Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
It could be argued that Gears of War has had the biggest influence on the current generation of consoles. After all, it popularized the cover-shooter template, prompting a surge of copycats and followups. It was the first game to showcase the visual merits of the now ubiquitous Unreal Engine 3. And it's Horde mode, while not original conceptually, has no doubt been retrofitted into countless titles since.
So, as you can imagine, Gears of War 3 has quite the burden on its improbably muscular shoulders. Not only must it continue in the fine tradition of its predecessors, but it must also bring the convoluted story to an epic close. Having been afforded ample time by a mid-year delay to finally realize their vision without compromise, can Epic send the trilogy out on a high note, or will it simply fall flat?
Gears 3 picks up two years on from the sinking of Jacinto. Marcus, haunted by visions of his dead father, now patrols the CNV Sovereign, the former Coalition of Ordered Government's flagship carrier. Sera is in dire straits, with the Lambent infestation all but claiming what the Gears once called home, hence their mobile base of operations out at sea. But when Chairman Prescott returns, bringing evidence of Marcus' father, Adam, alive but not very well in Locust captivity, Fenix resolves to find his father and retrieve the solution to the Lambent problem.
By now, you should know what to expect from Gears of War. It's big, its brash and its larger than life. The cast waddle around with biceps carved from redwood trunks, uttering one-liners that range from mildly amusing to teeth-clenching cringe. To Gears 3's credit, its storytelling is by far the most confident and assured of the three games, Epic now totally in control of its cast and their direction. Marcus is determined and resolved, Dom shattered and broken, Cole a force of energetic nature, and Baird as wise-cracking and sardonic as ever.
The campaign is easily the series' best, threading the narrative across land, sea and air. While you'll often find yourself exploring the grey and decrepit cities UE3 is so adept at rendering, you'll also wander across Sera's sun-baked deserts, verdant forests and jungles and a few surprises we won't spoil. It truly is a spectacular game to behold, even if the every-present 'jaggies' and frequent plunges in frame-rate threaten to sully what is otherwise one of the best-looking games this generation.
Delicious Bowls Of Combat
Gears of War 3 feels so good. That's an awful summation of Epic's work, but succinct in its intent. The controls, the mechanics, even the ancillary details such as blood splatter to indicate successful shots, all hit the right notes. You'll spend most of the game rocking the Lancer and Gnasher we're all so fond of, but new weapons like the Retro Lancer and Digger provide additional delights. The first time you skewer a Locust on the end of the Retro's vicious bayonet is incredibly satisfying.
Whereas Gears 2 often felt like you were progressing forward simply to activate set-pieces, Epic handles the action and pacing in the third game with almost pitch-perfect aplomb. Don't fret, epic set-pieces still happen - in an early chapter, you'll vanquish two of the Locust biggest beasts within hours of each other - but Epic prefers to save such moments for when they're most effective, book-ending extended passages of gameplay with very little fluff in-between.
And no scenario demonstrates Epic's work better than their patented 'combat bowls'. Staged in wide open, often circular environments where you must use your cunning and mobility to survive waves of Locust or Lambent forces, they showcase Epic's spectacular control of pacing and also their confidence in you, the player. On Hardcore and above, they're a considerable challenge. We suggest you bring a friend or three. And speaking of co-op, it's been upgraded to four players in the campaign, with no sign of compromise or cutbacks. It's yet another amazing feature in such an already well-stocked experience.
It's A Beast
When you've quite finished picking your jaws up off the floor at the end of Gears 3's campaign, you'll notice three other modes at the main menu. Versus, Horde and Beast. The first is the series' multiplayer, which enjoyed a successful public beta in April. The second is the very popular wave-based survival mode, and the third turns the proverbial table and to put you in control of the Locust forces to slaughter the CoG.
Each mode has its own merits, but it's Versus and Horde where you'll have spend the majority of your time. The multiplayer is simply fantastic, with a range of modes and maps on offer. Gears 2 was notorious for long matchmaking times at launch, but Epic has been swift to address the issue in the third game, where its lightning fast. Horde has been upgraded, too, and might soon challenge the likes of Football Manager and Call of Duty for sheer life-threatening addiction levels.
Beast, on the other hand, comes across as more of a novelty and less a fully-featured mode. While it's great fun to steer a Ticker across the map or ride a Blood Mount, the objective - kill the human forces within each wave to upgrade your points and purchase higher-ranking Locust beasts - is a little less compelling, and the CoG AI is nowhere near as fun or varied as fighting the Locust themselves. It's inclusion feels a tad forced, almost like a prototype Epic was fond of and decided to throw into the mix rather than successfully implement.
- The series' best story and campaign to date
- Multiplayer is finely-tuned perfection
- It's absolutely stunning to look at...
- ... But proves UE3 is on its last legs
- While improved, the writing is still rather bad
- Beast mode feels unfinished
The Short Version: Gears of War 3 is arguably the best title on the Xbox 360. It's campaign is beautiful and epic, clocking in at a lengthy 12-15 hours; the multiplayer is honed and polished to a nigh-perfect sheen; Horde 2.0 is stunningly addictive, and even Beast is worth a game or two with friends. It's the culmination of Epic's five year stint in Sera, and the perfect end to one of the best trilogies this generation.