a console, the other becoming one of the sturdiest sequels the 360 has seen – had earned the producer a fan base of loyal, trigger happy gamers that had come to expect the best. How were they to craft a suitable swansong?
“Give them what they love” seems to be Epic’s policy. More glowing bullets, more gore-heavy executions, and the welcome return of the roadie run, causing you to wonder how you’ve ever survived another game without the ability to thunder across open ground with the subtlety of a comet.
The team at Epic have cut down on the somewhat sequence-heavy gameplay of GOW 2, allowing the combat to flow along like runny hell. A slight criticism of this new outing is the overly familiar boss battles – there’s certainly nothing new for fans to get their teeth into when the baddies get big. Sequences still largely follow the trend of ‘find enemy weakness, exploit, and don’t get crushed/eaten/cut in half in the processes’. It might have been nice to mix things up a bit in the final round.
Another (very minor) gripe that’s existed with each of the GOW episodes is the lack of shocks. Moments of calm are never truly shattered; as you walk around the gloriously grainy environment, marvelling at the scale of the destruction around you, you’re safe in the knowledge that an enemy will never sneak up on you. There’s a temptation to groan aloud when you round the corner to find yet another downed structure has provided more lines of convenient cover. Cue a hoard of murderous foe, a cheesy one-liner from a COG and more roadie running to cover. To slate such tried and tested game dynamics at this point in the series is more than a touch cynical – but it’s disappointing that this formula is very rarely discarded for something fruitier.
But rest assured, despite these grumbles the GOW 3 campaign plays better than either of its older siblings. It’s slick, it’s fast, and it never leaves you frustrated. Experienced players are advised to head straight to the harder difficulty settings though, or you might find yourself walking through the campaign without much of a challenge.
Gear up, load out
As far as the guns go, all the familiar favourites of the series return with some wonderful new additions. The Lancer is still one of the most iconic weapons ever to have landed in the hands of 360 games; what’s as cool as a light sabre? A machine gun with a chainsaw, that’s what.
The most interesting and refreshingly different of the new toys is the Digger Launcher. Is your foe encamped behind a wall of impenetrable substance? Never fear. Best described as an ‘underground’ grenade launcher, the weapon fires a small creature strapped with explosives, which burrows its way toward your cover-grabbing opponent. It’s immensely satisfying to watch the trail of soil disappear behind an obstacle before hearing the resulting explosion and splatter.
Another new gun that really highlights just how much careful consideration Epic have put into the new weapons of GOW 3 is the Vulcan Canon – a gun that actively encourages teamwork. One player carries the ammo feeder (no doubt screaming directions like a back seat driver), the other carries the business end – directing an utterly terrifying hose of bullets that will rip through anything unfortunate enough to be standing in front of you. Well done Epic. Well done indeed.
The essential timing of reloads has had the slightest of tweaks as well, resulting in even more satisfaction as you nail that reload bar in the midst of a fire fight. Your primed rounds now glow with a more fluorescent zeal than the series has seen before, raising the badass-o-meter a killer inch.
All of the new bells and whistles shouldn’t distract from the fact that GOW 3 is a very capable story teller – not just in respect to the series, but amongst most shooters in general. It gives you one last chance to play as your favourite muscle-clad antihero, be it Marcus or Cole Train or several of the other COG crew. Each opportunity to play as a different COG member allows you to gain a new perspective on the character, fleshing out their back story and allowing you to feel more emotionally attached to them. And by emotion, I mean a deeper sense of satisfaction when you use the player to cut an enemy in half – you know what it what it’s taken for them to still be alive.
The voice acting and one-liners are still as hammy as we’ve come to expect from the series – and several scenes will tempt you to emit a groan. Without wanting to spoiling anything, you’ll get sick to death of Marcus shouting “Dad” after about 30 minutes of play time.
Four’s a Party
The multiplayer has also seen a great deal of treatment from the Epic team, and their work has paid off by the gore-filled bucket load.
There’s a new four player online co-op, which brings a wonderful sense of team play to the campaign story. When tackling the campaign in single player, your computer AI pals are often a touch too ‘super-soldier’ to make you feel like you’re in a team, and hence the new online co-op lets you feel like you really are part of a crew that have to depend on each other to survive the stickier situations.
The Horde makes a welcome return, seeing you and four others pit yourself against wave after wave of Locust lovelies, all begging for their heads to get stomped on. The new Beast mode is a wonderful inversion of the same format, allowing you to play the part of any Locust beasty you can think of. Ever wanted to know what it’s like to be a Ticker? Or wondered just how badass it is to be a Berserker? Both of these game modes feature a reward system, as you earn cash-for-kills to spend on upgrades and new toys in the downtime between waves of foe. It’s an inspired addition, allowing the gamer to become even more engrossed in an already deeply satisfying game experience.
End of an era
GOW 3 brings everything to the table we’ve come to expect from this well loved series, and Epic Games has provided a true feast for the fans. The story line is satisfyingly rounded off and there are hours of replay incentive on offer, both from the challenging campaign difficulties and vast multiplayer variants.
Battlefield and COD will steal most of this year’s shooter headlines, and it’s my concern that GOW 3 might be forgotten about in the list of significant 2011 releases. It deserves your attention, and will certainly earn your adoration. Give bro-mance a go. Get Geared up one last time.