Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gears of War 3 review

So finally, with the release of Gears of War 3, the story of Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad comes to a close.  The first part of the trilogy was released in the early days of the 360, and although 3rd person cover based shooters had been seen before, they were never as polished as this.  The first Gears also brought some other new ideas to the table, such as the addictive Active Reload mechanic, which rewards good timing with extra damage. It was a great game at the time but in light of what has come along since I would only give it a 7 out of 10 if reviewing it today.  Then a few years later the middle chapter in the story was released, which improved the graphics, added a whole load of extra monster types to keep things fresh, and most notably added the excellent Horde mode into the mix.  It was a very good sequel and today would still be worthy of at least an 8 out of 10.  Is the closing part of the trilogy another step forward? Let's break it down...

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Epic Games
Expect to pay: £40 (for the standard edition), silly money (for the other editions)

Graphics: 9 out of 10
The first two games in the Gears of War saga have had plenty of criticism for their mostly brown and red colour palette, and for that fact that a lot of the game is spent in dark areas underground.  In start contrast to this, Gears of War 3 takes place in a variety of environments, that are not only outdoors for a good chunk of the time but also extremely colourful.  From the decks of a ship, to a beach, underneath the waves of a clear blue sea, and inside a luxury hotel on a tropical island, each act of this game shakes things up and really helps to keep things interesting.  Added to this are a huge number of new baddies to pit yourself against, both from the locust horde and the lambent, which have been seen in previous games but are now running wild and threatening the existence of the whole of planet Sera.  I don't want to spoil the many surprises so I'll just mention one encounter that features an old "friend" but in a new way.  The corpser that you may remember facing off against during the first game in the series makes a return, but this time she has brought her entire family.  Tiny corpsers and adolescent versions of the spider like beast will come to their mothers aid in an exciting boss battle, that comes not at the end of an act, but in the middle.  There are plenty of similar situations throughout the game but this was my favourite.

Another common criticism of the Gears trilogy is the look of the characters: namely that they all look like they're jacked up on steroids.  While they are still indeed some chunky looking a-holes, I think they have actually toned this down a little bit this time around as Cole Train in particular doesn't look quite as ridiculous as he has previously.

Sound and Music: 9 out of 10
John DiMaggio, Carlos Ferro and company are back as you would hope and in fine form for this third fantastic fracas.  Most of the major characters: Marcus, Dom, Cole Train, Baird and Anja get their moment in the spotlight as the story progresses and their voice actors do a fine job of it. They are ably supported by some familiar voice talent: Jennifer Hale, Dwight Schultz and Yuri Lowenthal all play at least one character - there's a good chance you will know them when you hear them.

The soundtrack is also up to the par of the previous games in the trilogy, with plenty of new music backed up by new renditions of themes that were composed for the other two games. You can't help but feel the excitement well up in the final act when some the recognisable them kicks in - it signals that the end is coming and it is time to kick the queens ass once and for all.

Game Mechanics: 9 out of 10
Everything that was present in the previous games is back again - the way you can easy snap into and out of cover, the active reload mechanic, the many weapons including the lancer with its chainsaw bayonet, the explosive torque bow and the supremely satisfying longshot sniper rifle.  Epic Games have retained all that was good about the previous entries in the trilogy and expanded upon them.  So now we have new weapons such as the retro lancer which packs more raw power that its more modern equivalent but suffers from terrible recall, and the deadly One Shot which can literally obliterate anything in a single well aimed shot.

On top of this, they have added a levelling mechanic that is prevalent across all game modes, including single player, and a wealth of ribbons, medals, characters and collectibles to find or unlock.  There is plenty of game here to keep the average player entertained for quite some time.  Horde mode makes a welcome return but it has had tower defence elements added to shake things up - now you get 30 seconds between rounds to buy defences including barricades, turrets and decoys.  You will need them too because your opponents are more vicious than ever, and every 10th round is now a boss wave that could see you going up against a couple of Brumaks for example, or perhaps three very angry lambent berserkers!

That is not all though, because a new mode has been added to Gears 3: the Beast mode.  It turns the tables on Horde and sees you playing the part of the locus.  At first you a limited to low level fodder such as tickers and grunts, but as you earn experience you will unlocked the ability to play as tougher and tougher creatures like a Theron Guard or a the Kantus.  Things are topped off by a fun range of competitive multiplayer modes including old favourites like Execution, and a co-op campaign that has been expanded from two players to four. My only complaint is that I would have like more consideration to have been made for lone wolves such as myself to be able to play Horde with the assistance of three bots.  I don't think this would have been too hard to implement: the Unreal Tournament series had bot matches years ago.

Innovation and Cleverness: 7 out of 10
Though this is the third part of a trilogy and therefore quite iterative in its nature, Gears of War 3 still contains plenty of clever touches.  The single player stages are excellently designed and full of set piece moments that put most big budget actions films to shame.  The controls and the weapons feel right and are very satisfying, and the whole game just exudes polish.

Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10
There is a LOT of stuff to keep Gearheads occupied in this game: single player over 4 different difficulties, co-op for up to four players, a special arcade version of the campaign, an expanded Horde mode, the brand new Beast mode, multiple competitive multiplayer modes, 100 levels of character advancement, dozens of ribbons, medals and achievements, 15 COG tags to find and even more stuff to collect.  Phew! That sounds like plenty to be going on with for the time being if you ask me.

Overall: 9 out of 10
Gears of War 3 is a very fitting swansong for Delta Squad, but it is not the end of the franchise as a whole. For starters we've been promised campaign DLC that introduces a new cast of characters and paves the way for the next Gears of War title. My guess is that will be a Halo Reach style prequel set in or around the Pendulum Wars that occurred before Emergence Day - humans fighting amongst themselves over the emulsion fuel.  I look forward to it and now, having finished the Gears 3 campaign for the first time, am about to settle into several months worth of levelling up over countless Horde, Beast, and competitive matches. See you online!

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