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Review: Gears of War 3
by Andrew Whipple III

Gears of War 3
Epic Games
Microsoft Studios
Xbox 360
Reviewed on
Xbox 360
Third-person shooter
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Depending on who you are, Gears of War 3's release may feel either as exciting as a roller-coaster, or as tired as Rip Van Winkle.

Whilst Gears still retains the gritty, post-apocalyptic shooter attributes many have grown to love (or hate), Gears 3 manages to overcome its previous obstructions with surprising tenacity. Gears 3 contains nearly every element that has brought the series fame thus far: cover-mongering, macho one-liners, bizarre story elements and an unyielding multiplayer component. However, the way they come together is enjoyable nonetheless, providing satisfying closure for both the game and the Gears trilogy as a whole.

Nearly a year and a half after the events of the previous game, Gears 3 opens with Marcus and company roaming the open seas. Now that the Lambent have established themselves as a true threat to both humanity and the Locust, Marcus and crew are trying desperately to simply survive. However, Marcus soon receives notice that his father is alive, and could hold the key to ending the perpetual conflict of planet Sera, once and for all.

The narrative behind the Gears of War saga is one of conflict, drawing sharp contrast from gamers of all suits, and it's easy to see why. Unless you've played all the games in their entirety, you're going to have a hard time figuring out what's going on. The Lambent, whilst having a presence in the second title, aren't formally introduced until this game, and, to be honest, it's somewhat of a contrived entry. When the first Gears game was released back in 2006, it was all about Emergence Day, the Locust, and their undying animosity towards the human race. Gears 2 made everything much more convoluted with the introduction of the Locust/Lambent civil war, and the hint that the Locust might actually be mutated humans. Both games seemed indecisive in the direction they wanted to go, but thankfully, Gears 3 touches on both of its predecessors by actually explaining some of these queries.

This narrative clarity is one of the greatest strengths of Gears 3, giving answers without some improvised workaround. There still are questions, mind you, but instead of leaving the mysteries of the Locust and even some of the human characters ambiguous, Gears 3 offers enough explanation and exposition to keep you informed, ending with a mostly satisfying conclusion. I say 'mostly' because the story has really lost control, and you can thank the writers of the second game for that. Not everyone will agree, but there was a lot of missed opportunity to expand upon the enigmatic Locust, and it's disappointing that the apparent 'best idea' was a civil war. At least this time around you'll see more realistic emotion and reflection within each character, rather than the exaggerated and cavalier royal-douchebaggery that we've seen in the past. Regardless, Gears 3 actually comes to a definite and interesting end, and for that I must give credit to Karen Traviss, the writer brought onboard by Epic to help guide the narrative along and save the story from itself.

Like Gears 2, the third entry has a bad habit of throwing new characters into the mix simply because it can. You'll be introduced to several new faces who, previously, have only been mentioned in books and other out-of-game lore or DLC. For me, making it almost a necessity to read other forms of media to understand what's going on in the game is lethargic and counterproductive. Who the hell is this Sam chick? Bernie? Jace? Anya's got a gun now? What? If you've followed Gears 3 since its initial announcement, almost everything I've listed makes perfect sense, but the game never fully explains what's been going on. Sometimes thrusting you into the thick of it works, but in this case, it raises more questions than it answers.

One of the biggest changes to the campaign is the inclusion of four player co-op. This is a tremendous addition, as it allows anybody to jump into the game via Xbox Live. It certainly prospers from such a great cooperative boost, but it almost makes the game feel like it's a necessity to play with two or more people. You see, regardless of where you go, there will always be three people with you at all times, and the environments are enormous. Sure, there are sections where you get split up for a few moments, but overall, the game is far too easy when playing alone. Having finished the campaign on the Hardcore setting once by myself, I never once had to worry about whether I was going to die, since the AI was always right there to get me back on feet. They also shoot at everything, sometimes from impossible angles, and have four times the health you do, making your success all the easier. You'll certainly have to do most of the heavy lifting, but if you're going to play this campaign and get the full experience, grab a few of your friends and dive in.

After the campaign lies defeated by your righteous hand, there are several multiplayer components to choose from. Besides the standard competitive modes, Horde makes a triumphant return, and is indisputably better than its predecessor. This time, you earn cash for killing foes, which you can use to erect fortifications, pick up weapons and ammo, or even buy yourself back into a round if you've suffered an early death. It's more tower-defence-esque in style, and every ten waves there are newly-introduced boss battles, which can range from a slog against a nasty Lambent Berserker to a toe-to-toe scuffle with a murderous Brumak. Horde is a whole heap of fun, but it's more of a distraction than anything.

New to Gears 3 is Beast, a brand-spankin' new mode that allows you and four others to play as various Locust against thirteen waves of AI-controlled humans. Think of it as a reversed Horde mode, but subject to a strict time limit that can be boosted by either killing the humans or destroying their fortifications. As you progress, you'll receive cash, along with stronger tiers of Locust to choose from; you can't start out as the Berserker but you can definitely play as her eventually. Once again, it's more distraction material, but Beast is still entertaining for what it is.

Beast and Horde might both be a healthy dose of fun, but the competitive multiplayer is where the real meat of the experience lies. Practically all of the previous modes return, including Execution, Warzone and Wingman, but the new kid on the block is Team Deathmatch. Unlike the typical Gears setup, Team Deathmatch gives each team a pool of lives. Each time someone gets vapourised, it'll subtract one from the overall pool until one team runs out of guys. I'm not a big fan of this mode, as it detracts from the strategic value of a single life, and allows the typically-balanced maps to become camping grounds. At least it gives restless folks and the uninitiated a chance to come back for more punishment at a quicker pace.

You'll also notice there are achievements, medals and new ribbons for practically every little thing you do. Died first in a round? Ribbon! Most kills in a round? Ribbon! Most time in cover? Ribbon! Most time downed? Ribbon! I'm not sure how I feel about it, but at least the menus help keep track of everything in an organised fashion. Oh, and remember those "seriously?" achievements? Well, "Seriously 3.0" is still serious, and practically impossible to unlock — as it should be.

Gears 3 fully repairs the broken elements of the series and expands upon them to a shockingly wonderful degree. The four-player cooperative campaign is a great touch, and the pure variety found in the multiplayer cannot be denied. This game is the definitive Gears experience, and while it may be the last of the trilogy and the final entry for Delta Squad, you can bet it's not the last we'll see of this notable franchise.

8/10 [?]

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- Andrew Whipple III

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