Whenever I procrastinate, I play video games, which lulls me into a false sense of “it’s okay” whenever I put off a review, because I’m just back-logging games to review later, right? But I’ve had a Gears of War 3 review staring me in the face for the better part of the last few (mumble, throat clear). I even have the dish ready to go with this bad-boy, but I come back to the keyboard and make small talk with a blank screen. You know what? Enough is enough, because you know what? There is no small talk in war, no time for waxing poetic, no time to put the “pussy” back in “pussy footing around”. I’m pulling the trigger.
The Gears of War franchise has impressed me from the moment Marcus bolted on screen to that sick “Mad World” cover. It was an interesting break from the formula of slapping heavy metal over a soldier recovering from some kind of blast impact in a way Guy Pearce only WISHES he could.
How do you set out and make a war-time, sci-fi shooter that not only gives gamers what they want, but what they didn’t even know they wanted? Well, from the beginning Epic has made it look too easy from the over-the-shoulder 3rd person interpretation of 1st person game-play tropes, to the psycho simplicity of cutting someone in half with a chainsaw bayonet. I didn’t know I wanted that until the first time I did it, and then I wanted a chainsaw bayonet in every game.
Okay, maybe that would break the whole ambiance of Shadow of the Colossus, but there’s no excuse for Mario.
I was up all night playing the first game. There were things I liked, and there were things I loved, and my expectations rode high once a sequel was announced. I was pumped, one might even say “amped”, so much so I put most of the bro-skis in the midnight line outside GameStop to shame. Then, I got the game home, fired it up, and it was okay. Wait, what? “Okay”!? I mean, yeah, it was cool to get a closer look at the Horde side of things, but nothing much was being changed, and nothing felt pushed further. The game, to my dismay, was a filler, a decent one, but nothing compelling was keeping me completely involved. I was playing a formula, a beautiful equation with a simple answer: turn your brain off and shoot. This couldn’t have been the first game as well, right? Because that one pushed the norms and balance between what was a flashy gimmick and what was totally innovative. It challenged me to accept these new characters, this new world, this story pieced together from imaginative scraps. The gimmick in the second game was good, don’t get me wrong, but in my opinion, to be wholly memorable, a franchise shouldn’t rely on gimmick.
I wasn’t really hooked back in until Dom finally found Maria again. That, for me, brought the game back around to what made the first game great, because there was always a theme of the heroes going out with a bang, no matter what. They didn’t go out shooting because they thought they were going to make it, either. In the first commercial alone, Marcus turns to face a pack of Corpsers, resigns, and pulls the trigger on the lot of them anyway. Dom having to solve a problem like Maria brought back what I loved from the first game; the damn character, the damn story!
Gears of War 3 took this moment and came full circle. Not only does the franchise return with new tech, a refined and cleaner multiplayer, and the tried-and-true combat, but the focus swings back to the characters and the story. Even the supporting cast gets a face-lift. Anya has shaken her role as the team Cortana, and is armed up, ready to take on the Horde. Colonel “Depends” Hoffman maintains a COG stronghold with his bad-ass dread-locked silver-fox wife. The latest Carmine … well, I’ll let you see for yourself. There are more characters than ever before in this game, which really fleshed out Sera as a world to me. There was even a distinction between regions and cultures through some characters, and a return to the Stranded keeps it all so flavorful and even a little trashy. The pièce de résistance, for me, would have to be my newest girl-crush Sam; Baird’s feisty foil. Did I leave someone out?
The Epic team is not through playing with mechanics. The roadie run is smooth and speedy, and neither bullet nor cover’s corner will impede you. Aside from a few other house-cleaning additions, some new firearms challenge you to pay attention to the physics of the weapon, and no two weapons fire or work the same. My favorite tweak involved picking up Locust weaponry. The active reload mechanic becomes inverted, making your rival’s weapon truly an alien piece of machinery.
The level design has taken a great turn. The first two levels connect to one another, stacked like Pulp Fiction vignettes; at first they seem unrelated, and then it all comes together. Another mission sees our heroes in a city that was the focal point of a Hammer of Dawn attack early in the war. The town is dusted in ash, reminiscent of a haunted house, complete with its ghosts; the people caught in the blast, turned to ashen statues reduce to dusty piles at the faintest touch. There is an excellent horde attack on Colonel Hoffman’s COG bastion that pits you and your team against an all-out Horde assault, only to be interrupted by an incredible “aw shit” moment. The environments are excellent; more colorful this go around, more detailed than ever before. Sera comes to life, and you really get a sense that this alien planet is through posing as an Earth knock-off. It’s like they’re practicing for an MMO or something.
There was one aspect of this third installment I was not looking forward to: the Lambent. One small nudge and they’d be the new “Flood”, a concept that always seemed cool on paper when it came to playing the Halo games, but in practice made me OD on my own pathetic tears as I snapped my 5th controller in half.
However, Gears of War 3 pulls off the Lambent, showing the player a new depth of “we’re fucked” when it comes to dealing with the Horde. They come with weaknesses to be exploited, and strengths to be avoided. The player is challenged to re-think their strategy, and even develop a few more tricks, such as exploding Lambent next to other Lambent. It’s like a fleshy 4th of July!
Now, when it comes to multiplayer, I’m a stick in the mud. My idea of multiplayer has always been about going to a friend’s house with your controller, where the price of admission is a couple of Cokes and a promise to go in on pizza. I do understand our current multiplayer hooplah is about connecting us with other players all over the world, blah blah blah, but I’m old fashioned, and I’ve noticed most of that time that “connection” is spent trying to ban an infamous de-leveller known only as HempNHoller420, or yelling at Chinese gamer prodigies taking a break from playing all Rock Band peripherals to indulge in some headshots. That being said, I actually do like the multiplayer in Gears of War 3. The maps are excellent, bringing the combat into closer quarters, with an improved UI that keeps players up to date as they scramble to be the next “King of the Hill”. My favorite had to be “Beast”, which puts the player in the Horde’s shoes. It’s awesome; you play the Locusts, you squish humans, everyone goes home happy. Especially, if they get to play a Ticker.
For those new to the franchise, I recommend checking out the original trailer for Gears of War before firing up the first game, keep your Kryll pimphand strong in RAAM’s Shadow, check out the trailer for Gears of War 2, and then drop yourself into that installment. Of the three games, it may be the weaker, but that doesn’t make it a waste of time. The last stretch of the game is worth it, and really kick-starts the mood for the third game. The fix doesn’t have to end there.
Gears of War 3
Gameplay & Mechanics 2
Total: 8 heroes’ journeys out of 10
Epic kicks the franchise back into gear, taking the risk to really focus on plot in their third installment of their successful series. New mechanics and beasties keep the player on their toes, and multiplayer provides hours of fun once the battle is done. The world and its inhabitants see remarkable improvement from the previous two games, the world of Sera is defined enough to inspire a little awe in even the hardest soldier.
Stay tuned for the dish inspired by the game!