Review: Gears of War 3

Epic’s Gears of War 3 kicks off “bro” shooter season in a strong way. The core mechanics have not changed very much since the original 2006 release, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. While it’s not a revolutionary title by any means, it is an unequivocal improvement to the formula. I personally enjoyed my time through the game, and I feel that there’s enough to give the game a shot. But if you’re tired of the genre, then Gears of War 3 is not going to convince you to give it another try.

The cover feels familiar...

Back in 2006, Gears of War felt like a fairly unique spin on a shooting game. It certainly borrowed the camera mechanics from games like Resident Evil 4, but for my money it featured what still reigns as the best cover system around. By the time the second Gears of War was released, I had moved on to other things (I might’ve been playing World of Warcraft again), and to this day I haven’t played it. So while I can’t really comment on how the game has changed since the second one, I certainly have noticed differences from the first.

The main thing that Gears of War 3 really tries to push during the single player campaign is scenarios where you can’t just stay in cover the whole time. In the first Gears, with the exception of the boss fights and those crawler enemies, you spent most of the time popping in and out of cover and just taking out enemies slowly but surely. That strategy even worked on the hardest difficulty setting. In this third rodeo, however, there are more situations where you get into fights with enemies flanking you from multiple directions, and staying in cover is guaranteed to kill you. These new scenarios really don’t present themselves until the second half of the game, however. In the first half I felt like I was going through the same exact strategies as I utilized in the first Gears, but later on the dynamics of the game started to change.

Furthermore, there’s a new type of enemy that actually shoots an explosive which burrows into the ground and explodes on the other side of the cover. So in that situation, you have to be ready to move or face massive damage. But the stick isn’t the only way they train you to get out of cover. There’s a carrot too, because certain extremely strong weapons require you to more or less be out of cover to use effectively. So if you want to use those weapons, you’re going to want to get yourself out of cover.

This boss fight was a bit of a challenge.

The other big change in the gameplay of Gears of War 3 is that there are many more boss fights than in the original. I feel like this is another strong Japanese influence, since games like Resident Evil 4 certainly are very liberal with the amount of boss fights included. I wouldn’t say many of these fights are that memorable, however. It’s been a few weeks since I finished the game, and I only can really recall one or two of the main boss fights.

While the story isn’t terrible, it’s also not going to win any awards for writing. I feel like the mythology of the universe was unnecessarily complicated by the addition of the Lambent (which apparently showed up in Gears of War 2). I preferred when it was just the humans vs. the Locust, but the Lambent provide a third prong for the story. All the popular characters from the original also return, including Marcus, Dom, Baird, Cole, and Carmine. The story does manage to pack a few poignant moments (which I won’t spoil in this review), which was nice to see in a genre that usually is focused on Michael Bay-style explosions.

Outside of just the design and story of the single player levels, there have been quite a few improvements to the game as a whole. The original Gears of War was the first major console game of the current generation to really do online co-op the right way. Since then there have been a lot of other games which have rolled out this feature. It’s not surprising, then, that Gears of War 3 does it justice with 4-player co-op in this iteration. Like in the previous games, there are certain situations where the team splits up, and you have to work in smaller groups. But overall most of the levels allow your group of 4 to roam together as a team.

I don't really like the concept behind the Lambent.

The design of the multiplayer in Gears of War 3 has taken a lot of cues from games like Halo 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. There’s a party system, with up to 10 members in a party, which seems to be a required staple in the big shooter titles. You gain experience as you progress to the game, but like Halo and unlike Call of Duty, there are no perks to improve your character. Your level simply unlocks prestige items like new character models, which I think is a good thing. I dislike the design where you put an inexperienced player at an even further disadvantage than they already are. Then like in Halo 3, there are all sorts of medals you can earn for doing things like getting a kill streak.

The game also features many of the multiplayer game types you expect to see. There’s a team deathmatch, but rather than the win condition being simply based on the number of kills, there’s a limited number of respawns for your team. So once your respawns are exhausted, once you die you’re out. And once your whole team is dead, it’s game over. I actually haven’t seen this approach in a game before, though I’m certain it’s not a new one. I do think I prefer this method of scoring team deathmatch to the standard one.

One thing I found somewhat odd is that the multiplayer actually supports bots to fill out teams. Normally I would be okay with this, but in at least one game I was on a team with 4 other bots. We were matched up against a team of 5 humans (who probably were in a party), and suffice it to say my team wasn’t doing very well. I don’t mind bots if it’s to fill out one spot in the roster, but playing with a team of bots against a team of humans isn’t very riveting gameplay.

Curb stomping with a mech puts a new spin on multiplayer.

Then there’s all sorts of modes such as king of the hill, a VIP equivalent, and a couple of others. One thing I do wish they would have also taken from Halo 3 is the idea of a standard playlist that mixes in lots of game types in one. As it is, it appears that you can only queue for one game type, which has two drawbacks. First of all, it means there’s far more players playing team death match in comparison to other modes, and second of all it becomes repetitive. I prefer the approach in Halo 3 where they mix in different rules and game types, just to keep it a bit fresher.

Finally, for those of you who hate competitive multiplayer, there are a couple of entertaining co-op multiplayer modes. The first is the increasingly common “Horde” survival mode where you work together as a team and have to hold off waves Locust/Lambent enemies. As you progress through Horde mode, you unlock increasingly powerful emplacements and weaponry to hold off the enemies. The second variety of non-story co-op is “Beast” mode, where the roles are reversed from Horde mode. In Beast mode, you play as the enemies, and have to kill the NPC-controlled humans. This was a good diversion, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Horde mode.

Overall, there’s a lot of value in the Gears of War 3 package. However, whether or not you will really enjoy it comes down to how tired of the genre you are. If you still feel like you want to play a cover-based 3rd person shooter, then Gears of War 3 is probably the best game out there. But with the fall being packed with so many other titles as it usually is, and other major “bro” shooters on the horizon, it certainly doesn’t stand out as a can’t-miss game. What you get is an enjoyable game, but nothing that will blow you away.

VERDICT: HAPPY CANARY

Gears of War 3 is available now on Xbox 360. Reviews generally appear every Friday on Game Canary. The Game Canary review system is detailed here.

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4 Comments to “Review: Gears of War 3”

  1. Gregory 24 October 2011 at 12:05 am #

    Nice bullshots Epic.

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