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Gears of War 3 Xbox 360 Review - PAGE 1Lydia Sung - Thursday, September 15th, 2011 Like (6) Share (1)
Gears of War is arguably one of the most iconic franchises in contemporary gaming, and essentially helped solidify the Xbox 360 in the burgeoning console market.
Driven by desperation, the last remnants of humanity flee across Sera to find their own way, finally shattering the Coalition. Similarly, the Locusts now seek to establish a new stronghold on the surface, having been flooded out of their homes and still fearing the Lambent scourge.
A lengthy cutscene that plays from the main menu explains all this, filling in a few gaps between Gears of War 2 and the third installment. A mysterious transmission at the end of the second game revealed that Marcus’ genius of a father, Adam Fenix, was still alive, a revelation that serves as a major plot point in Gears of War 3. The search is on, and Delta Squad must trek across Sera to find the answers we all seek. Joining the former group of four are several new additions: female Gears Anya Stroud and Samantha “Sam” Byrne, the spirited Jace Stratton, and the equally lively Clayton Carmine.
A Campaign to Remember
The campaign is split into two versions: Standard and Arcade. Both support the new four-player co-op, though Arcade sets itself apart with leaderboard integration and Mutators – the Gears of War equivalent of Skulls in Halo.
To match the sizable cast of Gears, the campaign introduces a vast array of annoying and terrifying enemies previously unseen. Since being forced above ground and out of their element, the Locust have prepared all units and devised weapons for their last stand against their human foes and the Lambent. Corpser hatchlings, armored Kantus, and flammable bug creatures are just a few of what Delta Squad has to contend with. Elite units that were once rare encounters now appear in droves, taking to the battlefield after the weaker Grubs were mostly wiped out by the flooding.
As for the Lambent, they come in a number of glowy, explodey flavors, the majority of which are mutated variants of Locusts. Emergence holes are a thing of the past, though Lambent still spawn from underground by way of gargantuan stalks. Every stalk is lined with fleshy pods that “birth” the Lambent, and similar to emergence holes, can be destroyed to curb their spawn rate. To offset this growing menagerie of homicidal monstrosities, returning enemies have been dialed down a few notches. The Locusts you remember from Gears and Gears 2 are no less aggressive than before, but they go down much faster in Gears 3. Reaver and Kantus encounters, for instance, no longer have that “boss fight” feel. The tradeoff for weaker enemies is having to fight more at once, as the Locust Horde and Lambent both possess a propensity for swarming.
The weapons in Gears of War 3 are as plentiful as the enemies, and you’ll have lots of time to get acquainted with the game’s impressive arsenal. Unlike before, cutscenes and new areas won’t reset your equipped weapon, which will remain with you until you’ve picked up new ones. That said, you will always find Lancer and Hammerburst caches lying around, providing a back-up option in case you run out of ammo for the more exotic items, like Boomshots and Torque Bows. The list of new weapons isn’t terribly long, but every new addition brings something notably different to the table and none suffer from poor handling.
Gears of War 3 definitely boasts the lengthiest campaign of any Gears game, but the pacing is done incredibly well and easily distracts from the long duration. Unnecessary fodder like the frustrating driving sequences found in both of the previous Gears titles has been trimmed away, giving the campaign a much more cinematic feel. Intense shootouts are broken up by lulls in combat, giving you a chance to explore the much larger environments and listen to that trademark banter between comrades. Climactic moments give way to wonderfully scripted cutscenes, some of which will most certainly leave you in shock.
Storytelling Takes Precedence
The Gears of War backstory was always brimming with potential, but the previous two games failed to fully capitalize on that potential, neglecting proper storytelling to concentrate on the action-driven gameplay. Fans who yearned for a deeper story simply turned to the comics and novels. With Gears of War 3, however, Epic attempted to make up for lost opportunities with a new writer.
Returning to Cole Train’s home city of Hanover and seeing the former Thrashball star fall back into his memories of better days proved to be a surprisingly heart-wrenching moment in the campaign. Anya’s presence also serves as an emotional catalyst, given her habit of approaching every new tragedy with heartfelt sympathy that her long-time friends seem incapable of expressing.
Giving Multiplayer a Makeover
The competitive multiplayer has undergone some dramatic changes since Gears 2, mostly for the better. While multiplayer has always been an important aspect of Gears of War, it was known for notoriously slow and buggy matchmaking, not to mention imbalanced gameplay (depending on who you ask). In Gears 3, Epic has done away with the old system in favor of a more stable and streamlined one, comprised of dedicated servers, true host migration, and other improvements to matchmaking.
