Monday, March 11, 2013

Gears of War 3 - A Fatal Ending With No Surrendering

So, five months after Gears of War 2, I've finally gotten around to playing Gears of War 3, the very first Xbox 360 game I ever owned. There were other games that had been keeping me busy in the interim, and plus you may have noticed the proximity of this review to God of War III (If you figured out why, then good for you). I've been waiting a while to play this, especially since it came with my Gears of War Xbox 360, so to finally do it after being invested in the series got me wondering if it would meet my expectations. As it turns out, it has.

Unfortunately, the "manual" is not much more than copyright info and a seizure warning, like most games nowadays (thanks, EA), but there is actually a small blurb within it describing the game's premise. Since this and controls are the only things that make this folded paper qualify as a manual in any sense of the word, and due to liking to describe the premise of games which I review, I have decided to borrow heavily from this single paragraph as I do so. After the ending of Gears of War 2, Jacinto, the last stronghold of humanity, has been destroyed. The Locust Horde has driven the Stranded remnants of civilization to the very brink of extinction now that they have swarmed the surface of the planet. And a fearsome new enemy-the Lambent-now threatens to destroy them both. It is now up to Marcus Fenix and the remaining members of Delta Squad to find Marcus' father, Adam Fenix, in order to help destroy the Locust once and for all.

It's Carmine!

What I find interesting about the Gears of War franchise is that every game seems to have a story that is better written and more involved as it goes on, which I find to be a good thing since story is something that I actually care about in a video game. Gears of War 3 is no exception, having been written by science fiction author Karen Traviss. Traviss seems to have a great understanding of the Gears of War universe, as her story is easily the best of the bunch. She writes the characters in a way that shows the deeper connections between them, as well as filling the player in a little more on their lives pre-Delta Squad and how they reverberate to the current situation. Her depiction of the interaction between Marcus and his father is actually very well-written, giving us a sense of their relationship and a reason to care about them. In fact, the plot is done in a way that pretty much every important character is fleshed out very well and we end up caring about them throughout, especially the surprise deaths that have a very meaningful impact on everyone else. To this, I say that Karen Traviss is an excellent writer and a good choice for elevating the quality of the story even higher.

On that note, the single player campaign is actually very good. The levels feel more varied than before, though I could still tell that chest-high walls equals immediate or eventual firefight. Locust and Lambent Locust are introduced at a good pace almost all the way to the end and the introduction of Lambent Humans also created some rather interesting combat scenarios. If I could say one thing though, it would be that a couple of types could easily get annoying, particularly Lambent Stalks and Armored Kantus, the latter of which can only be harmed by explosive ordinance or shooting it in a small area on the face; using a Torque Bow and/or Frag Grenades made these encounters more expedient. On the other hand, the final boss is very challenging and thankfully doesn't go into the realms of annoyance that General RAAM occupied, which made it more satisfying to defeat.

At this point, the gameplay systems are basically the same, but there are some new additions to the weaponry, including the Incendiary Grenade and Sawed-off Shotgun, which allows for experimentation with play styles. Armored suits like the Silverback are also introduced, giving a distinct advantage on the battlefield for as long as its armor can hold out. All in all, the weapons respond very well and all have their own advantages and disadvantages that will surely influence how anyone decides to advance through the game. While I ended up changing my secondary weapon very rarely, I would make sure that I used the Lancer the entire time since I grew to depend on it to help me get through encounters. There may not be any smart bombs, but there are definitely some precision-guided armaments that ensure a more sophisticated way to end up dead.

Or not.

Graphics-wise, Gears of War 3 really pushes Unreal Engine 3 to the limit, utilizing its capabilities in ways that can display both beauty and power. The lighting is much improved and the enemies remain very detailed in a way that you can develop quick strategies simply by looking at what's in front of you. The sounds of the game are also appealing, with voice acting that conveys the characters very well and noises that manage to sound realistic and avoid cacophonous resonance even during the more complex battles. I also really grew to love the sound that plays when a fight was over, since there seemed to be a much higher volume than the previous game.

On another note, I'd like to briefly talk about the different game modes, specifically the return of Horde mode. This mode is similar to what was introduced in the previous game, but has the new addition of command bases, which you must spend money to build up and maintain. The all new Beast Mode is sort of a reverse Horde Mode, in which you spend money to spawn individual Locust to attack a group of humans, either Stranded or COG Soldiers. Due to the changes made in the former, as well as how the latter works, they end up being a lot more fun if you're playing with at least one other person, since your approach by yourself can be significantly different and may end up costing you the match.

So yeah.

Finally, I'd like to bring up the Online Multiplayer component, which is a rare thing for me to actually do, so you're in for a treat. When Microsoft was offering up two months of Xbox Live Gold for $2, I made sure to ride that train for as long as possible. Within this time, I got requests from friends to join in on their matches, so I decided to actually go for it and see what it was like. While I did go through the noob motions at first, I quickly gained speed and figured out how to dominate on the battlefield, even without having the best record among everyone. My play style continued evolving in a short time frame and I was even good enough to beat a modded controller in a Chainsaw Duel, which was actually a surprise to everyone in the party. One of my friends said I was a natural at it, which was great for me because I was actually having a blast. While I have yet to upgrade to Gold again, I found the multiplayer to be excellently done with good balancing and I recommend this feature to anyone with Gold.

Gears of War 3 concludes the saga on a very high note of game design. The story by Karen Traviss is very well written, the graphics are the best it's ever been and the multiplayer is simply fantastic. Fans of the franchise will definitely enjoy this entry in the franchise and shooter fans in general who are looking for their next fix and only care about gameplay should make this their next stop. Newcomers should start from the beginning to aid the story, but if multiplayer is all you care about, should you be in this group, you'll still have a great time.

While Gears of War: Judgement comes out next week, this will unfortunately be the last Gears of War game review that I will get to do for quite a while. If you come back here looking for a review of the next game in the franchise, which takes place at the very beginning, don't expect it anytime soon.

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