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XBOX 360 REVIEW — Gears of War 3

Posted September 26th 2011 by Anthony DiPalma.

In 2006 the world was introduced to Gears of War, a game that changed the way many shooters are played today. Seamlessly blending third person duck-and-cover mechanics with the incredible power of the Unreal Engine, Gears of War quickly became a fan favorite for 360 owners. Two years later, Epic Games released Gears of War 2, which took everything the critics loved about its predecessor and expanded on it. Since then, the series has grown and extended its reach into other media such as novels, comic books, and even a board game. Last week, Gears of War 3 was released to the public. Despite having a darker tone in the story, an upgraded graphics engine, and many changes to the critically-acclaimed multiplayer, does the final installment in the Gears of War trilogy end with a bang or a whimper?

Gears of War has never been about flowers and sunshine. The previous games focused on going to war with the Locust, an underground species bent on the total destruction of mankind. Though the storyline is essentially easy to grasp, there were still many unanswered questions that plagued players at the end of Gears of War 2. What are the Lambent and why are the trying to destroy the Locust and humans? Who exactly is Adam Fenix and what was his role in the emergence of the Locust? Where is Queen Myrrah? Those who are new to the series will find that Gears 3 serves as a great entry point and will not be left out in the cold. Before firing up the campaign, players have the option of watching a short film called "Previously in Gears" which summarizes the events prior to Gears of War 3.

Epic does a great job setting the stage for what serves as the darkest chapter in the trilogy. The central theme in Gears 3 is not to fight a war, but rather to survive the aftermath. Death and destruction sweep across the barren remains of a world that once held great cities, and the Locust are now adapting to their new world above ground while fighting off the Lambent—a new species that threatens to wipe out all life on the planet. Epic executes this new atmosphere brilliantly to the point where even the characters have grown weary of living and fighting just to see another day. Marcus has nightmares about his missing father, Dom is still haunted by the horrific chain of events that lead to his wife's death, and Cole faces a mid-life crisis and begins to realize that being a celebrity in the past doesn't count for much in this bleak future.

While Gears of War 3 tells the stories of the original members of Delta Squad, new members join the COG army to take up arms as well. New to the series is Jace, a young recruit who is eager to prove his worth, and Sam, a woman that played a fairly big part in the novels and comic books. These fresh faces are certainly a warm welcome to the series, but you'll also reunite with some old friends as well. Out of the Control Room and onto the battlefield, players can also assume the role of Anya, who has a much bigger role this time around.

Compared to its predecessors, Gears 3 is almost an entirely different atmosphere in and of itself. Despite this, the same hysterical dialogue from the previous games comes in to play. The cheesy and corny lines that made players chuckle and grin during intense firefights are back and continue to remind us that we're playing a game where the main characters chainsaw the living hell out of mutated freaks. Still, there are many points throughout the campaign where you'll come to find that the writing and storytelling have improved immensely in comparison to the last two installments. The characters now have depth and emotions and, without giving too much away, there is a scene towards the middle of the game that shows just how far Epic has come in delivering an experience that is both thrilling and harrowing.

Along with an enhanced story, Gears 3 also looks incredible. The upgraded Unreal engine is used to the fullest here, and it's pretty clear that serious attention to detail was considered in just about every area of the game. The level designs boast vibrant colors and the environments stand out as a testament to the true power of Unreal technology. This is one seriously good looking game and it is one of the most polished I've played recently.

The level of detail that went into the overall look of the game is also reflected in the gameplay. New weapons are thrown into the mix and the 15–20 hour campaign allows players to use just about everything from mounted turrets to old-fashioned bayonets. Targeting has improved greatly, and players can now mark enemies for other players to shoot at. The new improvements in Gears 3 add an even greater sense of teamwork than in the Gears games before it. Players can now jump over barriers and mantle-kick opponents in the face, charge into an enemy with a bayonet, and even take out multiple targets with one blast of the sawed-off shotgun.

These additions are used in multiple game types. The new Horde mode allows players to cooperatively fight wave after wave of Locust and Lambent while strategically fortifying barriers and defenses. This new tower defense style adds serious depth to what was once a fun mode that got stale and repetitive quickly. Also there is the new Horde: Randomized boss battles. These are exciting (and incredibly challenging) ways of changing up the flow of gameplay and keeping players on their toes.

New to Gears of War is Beast Mode, a game type that lets players take on the role of the Locust as they attempt to take down 12 waves of COG soldiers. While being able to run around as an explosive ticker and flail a mace around as a Mauler is a blast at first, I really wish Epic had added as much detail to Beast Mode as they did with Horde. There is so much potential there and I really wish the developers took advantage of this.

The competitive multiplayer is where the real meat in Gears of War 3 lies, however. Literally every weapon seen in the campaign is available for use against friends and enemies online. New weapons like the Digger, a gun that fires a grenade underground and bursts up in an explosion on an opponent in cover, add a sense of urgency and finesse to the battlefield. While Gears of War 2 was mostly played as a "stop and pop" shooter that had players rely on bouncing off walls with shotguns, Gears of War 3 added some improvements for all types of players. Those who prefer to give suppressing fire from far away will be at home with the Lancer and Hammerburst, the latter which also allows players to use first-person iron sights. Close quarters fanatics will love the Gnasher and sawed-off shotguns. Power weapons like the Hammer of Dawn, Mulcher, mortar, and flamethrower make a triumphant return. In addition, Gears 3 introduces the One-Shot, a powerful sniper rifle that instantly disintegrates enemies with a direct hit.

With new weapons comes new executions. There are 24 different ways of executing opponents, each of them more hysterical than the last. Once the player has gotten a certain number of kills with a specific weapon, the execution is unlocked and can be used in ranked matches. A personal favorite of mine is the flamethrower execution—the downed enemy gets a belly full of fire and belches out smoke and blood in such an exaggerated fashion that it's hard not to laugh, even when it's happening to you.

My only complaint with the multiplayer is that there are times when the player doesn't have direct control over what is happening. Years ago, fans complained that smoke grenades should not stun players and Epic removed that from Gears of War 2. Yet in Gears 3, the smoke grenades prevent players from shooting. Ink grenades also stop players in their tracks and for a precious few seconds they aren't even allowed to move. Mantle-kicking is fun in the campaign, but I feel like it's way too overpowered online. These are small problems that can easily be remedied, but they're problems nonetheless.

OVERALL:

The campaign is worth the price of admission alone, but fans will be eager to spend countless nights shooting their friends' heads off and ripping limps apart. While there are changes to the classic formula that fans know and love, this is still a Gears of War game. Not too much has truly been changed, and while there aren't as many moments like fighting RAAM or riding a Brumak, this is still one of the most memorable games I've played recently. For a game that prides itself on being badass and (surprisingly) emotional, Gears of War 3 serves as the final chapter that ties up all loose ends in the trilogy. The epic finale gives a brilliant send-off to Marcus and his crew, but that doesn't mean it has to be the last time we see them. After all, I'll be playing well through the holidays.

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Tags: badass, review, chainsaw, lancer, gears of war, gears of war 3

Posted in: Reviews, Gaming

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