Do you remember when third person shooters sucked? I do. It wasn’t that long ago that making a third person shooter meant making a mediocre game. Two games really changed the impression of third person shooters on the market: Resident Evil 4, and of course, Gears of War. It’s not an exaggeration to say the cover shooter mechanics of Gears of War have both revolutionized and revitalized the third person shooter genre. Now the trilogy is ending, and it’s ending with a bang worthy of its legacy.
The story picks up 18 months after the end of Gears of War 2, in which the city of Jacinto was sunk. The human race is in dire straits after losing their last major stronghold. The COG scattered and disbanded after being abandoned by Chairman Prescott, and Delta squad is on a naval ship, escorting surviving humans. Marcus soon learns his father is still alive, and may have invented something that can save the entire human race. Fenix and the rest of Delta squad set off to find and rescue him.
While the story isn’t particularly deep, it’s not meant to be. The pacing is good and the plot moves fast, tying together most of the loose ends of the series. All your favorite characters return from the previous games, and in all their over-the-top glory. The tone of this entry, however, is decidedly darker than previous games. The misery of the surviving humans is really addressed, and the reality of the effects of the Hammer of Dawn really hits hard. The game tries hard to tug at the heart strings, and succeeds most of the time. It’s not perfect; it can occasionally try a little too hard, and feels cheesy and clichéd at times. It also isn’t a particularly unique narrative in any way.
If you’ve played past Gears games, you know what you’re getting into here. Gears of War 3 continues the excellent cover shooting gameplay of previous entries. Cover controls are tight and smooth, allowing you to easily attach to and detach from cover with ease. The occasional hiccup in cover use occurs, but generally it functions well. The same variety of weapons returns along with some newcomers. These include the Sawed-Off Shotgun, which does ridiculous close range damage, and the Retro Lancer, which has great damage but short range and tons of kickback. The Retro Lancer also comes with a brutal new melee attack, in which you charge your enemy full speed then impale them on the bayonet of the weapon.
The campaign isn’t limited to simple firefights. There are a few sequences in which you control mounted guns and mechs, as well as a number of tension building quiet moments. There’s almost a survival horror aspect to portions of this game, especially involving a new enemy type which I will not disclose. All of it goes a long way in making the campaign interesting and fun. In addition, the campaign is now playable in four player online co-op for the first time. It’s genuinely the most impressive campaign in the series in scope and variety.
Of course you may come for the singleplayer, but you stay for the multiplayer, and Gears of War 3 has plenty of content to keep you around. All the game modes have received a number of changes and improvements, and brand new modes have been added. Team Deathmatch gives each team a “pool” of twenty lives. When those lives run out, the other team loses. The trick is that once you’re down to fewer lives than you have number of team members, those team members can no longer respawn. It adds some extra depth to the game, and forces players to be a little more economical with their lives. Capture the Leader combines the features of Guardian and Submission. You have to capture an enemy commander and hold him captive for 30 seconds as he resists and tries to escape. King of the Hill is much like it is in any shooter, and similar to Annex in previous Gears titles. Warzone, Execution, and Wingman all return from previous entries in the series.
Ten maps are available for play across the game’s multitude of game modes, and they offer a solid variety of art styles and balanced tactical fields. Each map is the right size for the player count, and it keeps the action flowing fast; you never have to hunt down enemies. Call of Duty-style leveling and unlockables are present, though these are aesthetic bonuses, rather than ones which can unbalance gameplay. There are also dozens of challenges to keep you interested outside of just the achievements. In private matches you can adjust all sorts of settings including rounds to win, respawns allotted, number of bots (woo bots!), and bleed-out time. It's truly one of the most full-featured competitive multiplayer shooters on the market. To top it all off, it's using dedicated servers, providing an incredibly stable and multiplayer environment with fast matchmaking.
These competitive features are all well and good, but Gears of War 3 also refines the wave enemy cooperative mode that it made mainstream: Horde Mode. Horde Mode 2.0, as Epic dubbed it, now lets you set up and defend a Command Post. Cash earned from kills can be spent to build defenses, including turrets, fences, decoys, and even the heavily armed silverback mech for you to pilot in defense. Boss monsters are also now included in horde mode, and one appears every tenth wave.
In addition to the revamped Horde Mode, a new Locust version of Horde Mode has been created called Beast Mode. Instead of playing as a fully armed and developed character, you play as the grunts of the Locust race. You're originally limited to purchasing just the weaker creatures, but as you advance through the mode, gathering kills, you unlock more powerful Locusts for purchase. The style and strategy is completely different from the standard Horde Mode, and it's a blast to play and a great addition that will steal hours of your life.
In 2006, Gears of War set new graphical standards for console games in the entire industry. In 2011, the engine still holds up beautifully, but does show its age some. Character models are still great, and some of the new features recently added to the Unreal Engine like beams of light make an appearance. On the other hand, textures look pretty simple and dull upon close inspection, but much of this is made up for by great artwork. Gears of War 3 offers more visual variety than any other entry in the series, ranging from dark desolate gray and brown cities to vibrant and lush tropical environments. The audio is good as well. While the soundtrack won’t stick with you like Halo, it’s appropriate and intense. Voice acting is good in general, though a few lines come across strained and overly cliché.
There are few shooters that even come close to the value of Gears of War 3. The campaign took me a solid twelve hours on Normal, and can be completed entirely in two, three, or four player co-op online and two player co-op offline. Branching decisions split up you and your co-op buddies during gameplay, allowing you to perform interesting and enjoyable support roles for one-another, and adding some replayability as you change decisions in the future. Multiplayer is robust and full-featured, offering great competitive options and variety as well as the incredibly addictive Horde and Beast Modes. Custom matches have a huge range of features, including bots for those who want to play with just a few friends and no random strangers. The one real knock to the game’s value is that it only has ten maps across all modes. This isn’t the worst ever seen in an FPS by any means, but at least a few more maps would have been nice.
I’m not ashamed to say that I have not been the biggest fan of the Gears franchise in the past. I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t draw me in as much as some other shooter franchises did. I found the pacing too slow for my taste, and the game was too dependent on heavy cover usage. Gears of War 3 has absolutely won me over. Not only did I enjoy the lengthy and varied singleplayer campaign, but the multiplayer has sucked me in and I’m here to stay. It’s not a perfect game, but it is an incredible accomplishment, and full of fun for almost any action game fan. Gears of War revolutionized the third person shooter, and Gears of War 3 is everything a conclusion to such a powerful trilogy could ask for.