We are the strength – we are soldiers
Games have a hard time saying goodbye (Final Fantasy, anyone?). But when they do decide to conclude—as we saw with 2007’s Halo 3 and 2008’s Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots—they often wrap things up in a way that rivals the best endings in cinema, literature, and television.
Now you can add the third-person sci-fi shooter Gears of War 3 to that game list, which closes this trilogy in such grand style that it easily ranks alongside those aforementioned epics.
Set years after the Coalition Government dropped Jacinto on the Locusts’ collective heads—a period largely and excellently chronicled by Gears 3 writer Karen Traviss in the novels Jacinto’s Remnant, Anvil Gate, and Coalition’s End—what remains of humanity has been scattered to the winds. But when enemies both new and old come after them, it’s up to Marcus and the rest of Delta Squad (or you and up to three friends, if you opt to play the campaign co-op style) to finally save the world…or die trying.
What follows is a roller-coaster ride that not only wraps up the story nicely—resolving the conflict with some genuinely surprising twists, while also answering a number of lingering questions—but it does so in a way that never sacrifices storytelling for engaging gameplay. Or, vice-versa. It’s very Halo 3–esque in that regard, as it all works together seamlessly to keep you wondering what’s going to happen next—and what you’re going to do next as well.
More importantly, it mixes the cover-based gun battles so prevalent in the first game with the massive set pieces and wide variety of engagements that dominated the second one (and, as a result, pushed aside those cover-based gun battles). Granted, none of the big moments approach the “holy crap” scale of the fantastic voyage you take inside the Riftworm in Gears 2, but they actually jell better with the small gun battles.
In terms of the mechanics, Gears 3 works like—and as well—as its predecessors, with the usual assortment of new and interesting enemies, weapons, and locations you’d expect from a sequel. But it does have a few new tricks. You can now, in most modes, jam on the A button to stand back up when you get knocked down (which is especially handy). If you’ve grabbed someone to use as a meat shield, you can plant a grenade on their head, kick them away, and watch the fireworks (which is especially funny).
While these mechanics work well in the campaign, they’ll probably get more use in the game’s competitive multiplayer modes, which will engage you longer than the 10-to-12 hour story. Besides bringing back slightly modified versions of Warzone, Execution, King of the Hill, and Wingman—the latter, for instance, is now four teams of two instead of five—there are also two somewhat new modes: Capture the Leader, which is Submission (aka Capture the Living Flag) except you just have to hold them, not drag them somewhere; and a flipped take on team deathmatch, in which your side loses if you run out of the lives you all share.
Also expanded is the XP system, which now awards points for revenge kills, killing two people in rapid succession, and so on, as well as regular kills, which helps amps up the addiction. It also works across all modes—though, obviously, you get less for playing the campaign on Easy than you will an online match of Wingman.
But the biggest and most welcome change to Gears’ multiplayer is the switch to dedicated servers. This not only makes it quicker to get into matches of all types, but it also eliminates the advantage given to the team hosting a match (and, hopefully, the bitching that the winning team must have host advantage—how else did they beat us?). Though it also helps that the game, especially the weapons’ strength, is noticeably balanced better than Gears 2.
Besides competitive multiplayer, Gears 3 boasts two addictive co-op modes: Horde, the grandfather of survival modes, and Beast, which is like Horde in reverse—in that you play as the Locust and try to kill all humans—except that each Locust has a different weapon or means of inflicting pain. It also goes for 15 rounds instead of Horde’s 50, and each round has a set time limit, which makes it more of a sprint than a marathon.
But, then, Horde’s also evolved. Taking a cue from the tactics players developed playing this mode in Gears 2, Horde now allows you to build and set up such defenses as barriers or auto-turrets much the way players did with Boom Shields before. Except that instead of waiting for Maulers to drop them, these defense items are bought, upgraded, and, if need be, repaired with money you earn through killin’. But the biggest change, literally, is that there’s a boss every 10 rounds. On wave 10, for instance, and you not only face the usual ground troops but a Brumak as well.
As if all these modes weren’t enough, there’s also Arcade, a campaign variation where you get points for kills and other tasks. And not only can you also play it co-op, but you can also unlock modifiers that, for example, make it harder by turning on friendly fire, or make it sitcomish by adding a laugh track.
On their own, any of these modes would be enough to keep someone occupied for a good long time. The campaign culminates in an ultimately satisfying conclusion—both in terms of its story and what you do in it—making it one of the games you’ll want to replay even though nothing will be different. Not that you’ll have time, since there’s also enough in the addictive multiplayer modes, both competitive and co-operative, to keep you engaged a while as well. Games may have a hard time saying goodbye, but this time, it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to this game.
SUMMARY: Between a campaign that brings this epic (no pun intended) saga to a close and multiplayer modes that are equally addictive, Gears 3 is a truly great game.
- THE GOOD: It’s an epic (no pun intended) conclusion to a great saga.
- THE BAD: It’s hard to believe they—well, you’ll see.
- THE UGLY: Dedicated servers eliminate host advantage (and, hopefully, the bitchin’ ’bout it).