Closing the book on a trilogy can be hard. We've seen plenty of instances with trilogies ending in disaster: "Godfather 3" and "Matrix Revolutions" spring to mind. "Gears of War 3" steps into this challenging territory, attempting to give a satisfying conclusion to fans while offering features to bring new or battle-scarred players into the fold. And, for the most part, it succeeds swimmingly. For the most part.
"Gears of War 3" is essentially two games in one. Similar to games like "Halo" and "Call of Duty," "Gears 3" is split between a healthy 8-hour campaign and a robust multiplayer mode.
The campaign focuses on the story of Marcus Fenix and his squad of soldiers, fighting for survival on the dying planet of Sera. The campaign can be played in co-op with up to four players and there's a new score-based campaign mode, called Arcade, which encourages replayability.
The multiplayer is split between cooperative modes like Horde and Beast, and Versus modes which offer variants on Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and King of the Hill.
Horde And Beast
There are plenty of people who refuse to play adversarial multiplayer modes against randoms online, knowing full-well that 10-year-olds in Nebraska are much better than they are. For this reason, Epic decided to focus on multiplayer modes which encourage cooperation without the need to play against humans. Horde mode returns from "Gears of War 2," but it is far more interesting this time around. Now players can upgrade defensive emplacements like turrets and razor wire throughout the map, using money earned from kills. There's even an unlocking system where you have to earn experience to unlock improved defenses, encouraging multiple playthroughs.
Beast is slightly less robust, but still plenty of fun. Here you're playing as different Locust classes trying to assault a human base. You can start by spawning as a tiny, exploding ticker to take out some defenses, but after a few waves you'll start spawning as some of the largest enemies in the game, laying waste to your AI adversaries.
Both modes can be played and enjoyed by "Gears" newbies and veterans alike, making them a great way to spend an evening with friends online.
Versus Multiplayer For Dummies
One of the bigger issues with "Gears of War 2" Versus was that it was extremely punishing for newcomers. Epic designed the multiplayer in "Gears of War 3" to be far more welcoming, introducing weapons like the sawed-off shotgun which can be used to repel overly-aggressive veterans. The game also feels snappier, with more responsive, quicker controls. The bots in private and unfilled Quick Match games have also been given an AI upgrade, making them great for training purposes.
Newcomers will still have a tough time against experienced players, but if things get too frustrating you can always just play with friends in a private match, where you'll still earn experience and unlocks albeit at a slightly slower clip.
Beauty Among Chaos
"Gears of War 3" is a gorgeous game. If there's one thing Epic excels at, it's showing the world just what the Unreal engine is capable of. Every environment, both in the campaign and in multiplayer, is stunningly detailed, with flooding city streets to desert vistas to abandoned luxury hotels. It's not just a matter of pushing polygons, either. Epic a very strong art design team that knows how to make worlds that feel like you could reach out and touch them, even though you'd probably need some Purell afterwards.
A Campaign Misstep
While the campaign in "Gears of War 3" is plenty of fun, it feels like a step backwards from the previous two games. It's prettier, sure, but the gameplay is hindered by a reliance on what could only be described as zombies. Yes, through half of the "Gears of War 3" campaign you're fighting the Lambent, a rabid faction of Locust who look and act like the undead. "Gears of War" has always been a game about tactics, but many of the battles against the Lambent feel like mindless slogs against thoughtless enemies. This is in stark contrast to the "normal" Locust enemies you face in the other half of the game, who are far more interesting to fight. The comparison is simple enough: The Lambent is to The Flood as The Locust is to The Covenant. And really, did anyone like fighting The Flood?
It's sad to say that the "Gears of War 3" story doesn't feel all that engaging. Half-baked, half-explained relationships between Marcus, his father and the queen of the Locusts do little to fill in the blanks of the trilogy, and the climactic battle just feels, well, expected.
Part of the issue is my lack of connection with these characters, even after three games. You're safe to assume that at least one of the main squad doesn't make it out alive, but when you don't really feel all that bad about such events, you know there's a problem on the character development side. Meanwhile attempts to give depth to near-parody characters like Cole feel forced and warrant eye-rolls. Attempts at humor are equally weak, with not a single joke in the game really "working." Unless you find lines like "This rig's got more holes in it than my shorts!" worthy of acclaim.
"Gears of War 3" has plenty of things to unlock, but I can't help but feel like Epic held back in an effort to nab some post-release DLC cash. There are only about six weapon skins that you can unlock through in-game play (some of which require playing older "Gears of War" games). There are plenty of unlockable characters, but much of the work for those characters was done once they were included in the campaign. Meanwhile, on launch day, Epic will release a whopping 21 weapon skins for sale, with prices ranging from $3 and $4 a pop. And, if you wish to buy them all at once, it'll run you $45. Seems like a pretty steep price for content that could have easily been included in the game.
It's easy to overlook the campaign issues and some DLC unseemliness when you realize just what a fantastic collection "Gears of War 3" is. The multiplayer alone is well worth the price of admission, with plenty for veterans and newcomers to enjoy themselves. And the campaign, while not as memorable as previous entries, is still fun to cruise through with a couple of buddies. It might not be the satisfying story conclusion the franchise deserves, but in terms of advancing the gameplay and visuals of the franchise to new heights, "Gears of War 3" is a definite success.