2011 is the year of trilogy-ending instalments. Among the games with ‘3’ stapled to their titles this year was the one I was most looking forward to. For the past five years, Gears of War has been the driver of cover-based shooters. Many gamers see the Gears series as leading to generic shooters and a genre based on chest-high walls and slow, precise gameplay.
The new gameplay elements make this instalment feel a little more fast-paced than the others, with the turning a bit more responsive and the balancing of the weapons to mean that, especially in multiplayer, there’s less emphasis on just running round with overpowered shotguns. The weapons have been changed so that they all feel fresh: the hammerburst has a unique first person iron sights mode, the new retro lancer has a bayonet charge as well as the traditional lancer with its chainsaw; and there’s a range of new weapons including the aforementioned retro lancer and the Oneshot: a sniper rifle that kills enemies in, erm, one shot.
The game introduces four player cooperative play as well, which for some may be a really great addition to the series: for me it’s amounted to a painful amount of hours trying to gather up four people on Xbox live to get the sodding achievement for it. The single player campaign will take you somewhere between 10-15 hours depending on difficulty settings and your general skill, though if you intend to find all 57 hidden collectables/COG tags, you’re going to be there for a lot longer. some of them are excruciatingly hard (and I had to look up two of them online). I’ll go into them in more depth in a second, but Horde has now also received an upgrade, and I must say that Horde 2.0 is rapidly becoming an addiction of mine; and Beast mode is an all new mode with similar elements to Horde but you play as variants of the locust army out to kill the humans.
They’re like Gears of War graphics have always been, with a bit more colour than brown. The settings this time around are largely more varied that in the previous games in the series. You get to roam around the underbelly and deck of a COG warship, the harsh streets of hammer of dawn-torn stranded territory, a tropical beach and a large destroyed holiday resort, to name a few. The game’s slightly more vibrant, with the dull greys and browns replaced by…well, often lighter greys and browns, but it’s Gears so you can’t really blame them.
Normally I wouldn’t cover characters in a review but there are a few pointers I want to put out there, and a few things that made me chuckle. The game brings in a couple of characters that the player won’t recognise from the previous games. One of these is Jace, and the other being Sam. However, this is where Epic Games has been incredibly clever, because Jace was actually in Gears of War 2 (heard but not seen) and Sam, well that’s even more subtle. Samantha Byrne, a COG and new member of Delta in Gears of War 3, was introduced in Gears of War: Anvil Gate. That’s the third in a series of four novels based on Gears of War, a brilliant step to promote the canon material of the series and one I respect Epic Games for including.
Another face that the players welcome in the newest instalment is Clayton Carmine, the third and oldest of the Carmine brothers. His armour, laden with the words “Grub Killer”, “Keep your head down” and “Practice reloading” offers a grim yet comical reference to his brothers’ fates, mirrored by the many near-death experiences he has in the course of the game. But the main question is, does he die? There’s a few surprises (provided you’re not up to speed on the novels) with some familiar faces returning.
Horde 2.0 and Beast
Horde 2.0 is a revamped, refuelled and revitalised version of the Gears of War 2 Horde mode. New additions include the ability to build fortifications around various ‘Command Posts’ and the inclusion of ‘boss levels’ every multiple of ten, which could spawn anything from a couple of berserkers to a brumak. Horde mode in Gears of War 3 is a thoroughly intense experience and is punishingly difficult in later levels, with the final level (50, as in Gears 2) being an infuriating dance with death on many occasions.
However, there are few things more satisfying than placing a headshot on a defenceless drone caught in your barbed wire, or the squelch of a bullet leaving a Silverback and entering the bowels of an unfortunate locust. Beast mode is the all new, shiny addition to the Gears series. Instead of playing as your beloved COGs in the quest to quell waves of locusts, you’re turning the tides and playing as one of the variants of locusts instead. Starting with a choice of five (Ticker, Wild Ticker, Wretch, Savage Drone or Butcher) you fight through twelve waves of increasingly higher amounts of humans and ‘hero’ characters (main game NPCs). For everything you make go boom, you get more money to spend on bigger locust to cause even bigger booms. What’s not to love?
The multiplayer in Gears of War 3 was hotly anticipated, with a generally well received beta testing and the promise of a more balanced experience. And it’s been pulled off relatively well for the most part. The maps are generally small, with distinct sections that are easily distinguishable and make the maps easy to learn.
Unlike multiplayer modes in games like Call of Duty, you don’t unlock better weapons for levelling up. This means that players on level 100 have access to the same arsenal as those beginning the game. This makes the game all about your ability. Practice will get you better, and you don’t have to worry about someone coming up with weapons that are far more overpowered (we’ll leave the sawed-off shotgun debate well alone here…yes, I do use it).
What’s more, due to the tweaking that’s been made to the weapons, the new multiplayer is no longer a shotgun free-for-all as Gears 2’s multiplayer became; the rifles are powerful and shouldn’t be overlooked. Ribbons and medals offer a good incentive to play the multiplayer, but Epic Games have really faltered on the key point of not making the ribbons and medals public. To me, this defeats the object of collecting such things for the purpose of ‘bragging rights’ if other players have no way of actually seeing the things you’ve achieved. There’s still hope that this may be patched at a later date, but I’m sure they have far better instalments planned for the DLC.
While I am resting my review on a point of being an avid fan of the Gears of War series, I’ve always had nagging complaints about the game: horribly easy final boss battles, sluggish gameplay in places, and schizophrenic storytelling in others. However, I do say with quite some conviction that I couldn’t think of a better way for them to have wrapped up first Gears of War trilogy. Gears of War 3 is a smoothly executed game that has provided and will go on to provide many hours of brilliant gaming.