Also available on: N/A
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Genre: Third-person shooter
Release Date: September 20 (Worldwide)
The conclusion to any blockbuster trilogy wouldn't be the same without it being a bit doom and gloom, would it? And times in Gears of War 3 are desperate indeed; despite giving the Locust a good hiding in 2008's last instalment, humanity's numbers and COG's forces are hanging on by a thread, and a new threat has emerged in the form of the Lambent, a mutated race of Locust that emerges from the depths and destroys the landscape with massive tentacles. Hope comes in the form of a message of Marcus Fenix's thought-to-be-dead father, and so begins a rag-tag journey across the planet to reach him and a powerful secret that could turn the tide of the war.
While the fate of mankind couldn't be gloomier, the opposite could be said about the world around you. Gears of War 3 moves away from the dark, dank caves and burnt-out urban environments of previous games and drops you in far brighter and more humanised pastures. Ships, supermarkets, stadiums and even children's playgrounds are some of the arena's you'll be fighting in, and while the apocalyptic vibe is still ever present, it makes for a far eye-catching and diverse experience.
There's now a much stronger emphasis on prior events, whether it's in the places you visit and the world around you or the strifes of individual soldiers, which serves to add weight to a series otherwise laser-focused on guns and guts. While its starring cast still as many snappy and crass one liners as they do rounds of ammo, the more story-focused approach pays off, making you caring a little more about the events and horrors that have come and gone. It's just a shame it took until the last part of a trilogy to finally get there.
The approach to diverse environments and more thoughtful storytelling is also carried over into the gameplay, too. While the distinguished and strong core mechanics of Gears of War remain largely (and thankfully) untouched, the pacing within the campaign is nothing short of commendable, by introducing a new weapon, enemy, or vehicular section every 20 or so minutes, whether it's strutting around in a mechanical suit battling a ship-eating beast, or tackling new forms of ground-crawling tickers or slowing down the pace by handing on a fire extinguisher and going all fireman.
While the new Lambent threat isn't particularly original - think the Flood from Halo - their glowing weak points and mutating nature make for a refreshing adversary after two games focusing only on mostly human-like Locust. The game even subverts its cover-focused heritage by introducing weapons that burrow underground, as well as adding broadswords that instantly chop up anyone (or thing) foolish enough to get in the way, forcing you to adopt new tactics. With all its strides towards a variety and a stronger story approach, it makes it by far the most dense and rich Gears of War campaign to date.
Elsewhere, Horde - the trend-setting sandbox mode that has players work together to fight enemy waves - returns with a number of adjustments. Between rounds you'll be able to set up defenses at certain points of the map, from barriers to gun turrets, adding a level of persistence between rounds for a helping hand, but one that doesn't make it any less challenging - especially with some surprise screen-filling boss encounters thrown in along the way.
Multiplayer is similar to the campaign in that it's mechanically familiar but much brighter and slicker, and chucks in many of those new weapons for you to play around with online. It also continues to maintain its own shotgun-heavy niche in the online space by ignoring the ever-present trend of killstreaks and rewards, but still cherry picking other elements that work, including an expanded medal and ranking system, and yet another time-sinking 'Seriously' Achievement to aim for.
If Gears of War 3 does stumble in one regard, then it's with the new Beast mode. Essentially a reversal of Horde, it allows you to control one of many Locust beasts in a bid to take out the computer-controlled COG enemies and defenses. While controlling and laying waste with each creature is enjoyable - even using the humble Ticker is great fun - its capped length (12 waves as opposed to Horde's 50) and unbalanced nature, which sees you storm to victory once you've unlocked the later tiers, makes it an enjoyable but unfortunately short-lived addition.
While Gears of War 3 has plenty of back-of-the-box features that undoubtedly stand out, whether it's the four-player campaign, the superb upgrades to Horde, and a hefty amount of post-release content you'll expect in terms of maps and community updates, it's the great bump in visual quality, the diverse and engaging campaign that never lets up, and a universe that finally catches your interest that impresses the most. Gears of War 3 could have quite easily become a predictable and by-the-numbers sequel, sticking to familiar mechanics and obvious additions, but pleasingly it does so much more.
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