Number of Players – 1-10
Platform – Xbox 360
Release Date – September 20th, 2011
Genre – Third-Person Shooter
ESRB – Mature
MSRP – $59.99
“Bring it!” is uttered often by protagonist Marcus Fenix throughout Epic’s latest entry to the Gears series. Marcus is keen for his enemies to bring their best to bear against him. If only Epic agreed with this sentiment wholeheartedly as well. The game has significant improvements graphically but with only slight improvements to the rest of the game it barely separates the title from previous entries in the series.
The story picks up almost 2 years after the end of Gears 2, humanity still reeling from the sinking of Jacinto has disbanded the government and fled to the few remaining viable locations on Sera; the disbanded COG forces choosing a flotilla of ships which is where the story starts.
As you emerge above deck you’ll be struck by a noticeable improvement in visuals over the previous games, most notably the lighting system. After recently playing through the spelunker’s dream that was Gears 2, it was nice to play through varied outdoor environments which due to their larger scope provide more flanking opportunities than before, especially now that Epic have discovered colors other than brown.
The game opens with an impressive first act which splits the narrative between Dom and Marcus on the lead ship in the flotilla and Baird and Cole who are investigating a nearby town for supplies ahead of the ship’s arrival, the split narrative as you switch to Cole and Baird allows them to see a remnant of Cole’s past (the only emotional beat that works across the trilogy) before delivering the explosive end to the sequence you played through as Marcus and Dom.
This act however is the high point of the story and frankly the rest are just a disappointment, leaving questions unanswered and splitting up the main group of characters. This leaves you to play with new character Samantha Byrne (no relation) portrayed by actress Claudia Black (who you may know from Farscape and Uncharted 2). I’m normally a big fan of hers, but for whatever reason she seems to be playing up her Aussie accent more than usual which was offputting. The other character forced upon you is Jace, who is just plain annoying, especially to my co-op partner who was saddled playing as him. This change-up in the cast feels done for completely arbitrary reasons as neither character is half as entertaining as Cole or Baird.
Another arbitrary story point occurs midway through the game in an attempt to make you care for the character’s plights, but just like any of the ’emotional’ sequences during Gears 1 and 2, I found myself holding back the laughter rather than caring in any way. It doesn’t help that it’s presented via one of many pre-rendered cutscenes, which are overly compressed and jarring against the impressive in-engine visuals.
The score for the game wasn’t bad, but it never struck me as anything truly memorable other than when I was annoying my friend over Skype by humming the main menu music constantly to make him load the game faster. Word of warning though, while it may be tempting to increase the volume to hear every piece of dialogue Cole shouts out (there’s a reason he’s the best character in the series) and the as stated above, easy to lose yourself in menu music, for whatever reason the credits are about 10x louder than the rest of the game so be warned if like me you’re playing with headphones in a silent house when they start.
Thankfully there are parts far more worth your time, namely the competitive/co-operative multiplayer modes, the standout being the revamped Horde mode. Previously introduced in 2, it was a fun diversion, but there was no real incentive to move around the map once you found a good cover position to hole up in. This is cleverly solved in 3 by providing obstacles to hinder the enemy/help you around the map that you can purchase/repair in-between rounds.
Initially you can only construct simple obstacles such as barb wire to damage/slow the incoming waves or standees to distract the AI. You’re rewarded for your effort though as the more you purchase/repair an object the higher your level increases for it, barb wire eventually being upgradeable to a laser fence for example.
The reduced ammo counts that were a positive in the campaign for removing the reliance on using the same 2 weapons all the time also benefit Horde, forcing you to venture out to either spend cash on ammo and thus not defenses or loot free weapons dropped by the dead, again reducing the time you have to defend your position.
Every 10 waves you are treated to a boss wave which reinforces your inability to hunker down, between Gunkers, Corpsers and eventually Berserkers it really isn’t an option as they make pretty short work of your defenses, so don’t get complacent thinking your expensive laser fence will save you.
Horde has brought a friend this time in the form of Beast mode, wherein the players take on the role of the Locust horde against AI civilians and eventually in the later waves Hero characters. Bringing with it a light class based system, it’s a fun change from the standard gameplay. Initially you are limited to standard infantry units or weak units like the Ticker, but as you earn cash from kills/assists you eventually unlock access to many others such as the Kantus who fills a support role with his group heal and ink grenades to the tank-like Berserkers who are hilarious to watch wade into a group of NPCs.
Unlike Horde which eventually reaches the heady heights of level 50, Beast only lasts 12 rounds. As such it’s more of a time challenge than the endurance slog Horde presents and is a tad too easy on the normal difficulty you are limited to in matchmaking.
If co-operating isn’t your thing, the competitive multi-player makes a return, aided by an impressively fast loading time on map change and a plethora of ribbons, medals and characters to unlock. There is a rather large issue with this mode however, namely the spawn locations often allowed me to watch a guy appear in my sights and vice-versa, the few seconds of spawn protection granted as you are reborn feeling like a stop-gap rather than a solution.
I’d like to say that Gears 3 wrapped up the trilogy well, but I can’t. The acts following Act 1 play out like fetch quests to pad the weak narrative and the largest question raised in 2 is never answered, Baird at the end of the game receiving a data chip that I expect contains this answer, but as this plot point never goes anywhere before the game wraps up, it leads me to suspect this will be less than ideally answered in the forthcoming DLC. If the story isn’t your draw however, Gears 3 brings plenty to the table to keep you busy, even if it is essentially a more refined Gears 2.
GAMEPLAY: 4 / STORY: 1 / GRAPHICS: 5 / SOUND: 3 / OVERALL: 3
Photos provided by Microsoft