By Jeremy M. Zoss in Reviews
Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 9:00 am
|The explosive conclusion|
To be fair, big changes from game to game in top-tier franchises seem to be few and far between these days. Halo 2 made a massive leap forward by adding online multiplayer; the Assassin's Creed series did the same trick. But when was the last time a the third game in a series was a massive evolution over the games that came before it? I ask because Gears of War 3 is only an incremental change from the titles it follows. Of course, it started with a very solid (and highly polished) base.Epic has always said that the Gears series was a trilogy, and more than most franchises, that feels true. No one expected that the Halo "trilogy" wouldn't continue past Halo 3, Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed trilogy will soon see it's fourth game - and Assassin's Creed 3 hasn't even been announced yet. To its credit, the Gears games feel like three parts of a whole - they're all basically the same, and after completing the 10+ campaign, the story seems complete. Oh sure, another game in the Gears series would be no surprise. Maybe because of Epic's incremental approach to the games, Gears of War 3 seems like a legitimate bookend rather than a collection of bullet points that scream "New! Better!"
The third game in the series delivers the best campaign mode yet. The pacing is better, filled with quiet moments between the balls-out firefights (of which there are still of course hundreds). There are perhaps no setpieces as jaw-dropping as those big moments in the original game, although still plenty of scenes that will make the most jaded gamer sit up and take notice. A late-game on-rails segment is easily one of the best-looking things I've ever seen in a game (I won't say what it is to avoid even the most minor spoilers).
One of the things I like best about Gears of War 3's campaign mode is it seems to have a strong awareness of the history of the franchise. In some areas, the game seems to recognize that the formula may have lost some of its power. You'll fight many of the bosses you've faced in earlier games, and I found them noticeably easier this time around, as if to acknowledge that fighting Corpsers and Brumaks isn't as thrilling as it once was. This world, this game, is coming to an end, says Epic. Go forth and find new challenges. My absolute favorite moment of the series is in Gears 3, but again saying what it is would be a major spoiler. It's a musical moment - there's a scene that uses a song that has a special relationship with the Gears franchise, and the moment packs more emotional punch than anything else the games have delivered.
Emotional punch is something Epic clearly aimed for with Gears of War 3. It cleans up the plot hole-ridden writing of the first two games and delivers a story that's actually clear and intelligible. The story is better. The characters are better. The dialog... still sucks. But hey, it's progress. Despite the ridiculous banter, the Gears characters come across as real people for the first time (even Cole Train). And points to Epic for making perhaps the only shooter series that has a legitimate cast of supporting characters. Sure, many of them are ridiculous, but they're a hell of a lot more defined than the cardboard cutouts in, say, the Modern Warfare games.
Just as the story feels like a legitimate end, the gameplay of Gears of War 3 feels like the final evolution of the franchise. As I hinted at, there's nothing truly new, but rather any rough edges have been polished to a gleaming shine. You'll stop, you'll pop, you'll shoot many a Grub. Objective finding has been improved with a new Dead Space-esque objective system, there's a cleaner way to tell your AI squadmates where to shoot. They're smarter and more helpful, always there to revive you when you're down. There's a new ammo collection system, a few new weapons, and a slightly speedier feel to getting in and out of cover. The menu interface, as minor of a deal as that may be to some, is as thoughtfully created as any in the business. Of course, there are big new bullet points like four-player and a new mode I hadn't heard get much buzz, which it should: Arcade mode, which adds competitive scoring to the cooperative multiplayer. I love it. Of course, I fell in love with competitive co-op after it's appearance in Call of Duty: World at War and have been looking for a similar experience ever since.
Of course, the solo and co-op offerings are only part of what needs to be discussed in a Gears game. Horde mode's new currency system challenges teams of up to five players with managing your cash to build reinforcements, blurring the lines between traditional Horde and the tower defense genre. Beast mode is Horde inverted, with players assuming the roles of the Locust. In Beast mode, teams earn tokens to unlock more powerful creature types with which to lay waste to AI COG enemies.
Versus sports 10 maps, including an updated version of Gridlock from the original game. The modes include Warzone and Execution, Capture the Leader, and a Team Deathmatch that feels faster and more brutal than ever. Each team gets 20 shared respawns which, once depleted, triggers a tense countdown to the end. My only complaint about the multiplayer offerings is that it's strangely hard to leave a lobby at the end of a match - you automatically load from round to round and have to quit out to the main menu in a brief window between matches.
As with campaign, most of the issues of multiplayer have been polished out, improved and figured out. Of course, with a multiplayer game as popular as Gears, players will, by sheer volume, figure out ways to cheat and game the system. That wasn't on display in the pre-release online crowd, nor had the developed its notoriously hostile community yet. But that will happen. That's no fault of the game, but it's nevertheless one of my least favorite parts of the game. I'd perhaps play more of the online mode if I didn't know that it will devolve into a racist, sexist, homophobic cesspool when the masses arrive.
And they will arrive. Gears of War 3 is the most polished, complete and accomplished game in the ultra-popular series. It will sell millions. Epic was wise not to change up much about a formula which it know works, and works well. Yes, there is little truly "new" and Gears of War 3. But it is, after all, the end. Players who have come this far will definitely need to know how it all comes to a close.
The Official Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
This review is based on an Xbox 360 copy of the game provided by the publisher.