The War Journal is another welcome feature, serving a similar purpose as Halo Waypoint and the new Call of Duty Elite. The journal basically tracks your progress through every aspect of the game, encompassing campaign and multiplayer, making a record of your Achievements, found collectibles, unlocked rewards – that sort of thing. Ribbons and medals are awarded with every in-game accomplishment, mostly in the multiplayer realm.
The game modes are mostly what you remember, even after some significant tweaking. The previously announced Team Deathmatch is now the bread and butter of multiplayer, though you’ll still have your precious Warzone and Execution to fall back on. Submission and Guardian are gone, merged to form Capture the Leader, during which each team must compete to capture and hold the other’s VIP for a good 30 seconds; this is harder than it sounds for all parties involved and requires some serious team coordination to be fun. King of the Hill and Wingman have returned with only a few minor alterations.
Maps underwent their own design overhaul, too. Like their counterparts in the campaign, multiplayer maps are much larger in scope with a peppering of close quarters, giving players a chance to duke it out with weapons other than shotguns and Lancers. Long range and heavy weapons feel more viable, as the maps are designed to accommodate a broader spectrum of firearms. Every match begins with a quick overview of the selected map, and certain vantage points offer near unobstructed views of the entire map.
Horde 2.0 and Beast Mode
Horde mode has received various upgrades over its previous incarnation in Gears 2, earning it the nickname “Horde 2.0”. Players can now earn money during the match and put their cash toward progressively better fortifications, strengthening their base over time. These defenses start out pretty simple, but as more money and levels are gained during the match, additional options are made available. Eventually, you’ll go from having a few barbed fences and straw dummies to electric barriers and turrets. Mutators can also be activated to liven up your Horde experience, adding tougher challenges or just extra amusement. Note that the type of Mutators you choose will affect your EXP modifiers differently than in the campaign.
The new Beast mode provides an interesting alternative to Horde 2.0, allowing players to switch sides and fight as Locust creatures. You’ll be the ones laying siege in this mode, and money will buy a variety of Locust units to make your job easier. Humans aren’t exactly pushovers, despite what the campaign suggests, and the human forces will strengthen with each round just as the Locusts do in Horde mode. The swarms of well-armed Stranded eventually acquire more fortifications and tougher COG allies – including Delta Squad.
All the changes Epic made to bolster Horde certainly improve an already enjoyable game mode – one that many other shooters have emulated – but Epic should seriously consider adding the classic Horde mode as an option for players who prefer the old version. As of now, Horde 2.0 is your only pick, and even with Beast mode expanding the multiplayer repertoire, some players might find themselves nostalgic for a simpler Horde.
The Sights and Sounds
Excellent writing aside, the cleaner facial animations also go a long way toward storytelling. Characters exhibit a whole gamut of expressions, and cutscenes are heavy with close-up shots featuring their faces. Although Gears 3 isn’t a huge leap forward in the graphical department, the improvements are still apparent, from smoother animations to crisper visuals, aided by more dramatic use of lighting and a wider color palette. The environments are also designed to be much larger in scale this time, moving away from the claustrophobic spaces so prevalent in the first two Gears. The shift in scenery is breathtaking, for sure, and effectively captures Sera in its post-apocalyptic beauty.
If you’re fond of Steve Jablonsky’s compositions, rest assured that he hasn’t been replaced. The signature sounds of Gears of War are back, blaring during every pivotal moment in the endless fight for humanity. As always, his signature combination of orchestral and industrial tones fit perfectly against the game’s hyper dramatic action and story sequences. The impressive range of sound effects goes a long way toward immersion, as well. Each weapon is set apart by the distinctive sounds it produces when fired, and every surface yields a different noise in response. Such details can be easily overlooked, but a good ear may save lives on the battlefield.
Gears of War 3 is one of the most anticipated games of 2011 for good reason. The Gears of War name carries weight and inspires high expectations, and Epic delivers with a truly memorable experience. Like its predecessors, Gears 3 is a solid cover shooter that continues to set the standard for others like it, playing up its strengths while further improving upon its weaknesses.
What will truly catch fans off guard is the sudden dedication to storytelling. This installment hits fast and hard on an emotional level, in a way the previous games couldn’t quite match. A perfect balance has finally been struck between the game’s visceral gameplay and strong narrative, making Gears of War 3 the perfect end to Delta Squad’s trilogy.
As for the latest Carmine, you’re going to have to see what happens to him yourself, because I’m sure not telling.
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