Friday, September 23, 2011

Gears of War 3 Review - Brothers to the End

Score: 9.5 / 10
Gears of War 3
Xbox 360
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: September 21, 2011

  • 4 player co-op campaign is a welcome addition
  • Multiplayer is polished and well organized
  • Battles play out upon jaw dropping vistas
  • Even after five years, the game play is just as enjoyable
  • Whether a campaign, co-op, or multiplayer fan; there is something for you
  • Friendly AI are sporadic in behavior
  • Beast mode has no option for PvP
  • Horde goes downhill once someone drops out

Hard to believe it has been five years since the release of the first Gears of War. The mechanics of the cover system and third person gunplay were simple enough to execute, and challenging enough to keep you engaged. After a sequel leaving numerous questions in the air, the final installment to the Gears of War trilogy has finally arrived. The result is a more polished, well rounded experience that has something every type of gamer can enjoy.

Brothers to the End

Gears of War 3 offers one of the best campaigns you can play this year, with a stellar presentation overshadowing smaller nuances.

Somehow Epic Games has managed to improve the visual appeal of the Gears franchise. This is the best looking game of the series, due in no small part to some jaw dropping set pieces. War torn beaches, post-apocalyptic cities, and luxurious hotels are just a few of the detailed locations where you engage waves of baddies. The subtle effects like sunlight peeking through the leaves of palm trees or the destruction of a concrete column as it is riddled with bullets really bring the world to life. Coupled with a soundtrack that amplifies the action or drama, the game is a cinematic experience from beginning to end.

The story offers some closure to the varying events of Gears of War 2, complete with a few surprises as well as a few predictable outcomes. There were several high points, including an emotional glimpse at Augustus Cole returning to his old Thrasher stadium, where nostalgia turns to a desire to relive his glory days. Sam (Claudia Black) and Anya (Nan McNamara) are welcome additions to Delta squad, and provide great banter between the existing team. It was refreshing to get a closer look at the characters, something the previous Gears briefly touched on. While I would have liked the relationship between Marcus and his father to play out further, the story is satisfying enough to provide closure to the trilogy.

My Campaign Clique

The campaign itself is a very fluid, well organized experience. The new Lambent are a welcome challenge, and require varying tactics that differ from the typical Locusts. The relative pacing and feel of the game is spot on, save for one mission involving a submarine that, despite its phenomenal look, traded the cover system for a turret sequence that was more frustrating than enjoyable. The game is still littered with colossal boss battles, hectic firefights, and frightening new encounters to keep you on your toes. Clocking in at a little over 10 hours, it's an enjoyable campaign that you will immediately wish to experience again.

The addition of four player co-op is great, but has its drawbacks. If playing alone, expect the AI to fluctuate on performance. Most of the time they tend to do quite well in providing cover fire and holding their own, and other times they will charge head first into turret fire with their chainsaw revved or hover over you for 10 seconds before deciding to help you up. Depite taking time to get you back on your feet, overall they performed pretty well for AI counterparts. It can get crowded in the tighter areas and your cover may already be occupied by a fellow COG, but having three human partners to go through the game with is a fun experience and recommended to try.

Multiplayer Mayhem

The multiplayer for the game has gotten a fine tune up, and since the beta it has been tweaked to become a well-oiled machine of online gaming. Now equipped with dedicated servers, lag and host advantage has become much less of an issue. Partying up with friends can be done with a press of the button, and the entire menu makes it easier to switch out characters and weapon loadouts on the fly.

The standard modes are all here with only a handful of new ones. Team Deathmatch, Execution, and King of the Hill are all here, but it's Capture the Leader that still possesses one of the more enjoyable new experiences. The idea of capture the flag mixed with Guardian mode makes for an interesting game. Though more playlists will be created as the game goes on, the basic modes from the beta are here with not much else. The multiplayer is still as strong as ever, and is fine tuned enough to go toe to toe with some of the more established series as a choice online experience.

The multiplayer is a different territory from the campaign and you will have to adjust strategies. Your immunity to damage behind cover is altered and most fights still end up being close quarter shotty face offs. Once you learn how to play it becomes highly entertaining, but there will be the shift from facing AI to facing human players that must be overcome by constant deaths.

For the Horde

Horde mode makes its reappearance and changes for the better. The same fifty waves of enemies still make their way to you with more variety and challenge than before. Each tenth wave consists of a boss, such as a beserker, brumak, or lambent berserker. The end of each wave gives you a chance to fortify and regroup for the next one. It's a simple premise that becomes increasingly enjoyable with each wave. However, if one person leaves the match, no shift is made to compensate for their absence, which given the length of a typical Horde match will make quitters a common occurrence.

The biggest difference lies in the currency obtained while playing. Each kill and assist nets you an amount of cash which you can use to fortify defenses. These range from new weapons, to decoys, to laser fences. Fortifying positions and expanding them is key in making it past the later waves, as enemies become tougher and more accurate. Each item also has the potential to "level up" giving an RPG element to the mode, allowing you to create barriers or turrets for a cheaper price the more you play the mode. There are also additional side missions that can pop up during your encounter, where if you meet the requirements, are awarded additional currency. It's a frantic, challenging addition that keeps Horde mode from getting stale past wave ten.

A new addition to the Gears universe is the side-switching Beast Mode. This allows a team of five people to take control of the Locust army against AI COG soldiers. Think of it as Horde mode from the perspective of the incoming wave. Limited to 12 waves, Locusts must bypass defenses like turrets and spikes to wipe out the COG army.

Overall the mode is an interesting addition, and controlling a Beserker is a satisfying experience. It does, however, feel like a missed opportunity. Only the AI can control the COG. This makes it feel strangely limited, as an obvious player vs player for this mode would have given it a bigger impact.

Pays to Play

Despite what mode you choose, you earn experience and credits towards the various medals and rewards available. Leveling up unlocks additional character models and weapon skins to showcase in multiplayer. Much like Halo: Reach, it is a nice to know that no matter what mode you spend the most time on, you are still being given overall credit. Though most skins can be unlocked, a large majority are locked out by microtransactions. $3 nets you a new skin for a weapon, but each skin is nothing to rave about and the inclusion is a bit off putting. Remember the good old days of unlocking skins through personal performance?

One thing that Epic is really good about is stat tracking. Whether it is achievements or kills, there are a slew of numbers to review on your character profile sheet. This makes setting a goal to obtain a certain award easier to predict and plan out. There are a slew of awards to obtain for various actions, and getting them all can be challenging.


Gears of War 3 is a more refined game and a fine conclusion to the trilogy with a lot of content to offer. Unlike most sequels it does not feel like a simple revamp to the existing formula, but more like a different game from Gears of War 2. With future DLC in the works and a complete shuffle of online playlists and features, it is shaping up to be quite the contender for Game of the Year and a title that every one can find something to enjoy.

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