It’s been five years since we first heard the leonine roar of Marcus Fenix’s chainsaw echo through the ravaged air of Sera. The original Gears of War was fundamental in the evolution of the much-imitated cover-based shooting mechanic and at the time, set a new standard for the production value gamers have come to expect. GoW 2 followed with tweaked controls and a bevy of online multiplayer modes, including the insanely popular Horde, where players fight off wave after wave of tenacious enemies. With Gears of War 3, Epic had the challenge of not only living up to the expectations it set itself, but keeping the experience fresh, inventive and successfully concluding their incredibly popular series.
Epic took massive steps in delivering a more mature and competent story than the previous entries and succeeds in telling a moving tale of desperation which seeps into almost every pore of the campaign. Set two years after the sinking of Jacinto, humanity is splintered, on its last, weary legs and it’s up to you and your motley crew to save us all. Each chapter is drenched in a layer of anguish and the art direction has resulted in the very best environments of the series: varied, beautiful and tightly designed to accentuate the strengths of Gears, as the narrative shifts at an enticing pace between sombre exploration and chaotic firefights. Ah, the firefights.
These are the meat and gravy of the series and they make a glorious return, fine-tuned to perfection. Fans know exactly what to expect: you take cover behind anything you can and pop out, grimace-ridden, to release bullets of fury into the plentiful enemies intent on ending you. The new, yellow emulsion-bleeding Lambent foe steal some of the spotlight from our old friends, the Locust, and add a frantic texture to the gunplay as they relentlessly hunt you without fear of your weaponry, refusing to take cover. This forces you to approach battles differently as camping will simply not fly, and some of the new enemies are truly marvellous to duel. Despite this, the shooting sections start to feel tired and the game does nothing to address this repetitiveness, leaving an overwhelming sense of deja-vu floating through the air. In one fresh move mind, Epic have addressed the male dominated aspect by introducing Samantha Byrne and Anya Stroud as COGs, both well written, layered and capable.
Your arsenal also gets some newbies, including the brilliant Digger which launches a detonating creature through the ground towards your cowering foes and the Retro Lancer, sporting less accurate fire than your standard, but a bayonet with an accompanying charge attack. While each weapon packs a punch, the Lancer remains the chief weapon for most situations and none of the additions succeeded in luring me away from its abundant advantages.
GoW 3 is arguably one of the best looking 360 game out there. It is certainly the finest use of the Unreal Engine and hats off to eliminating the pesky pop-in textures it has become notorious for. It is not without its flaws though. Rampant clipping along with reflections of non-existent buildings, blurry draw distances and spelling errors throughout shatter the immersion. These are minor blemishes for sure, but stand out because the game takes enormous strides to soak you in its atmosphere. Fortunately, the sound is close to exemplary, with enemies flaunting shrieks that pierce your soul, orchestral music pulling at your heart strings and guns firing louder than God.
The burly campaign can now be played through in Arcade mode, where you receive points for each kill allowing a second play-through to feel fresh and interesting. Of course the campaign, in either Normal or Arcade mode, can be played cooperatively while the online multiplayer supports two to ten players. Horde makes a welcome return and is probably the most fun that can be had with the shooting mechanics the game offers. This time around, fortifications can be erected similar to Nazi Zombies mode in the COD series and money to do so is earned, along with experience, for kills. On the delicious flip side is the new Beast mode, which is reversed, enabling you to play ‘Horde’ as some of the Locust and Lambent beauties. All but one (Annex) of the versus modes from GoW 2 return, allowing you to enjoy Team Deathmatch, Warzone, King of the Hill and other staples, now with the inclusion of unlockable weapon skins, mutators and weapon exclusive executions.
Each of the ten multiplayer maps are refined versions of some of the areas from the campaign and are incredibly well designed, allowing for tighter, more focused contests to take place in Trashball’s football field to much larger maps, catering for more strategy driven skirmishes such as in the superb Drydock. With perk system levelling, ribbons, skins, weapon executions, mutators and others available to unlock, there is more than enough reason to explore the various treats Epic have packed onto the disk, and if multiplayer is your thing (now with dedicated servers) you will surely be coming back for months to come until the already-announced DLC drops.
GoW 3 is the most polished game in the series and in many ways, the perfect Gears experience. It boasts the very best the series has to offer with more content than the previous two titles combined. It’s impossible though, to ignore the fact that some of the spark has been diminished, and a lot of the game becomes a ‘going through the motions’ affair. For a series that forged something new with such fresh ideas, it cannot help but disappoint with its lack of innovation. This won’t bother everyone though, and there is no doubt that Epic have crafted and brilliantly solid game, with excellent gun play, devious enemies and impressive set pieces, succeeding in sending off their baby with a superbly composed swan song.