Gears of War is to the Xbox 360 what Halo was to the original Xbox. It’s the centerpiece, the showcase of Microsoft’s console. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost five years since we first wielded a Lancer and battled the Locust alongside Delta Squad, and even harder to believe the sci-fi saga is coming to an end. Like an athlete in his prime, there’s something to be said about going out on top. And believe you me, Gears of War 3 goes out on top.
Gears of War 3 takes place two years after the sinking of Jacinto, the last major city on the planet Sera. Marcus, Dom, Anya and other former COG members have spent the past several months living their lives in what peace they can aboard the CNV Sovereign, a Raven’s Nest Class carrier. Disharmony soon breaks out when the disgraced Chairman Presscott boards the barge and reveals that Marcus’ father, Adam Fenix, is not only still alive but has hatched a device that he believes will rid the planet of the Locust and Lambent once and for all. Delta Squad soon sets out.
A little history lesson, if you’ll bear with me for a moment. Gears of War 3 was originally scheduled for release in April of this year, but the game was delayed and eventually rescheduled for a September release. Many believe the delay was due to Microsoft’s need for a major holiday release, something they wouldn’t have had if Gears of War 3 released in the spring. Whether there’s any truth to that story is irrelevant, what matters is Epic Games was afforded an additional five months of development time. Epic used those five months to run a thorough multiplayer beta test and polish various elements of the game. And polish they did, to a fine sheen.
Although the third-person, cover-based shooter mechanics remain the same, Epic Games has made several key additions to the single player campaign. With the imulsion affecting more and more Locust (and humans, too), a steady stream of new enemy types is introduced as the campaign progresses; a clever bit of storytelling if you ask me. It’s a vital component to keeping things fresh; an issue the Halo franchise struggled with towards the end of its trilogy, in my opinion. In addition, the environments are noticeably bigger, increasing the amount of strategy in firefights as you look for ways to suppress and flank enemies. The reason for the larger environments is simple, Gears of War 3 features 4-player co-op. You heard correct, you can play through the entire single-player campaign with up for three of your friends.
The single-player campaign in Gears of War 3 is one of the best I’ve played all year. The tempo is perfect, the mission types are incredibly varied, and ultimately it presents a great challenge. There are, however, a couple of issues I wanted to bring up. A handful of new characters are introduced in Gears of War 3, but I don’t feel like any of them get their proper due. Samantha Bryne, for example, joins Delta Squad through most of the single player campaign, but she’s little more than the butt of several one-liners. Perhaps the most interesting new character is Aaron Griffin, voiced by Ice T. Griffin is the leader of the Stranded in the city of Char. Griffin gets so little screen time that I was unable to come to a conclusion as to whether he was a hero or villain.
Aside from some poor character development, there’s a pseudo dream sequence in which Augustus Cole relives his glory days as “The Cole Train” while visiting the stadium where he used to play to ball. To describe this brief action sequence as strange would be an understatement. Of course, when the worst part of the campaign is a brief dream sequence and characters I wished I got to know a little better, you’re doing a pretty damn good job.
Where Gears of War 3 has taken its biggest leap is multiplayer. The series’ trademark 5-on-5 competitive multiplayer remains in tact, with such game modes as Capture the Leader, Team Deathmatch, Warzone, Execution, King of the Hill and Wingman. The Horde co-operative mode also returns, but this time in the form of Horde 2.0. As you progress through the usual waves of enemies, you’ll earn cash for kills and assists, money that can be spent to purchase better weapons or to improve your command post with turrets, decoys (a cardboard cut-out of Cole), barricades and the new Silverback mechanical suit that’s introduced in the single-player campaign. In addition, every tenth wave features a boss character that you have to defeat.
New to the multiplayer lineup is a co-operative mode called Beast, which is essentially a role reversal of Horde. In Beast mode, players take control of various Locust creatures and are tasked with killing all of the humans manning a command post within a certain time frame. Just like Horde mode, players earn small amounts of money that they can spend to spawn or unlock stronger enemy types, and heroes from the Gears of War stable of characters eventually come out to play as well. There are only 12 rounds and you can’t take control of Lambent creatures (future DLC perhaps?), but there’s no denying that Beast mode is a welcome addition that extends multiplayer even that much more.
The Gears of War franchise has always looked great, but Gears of War 3 is arguably the best-looking Xbox 360 game to date. Marcus and the rest of Delta Squad have never looked so buff, quite literally, and the set pieces, as usual, are fantastic. Gears of War 3 takes place during the summer season on Sera so the environments are noticeably brighter this time around. It’s a nice change of pace from the previous two games, which were considerably darker. Equal to the task is the sound design. Part of the reason characters like Marcus, Dom and Cole have become so popular is the voice acting, and Gears of War 3 is no exception. The aforementioned Ice T makes Griffin’s brief appearance in the game that much more memorable. Everything from the sound effects to the sweeping soundtrack is simply top notch.
There are a lot of things I haven’t even touched on, like the persistent experience points system, the option to play through the single-player campaign in Arcade mode, the ability to tag enemies so computer-controlled allies will concentrate their fire on them, or the fact that Gears of War 3 uses dedicated servers for multiplayer matches (no more talk about hosts having the upper hand), but let's just get to the bottom line.
Gears of War 3 is without a doubt the best installment in the Gears of War franchise. The single-player campaign is near-flawlessly executed and the multiplayer suite is as robust and impressive as any game on the market. Gears of War 3 is a AAA blockbuster is every sense of the word. It’s a game no self-respecting fan should be without. If this indeed the swan song for Marcus Fenix and the rest of Delta Squad, it’s a ballad for the ages.