Gears of War 3
Gears of War is back and better than ever for one final battle against the Locust horde and their mutated demon-spawn. Marcus Fenix returns to do what he does best (which is take cover behind chest high walls) and to finish the fight. It’s an excellent experience, a fast ride from the explosive beginning to its satisfying conclusion.
The gameplay, while not probably at the level of a fine wine, is like a really well mixed cocktail. It has just the right amounts of the good stuff, and adds enough flavor to smooth out the few remaining kinks. Fighting the locust horde, or the “grubs” in Fenix-speak, is always done best from behind cover. That certainly hasn’t changed. The guns, and the gunfights themselves, are a little more refined. In the past, when encountering a giant wheel that controlled access to a door, it was necessary to turn it a dozen times to use it. This game requires two turns.
One of the minor annoyances of the previous two games came in the form of unnecessary path splitting. For some reason Marcus just felt that it would be a great idea if he and Dom separate for a little while, thus removing their ability to save each other from death. Four player co-op does well to fix this. At any given time there will always be at least four fighters going up against the Locust, so even when you split up, you’ll always have a partner with you.
With all the additions and fixes the game provides over previous versions, Gears of War 3 does manage to add in one moment of tedium. It stands out simply because everything around it is fast and action packed. It is a turret, rail-shooter style level involving a slow moving vehicle and enemies that pop out of every direction. It felt boring, partially due to the design forcing the vehicle to move so slow and also due to the excitement that surrounded it.
On a narrative level this is the best Gears yet, though I doubt that’s saying much. Both of the previous games carried around faults in their structural capacity, and the second one’s attempts at portraying emotion were heavy-handed. The story the third time around fits itself neatly into the structure of the game, and for the first time makes its behemoth soldiers appear to be people, rather than stereotyped caricatures. Which is tough to do when one of these characters is the Cole Train. This is due to writer Karen Traviss, author of several Gears of War novels, and she does an admirable job with the material at hand.
The characters in the game run the gamut from ridiculous to flat to surprisingly dynamic, considering the game they’re contained in. Even more surprisingly is that the Cole Train is one of the most interesting characters this time. All it takes is a routine mission for him to see a ghost of his former life, leaving him to wonder about the meaning of the Hell he’s been trapped in. Dom is forced to deal with the death of his wife, but this time around it’s more subtle. The success in his character is how he tells everyone he’s okay, and given the situation they have no choice but to deal with it later.
This game is also the first of the three to feature female soldiers on the front-lines. Anya returns, getting rid of her officers getup in exchange for a combat uniform. Her attitude has turned cocky – a side affect from spending the majority of her time with the grunts rather than the upper echelon. Anya, along with newcomer Sam, go against the typical character type of the female soldier: they wear the same armor as the men.
And then there is the villain of the story, the Queen Myyrah, who has somehow devolved since the second game. As a character she was never, and is never, fully developed, let alone partially. In the first game she is an ominous narrator with only a few lines. In the second game she not only speaks but gets her own cameo, and it’s her appearance that deepens the mystery. It raises questions of Marcus’s father while also questioning the Locust as a race, along with its possible ties to humanity. Gears of War 3 squanders her, turning her into a villain that would be more appropriate fighting the Power Rangers rather than the remnants of Delta. Her parts are short and shallow as she cackles off to the side, admonishing Marcus for his foolish attempts to save the world.
Myyrah never gets the center stage, barely holding the games attention for a few minutes at a time before progressing without her, leaving two opposing factions of enemy forces to deal with. On the left, there are the Lambent, or “glowies” as properly referred to in Fenix-speak. They were first introduced as an explosive type of grub in the original. Gears of War 2 expanded their role, separating the standard grub from the lambent grub, with the latter being a mutation of the former.
Lambent grubs are the first enemies that make their appearance in the game, and in a fashion they replace the typical methods of the grubs in previous games. In the first two the grubs would spawn from sinkholes made in the ground; only by closing up these sinkholes with a well placed grenade could the flow of reinforcements be stopped. The lambent in Gears of War 3 spawn from giant stalk that rip out of the dirt and protrude several stories into the air. Pod-like sacs appear along the stalk, spawning the lambent. Only by destroying the pods with well placed bullets could the stalk be killed. It’s a similar idea, but accelerated: the stalks come up faster and much more violently.
In comparison, the grubs still have the capability of spawning from the dirt, but the entire idea of the sinkhole is left behind. Instead, in a manner that is significantly more awesome, they launch themselves in the air, leaving clouds of dirt and debris flying in their wake. It does well to change up the flow of combat while also reinforcing the fact that the grubs don’t live underground anymore. They have no home to burrow up from. They, like the humans are on a losing side with only the lambent gaining ground.
This is emphasized by the style surrounding the new, ragtag locust horde. In the first two games they were more like the stormtroopers from Star Wars. Everyone got handed a brand new gun with polished armor. After being forced out from their home they’ve almost become savages, constructing armor from scraps and turrets by taping together multiple guns. Old, shoddy guns no less. With bayonets! It’s the retro lancer, and it is certainly not an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.
It is, however, a perfect addition to the Gears armory. High damage is balanced out by low accuracy, but the real feature is the melee functionality. While all other melee attacks have Fenix slapping his weapon across the face, the bayonet adds a charge function. You spring your bayonet into action and sprint forward. Do it right and you’ll impale them with the blade, and then toss your fresh kill to the ground. It’s very useful on an unsuspecting grub, glowie or other player.
Team Deathmatch returns, along with its various accompanying modes, and is joined with an upgraded Horde mode, and a new Beast mode. The advancements in Horde adds the ability to construct fortifications against the Locust. Special weapons can be purchased and, as the fight goes on, abilities are upgraded through use. It’s like the Zombie levels of Treyarch’s Call of Duty games, only without such a steep difficulty curve.
Beast mode has you playing as the Locust, fighting increasingly difficult battles against the human resistance. At first you deal with nameless warriors, but it’s only a matter of time before you’re up against the likes of Marcus Fenix himself. The only way to win is to brutally murder him by execution, which gives this mode a funny non-cannon approach to gameplay. Surprisingly, it’s not as fun as it sounds. Beast becomes highly repetitive, providing only stock characters to play as. It offers multiple types of character classes, but there’s very little strategy to execute when everyone chooses the same regular grub to spawn as.
It’s uncertain whether or not this will be the last game Epic makes within the world of Gears of War, whether by logic of gamer interest in the series or publisher interest in the possible revenue. Gears of War 3 is certainly the best of the trilogy. It is a highly refined experience, an exceptional showcase of the growing experience of the team at Epic.