Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gears of War 3 review (sorry, no comic)

Ok, so it’s been a month and a half since Gears of War 3 came out. Having skipped over reviewing F.E.A.R. 3 (which I still rather like), I think it’s about time I redeemed myself and gave all (three) of you my opinion.

Gears of War 3 has you playing on Earth’s doppelganger ‘Sera’ as Delta Squad-namely its commanding officer Sgt. Marcus Fenix, the ex-prisoner/war hero protagonist-as they continue their fight against both the genocidal Locust Horde and the emerging Lambent faction. Of course, cooperative play introduces more playable characters, but Marcus is the major focus of the game. Since the sinking of Jacinto-humanity’s last defendible stronghold against the Locust-the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) has collapsed and it’s members have scattered, reduced to bartering and scavenging for supplies. The Locust have fared no better, having been flooded out of their underground home and forced to find survival in the destroyed remnants of Sera’s surface. What further complicates matters is the emergence of a third, far more dangerous faction of mutated Locust-the Lambent. While only revealed briefly in the previous Gears games, the Lambent have now exploded into the Gears story as a full blown threat that is quickly overrunning Sera.

Meanwhile, Marcus Fenix discovers that his Father, Adam Fenix (whom Marcus defied orders to try to save from the Locust attack and was incarcerated before the events of the first game as a result) is still alive and supposedly has a solution to the ever-growing Lambent infestation. Thus begins a trek across Sera to find the location of Adam Fenix and put an end to the war that has plagued Sera for more than 15 years.

Asides from playing in Marcus Fenix’s story, the first act also features a brief change of pace by focusing on Augustus Cole, the ex Thrashball player, wherein he returns to his hometown and reminisces of the life he had before the Locust incursion. Here, Cole shows a maturity rarely glimpsed in previous Gears games, but he nonetheless returns to his high octane and enthusiastic personality for the remainder of the game.

Whilst the story was okay, there were a few too many blemishes that annoyed me about the campaign. Firstly, when ex-Chairman Prescott makes his first appearance, the characters are constantly reminding us of how bad things are for them. Granted, I played that same mission at least 3 times over before I got to Act 2, but it was still tedious and painful to watch. Next, the female characters; of the only two (humans) currently available, Anya Stroud is an utterly bland character and Samantha Byrne likes to remind us every few seconds that she’s a woman. The most interesting woman in the game was the antagonist, Queen Myrrah (who still has not been elaborated on). And finally, the ending. Whilst the last few points are negligible, I can’t help but feel that the game wrapped things up too well. Without giving too much away; most of the story involves the actual journey to find Adam Fenix, then the final handful of levels wrap up the entirety of the Gears story, which felt rather sudden even if the rest of the game was alluding to it.

Even if the story has its problems, everything else about the game more than makes up for it. Campaign can be played and enjoyed solo (even if the friendly A.I. make it rather easy by being able to revive you on anything but Insane), but is all the better playing with friends (up to four players, a first for the Gears campaign) and the inclusion of Arcade mode adds a competitive level if you’re less interested in playing solely for the story. The utterly unique competitive modes in Versus are fun whether playing against bots or Live players, and the inclusion of dedicated servers makes up for the disaster that was Gears 2’s multiplayer component. Horde mode has improved upon its already flawless gameplay by introducing a fortification system with barriers, decoys, sentry turrets and ultimately a Silverback vehicle. Finally, there’s the all new Beast Mode which has up to five players killing human A.I. as various Locust creatures (e.g.: Tickers, Kantus, Corpsers and ultimately the juggernaut Berserkers, who make a welcome return from the first game). It may take a little getting used to, but once you’re up to speed with the time system and earning cash to but more impressive Locust, Beast becomes an enjoyable and challenging game type.

Graphics wise, I once again can’t find any issue. Water looks great in the various beach levels, texture loading is handled by loading and pre-game screens-thus becoming unnoticeable during actual gameplay-and the environments are more varied and colourful than either previous Gears game (take that as a positive or negative as you see fit). Additionally, the sound quality of the game is great (I especially love the new chainsaw revving sound) and the orchestral quality of the in-game soundtrack now relies less on reusing previous tunes (as Gears 2 was more inclined to do).

Finally, the replay value of this game-whether online or off-will keep you playing for months. There’s always some new weapon execution, medal or playable character to unlock across all of Gears 3’s game modes. Mutators, similar to the skulls in Halo, add new twists to gameplay (few of which are an easy task to unlock) and can make the game easier, harder, or just plain ridiculous. Almost every weapon has it’s own unique and gory execution to be unlocked, and you’ll have to learn how to use each weapon accordingly if you’re looking to get the Judge, Jury and Executioner achievement. And of course, the split-screen and/or system link multiplayer gives you a great excuse to bring friends over to play.

The extra five months that Epic Games gave themselves to work on Gears 3 has clearly paid off. Gears 3’s level of polish has produced a game that looks, sounds and plays amazing, even if the story has its flaws. Still, Gears of War 3 is a great game that will keep you busy for a good few weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gears 3 wins 2011’s Shooter of the Year.

The Verdict

Story: 1.0
Gameplay: 2.0
Visuals: 2.0
Sound: 2.0
Replay Value: 2.0

Final Score: 9.0/10

EDIT: I recently lost all of my save files for Gears of War 3 due to an error on my part involving a USB and the changing of storage devices (I was level 37 and everything!), so now I have to work my way back up again. If you play with a profile stored on a removable storage device, be wary.


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