There will be blood, and chest-high walls. Yes, it’s time once more to take control of some armoured trucks vaguely resembling humans in Epic Games’ newest edition to the Gears of War series.
Gears of War 3 takes place nearly 2 years after the events of the previous game. Having sunk the city of Jacinto in the epic finale, the humans have moved to the island of Vectes in an attempt to rebuild. You once again take control of Marcus Fenix (who despite saving the world on 3 separate occasions is still stuck with the rank of Sergeant) and lead the humans in the resistance against the emerging, imulsion infected lambent.
The game begins with a nightmare sequence, very reminiscent of the Scarecrow levels in Batman: Arkham Asylum. Fenix relives the death of his father in this sequence and awakes aboard a COG ship heading for Vectes. The ship is then greeted by the (presumed MIA) COG head of state, Chairman Prescott, who presents Marcus with a data disc which shows his father, is still alive. Marcus sets out to find his father and uncover a cure for the imulsion that is beginning to infect humans.
Along the way you will visit a number of interesting locations (including ruined cities, flying and underwater missions) and come face to face with a new array of enemies. The tone of the game shifts quite a bit but it does mesh well together and even includes some survival horror aspects that Valve would be proud of.
In the grand scheme of things this is a standard GOW game insomuch as the combat is focussed on cover-based shooting but there are a number of new weapons introduced to help keep things fresh. The game has also taken the step of removing the terrible vehicle sections that blighted the previous instalments; although they have replaced them with one too many Half Life rip-offs (slow-moving lifts fighting off enemies anyone?). Overall though the gameplay runs smoothly with the pacing and action sequences very well put together.
There are one or two things I did have to make a few notes on though, they’re small things but they still annoyed me slightly. Firstly while playing as Marcus on board the ship, Cole turns up to help Marcus out of a spot of bother, but after completing the checkpoint you quantum leap and control Cole in a “One Hour Earlier” mission. It’s not a huge thing to complain about but it made me think if Cole has to be alive in an hour, then what’s the point of playing this mission knowing he survives regardless?
There is only one other thing to really irk me about GOW3, it’s a small complaint and no one else will probably worry about it. Remember in GOW2 how Dom would go on and on about his wife and the game almost forced an emotional connection with him? Well it’s back again! The game does its absolute best to try and make us feel an emotional connection to all the characters this time, which is a little difficult given the fact that they all have the emotionally depth of a teaspoon. Marcus must reconnect with his father and constantly goes on about it. Cole get’s a to visit his old stadium for a nice little reminder of his former glories as a “thrashball” star, but it’s for nothing as up until that point his entire contribution to the series is to just shout “WOOOO” every five minutes, and Dom has a nice emotional return to his deceased wife’s hometown (like we needed Dom to get emotional about his wife again seeing as it pretty much ruined the second game). There’s even a slow cinematic at one stage with Gary Jules – Madworld wedged in there too to try and force the issue home. It made for great viewing but it felt like the game was holding up a big neon sign saying “This is tragedy, press X to empathise”. It just doesn’t work for me.
The above complaints don’t ruin the game though, it is still a fantastic shooter with a great storyline and the pacing is done to absolute perfection. It’s not as long in game time as GOW2 or as difficult but what it lacks in single player mode it makes up for with multiplayer.
Fortunately I was able to get my hands on a beta version of the GOW3 multiplayer a few months ago so I was feeling like I had seen all there was to the game after completing the single player campaign. Epic Games however had other plans, with a number of other online multiplayer options available. As well as the standard, 5v5 battles with varying scenarios (Team deathmatch, Warzone, Execution, King of the Hill and Capture the leader) the game has a couple of team survival games as well.
The Horde – you and your teammates defend yourselves against a number of waves of enemies with difficulty increasing by round. Players are rewarded monetarily based on their performance in each round. The money can then be used to purchase upgrades to weapons, defence structures and ammo.
Beast – you and your teammates take the reverse option and play as the Locust forces trying to kill all human AI players with their numbers and defensive measures increasing by round. I must admit to preferring these games to the traditional multiplayer ones as you all have the same objective and teamwork is essential rather than recommended.
I promised myself I wouldn’t get drawn in to a comparison with Killzone 3, but since I reviewed that game a number of months ago it feels like I’m obliged to. I look back now and admit that I definitely scored Killzone 3 too high and as such I’ll have to downgrade it from its 9/10 score. Gears of War 3 is a better game in every aspect and although it’s not of Portal 2 brilliance it is definitely in second place for game of the year so far (pecking order might be changed when Arkham City is released). The gameplay works so well, the level design is brilliant (yes there are only so many ways to arrange chest-high walls) and even the dialogue adds to the story. On the dialogue part it is interesting to note that although Killzone 3 tried to curtail the gratuitous swearing, in Gears of War 3 everyone talks like it’s insults day at the tourettes factory, I’m not for this but it does add a certain emphasis to the drama.
The over usage of downloadable content is a little bit of a pain, there’s even a campaign mode listed “Coming Soon” so you can expect to be forking out a few more pennies to fully enjoy the game but for longevity purposes I think it’s a necessary evil for a game like Gears of War 3. I’ll state it again, it’s not quite Portal 2 perfection but it is very close