Monday, October 17

Gears of War 3 Review (X360): Mad World Reimagined

The Gears of War games haven't previously been known to showcase strong storytelling. Don't get me wrong: I loved both instalments (in terms of both campaign and multiplayer), but a lot of the biggest twists in the tale of Delta Squad lacked impact. Thankfully, Epic Games contracted Karen Traviss - who has written three books based on the series - to write the script for the third game. With Gears' only weakness shielded by some powerful narrative armour, have the developers been able to fortify some of the strongest gunplay I've had the pleasure of indulging in and deliver the perfect game?

The Good
Bullet ride - Gears 3 moves at breakneck pace and features everything I love about its predecessors: big guns, big (read: HUGE) monsters and big (read: impossibly-muscly) heroes. The size and scale of some locust and lambent opponents is truly impressive - in terms of artistic direction and from a technical perspective - and make for some thrilling boss fights. Everything from Brumaks to Leviathans are represented over the course of the six hour plus campaign, and the addition of an Arcade Mode smacks of replay value. Better yet, the series' staple third-person cover shooting is as tight and enjoyable as ever. This is one for the ages!

Mad World indeed - Throughout the campaign, players will traverse across a genuinely-surprising range of locales, each rendered with a high level of detail. Epic have squeezed all they can out of the Unreal 3 engine, and series-long flaws such as instances of textures disappearing have been minimized noticeably. What makes these locations all the more impressive is the sheer carnage that can be set against them (particularly in Horde Mode). The action never slows down, even with scores of Beserkers, Drones and Brumaks unleashing hell on humanity's final few.

Waking nightmare - Traviss' aforementioned script gives far greater insight into the struggle of returning characters than that of any previous Gears instalment. Cole is no longer just a muscle-bound, catch-phrase machine. There are points where he actually appears weary, almost unable to "Whooo!" Baird's sharp tongue hints at troubles that are more than skin deep, Marcus is made to be more than a pair of hulking arms with a foul mouth, and Dom's grief even appears genuine. The characters in Gears have finally emerged from their bulky shells.... and they're ready to share.

Clean break - In what is becoming a rarity these days, Gears 3 has an ending. A clean, somewhat-satisfying, cliffhanger-free ending. There may be some questions unresolved and raised over the course of this final instalment, but none that would require another sequel (although more Gears games will undoubtedly appear somewhere down the line). Best of all, the game shines light on characters hinted at in previous games and in Traviss' novels. That being said, Bernie looks nowhere near as rough as I thought she would.

What do you want? A medal? - There are several viable ways to invest time in Gears 3; all of which yield tangible rewards. Most of the achievements are tied to the campaign, but if you want to unlock all of the medals and ribbons on offer, you'll need to engage with the Horde, Versus (with six different match types) and Beast modes. Horde Mode returns with the ability to buy weapons and fortifications, making those later waves all the more desperate. Versus mode includes several match types from previous games, and the much more n00b-friendly Team Deathmatch option which allows for respawns without the "distraction" of objectives. The new Beast mode is fast and furious fun that allows you to assume the role of some of the more formidable locust creatures as well as some unsung anti-heroes, like the Ticker.

Lambentzerker = Pain for up to 5 players
Fan service - As a Gears stalwart I've been gifted with weapon skins, an achievement (granted, it is worth 0G) and a medal: not much, but the rewards are appreciated all the same. More franchises need to reward the faithful like Epic has with this game.

The Bad
What's the score? - I'm not a huge fan of Gears 3's soundtrack. The voicework is of a solid standard, but the God of War-esque chorus and horns don't inspire much heroics.

Not exactly h4rdc0r3z - My first playthrough of the campaign was on Hardcore difficulty (the highest setting initially available), and I ran into few troubles throughout the adventure. Your AI-controlled companions may be inept with a gun, but they have few troubles healing you; meaning you'll very rarely have to make your way back to a checkpoint. I didn't even die once during the final boss fight: this isn't the usual brand of Gears difficulty.

Four on one hardly seems fair 
The Ugly
That old dance - Competitive multiplayer matches are still often decided by the shotgun dance; except this time, the sawed-off shotgun adds more frustration to the brutal ballet. This whinge may be attributed to my less-than-stellar kill/death ratio, but my God is that weapon powerful! It doesn't derail the action entirely, but there have almost been a few rage quits thanks to this ridiculously-powerful sidearm.

The Verdict
If there's one thing that'll threaten my time in the videogame blogosphere, it's Gears of War 3. The gory, thrilling gun battles and epic boss fights can be enjoyed alone and with/against company for hours on end. Additional modes, weapons and a new progression system act as further carrots to keep players engaged. Best of all, the bulky, foul-mouthed Gears have finally been given the articulate voice that they needed. The voice that we all deserved, having hung around these colossal Neanderthals for almost five years.

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