Review: Gears of War 3
I recently saw a quote about Gears of War stating it was the most influential franchise of the current era, and I think they might have a point. It has some of the most unapologetically gritty (and bloody) story and gameplay around. Think about these game elements and where they came from: Deus Ex’s intuitive cover system? Gears. No health packs? Gears. Resident Evil’s over the shoulder style? Gears. Modern Warfare’s knife executions? Gears (who are we kidding, that was absolutely born out of Gears’ melee executions). For a shooter, the Gears franchise has contributed mightily.
Gears of War 3 simply takes the great gameplay the franchise is known for and applies it one more time in a single player campaign that closes the door with finality. At times it’s a little like watching a good action movie. The characters often do things that are patently absurd but really fun to watch, and every once in a while you get a serious moment that’s actually quite powerful. That’s one of the things I like about this game – it has no illusions about what it is and why it’s here. Where Deus Ex (which has also received significant playing time) is a masterpiece artfully composed, Gears 3 is steroid filled entertainment, plain and simple. And at that, it’s damn good.
This is one area where they really stepped it up for this installment. We get the same characters we’ve come to know and love (who couldn’t be amused by the Cole Train?), but the stakes are higher by far. If you recall, Gears 2 ended with the flooding of Jacinto, the last remaining human stronghold, in an effort to contain the Lambent which were spreading further and further into the world. At the start of Gears 3 we find the remnants of humanity travelling the ocean in an effort to evade the Lambent and survive in a situation reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica. Through an unexpected turn of events, we learn Fenix’s father, who died years ago, might still be alive and the Gears set off to find him. I’m not going to give away any more of the plot – go read Wikipedia if you’re desperate for spoilers – but I will say that it wraps up the story effectively and in a somewhat surprising fashion.
It’s a solid plot, but what really sells the story in this installation is the acknowledgement that the Gears are people too. Sure, they’re musclebound commandos with arms the size of my waist, but they’re human, and facing some very real emotions. Fenix is searching for his father, Dom just lost his wife (Gears 2), Cole was a pro athlete in a previous life, and collectively they’ve done some terrible things in an attempt to save their world. There are a couple of moments that dig at you powerfully, which is unexpected for a shooter. If you’ve played through, you know what I mean. I’m not going to try to say that this is the most meaningful game ever made, but I have to give credit where credit is due.
Gears 3 is unabashedly the same core game as Gears 1 and 2 were. There are a couple more weapons, and some more enemies but nothing that is immediately that different, although I do have to give a shout out for the “OneShot”; it’s the most aptly named and ridiculous gun ever seen in a game. I don’t think this similarity is a negative though. The gameplay in Gears has always been excellent, so why break what’s not broken? You can handle combat a bunch of different ways thanks to a bunch of different weapons, and the cover system makes tactics a real possibility instead of just an afterthought.
Gears 3 also retains one of the best parts of the franchise – cooperative multiplayer. Not only does it make the game easier (you can revive each other), it’s a lot more fun doing tactical maneuvers in the middle of a firefight when there are two people involved.
I did run afoul of an irritating minor bug sequence a couple of times. It seems the game is particularly fickle about what buttons you’re pushing on the controller when a cutscene starts. I went through one period where I couldn’t take cover (I figured out the bug resets when you die as a direct effect of this one), and another one where X got stuck down and I picked up every item I walked over whether I wanted it or not.
I’ve tried Gears of War multiplayer in the past, although I suspect not since Gears 1. It was good, but I wasn’t that impressed. I don’t know what they did this time around, but that’s no longer the case. Wade and I started a multiplayer game once we finished the campaign, and ended up playing four games more than we intended to. All of those tactical decisions you can make in single player still apply – in fact, I think it’s one of the few games I’ve ever played where the concepts of suppressing fire and flanking actually work. In the basic game mode, they’ve also come up with a really clever way of limiting the game. Rather than making a time limit or a kill goal, they’ve limited the number of times you’re allowed to respawn. This places a real premium on helping revive downed teammates and encourages living as long as possible.
All in all, the multiplayer was really exciting. It’s more tactical than Halo and doesn’t suffer from Modern Warfare’s ingrained skill/equipment imbalance. While I may not ever play the campaign through again, I’m definitely going to do more multiplayer. There’s something immensely satisfying about effectively flanking someone and ripping their head off.
Gears of War 3 is an excellent coda to one of the best franchises that has existed for the XBox 360. There’s no question that Gears of War is done. Marcus Fenix literally takes off his armor at the end. It would be an egregious affront to resurrect the franchise, so it’s time to look forward to the next new thing. Just think – all those people who made Gears now have the time to make the next new thing.