How do you measure the worth of a franchise? Is it just the number of copies sold or is it the influence it has on the genre? What about the impact on console sales or pushing the boundaries of technology? Most titles would be glad to be at the pinnacle of one of these categories. It is the rare franchise which can aspire to be counted in all of them, and Gears of War is indeed one of the rarest of the rare. Gears of War 3 wraps up the trilogy in this genre-defining franchise, but is it the best in the series?
Gears of War 3 takes everything from the previous game and turns it up several notches. However, the beauty of the design lies in the fact that it is all so familiar with solid new packaging. There is more than enough new stuff to make you feel like you are indeed playing something new and not Gears of War 2.5. Yet there is a reassuring nod to the old gameplay mechanics, which means you don’t spend time figuring out weapons, active reloads, and the cover mechanism. This is key to making a riveting sequel.
The story picks up a few years after the destruction of Jacinto, with the COG disbanded and pockets of resistance to the Lambent and Locust surviving at different places. The old faces are back and you play most of the game as Marcus Fenix, the biggest, baddest and meanest of the COG. There are some new faces as well, including the third Carmine brother. Here’s where you realise that things are getting different. Anya, a suit in the previous games, has taken up guns, and Carmine, in sharp contrast to his brothers, is a loudmouth badass. There is an actual story this time, which is fleshed out as opposed to the napkin-thin plot of the previous games. Guest writer Karen Traviss has even tried to bring out the emotional side of these killing machines, except at certain points I think she tried too hard. There are games where emo works, and games where bullets speak louder. Gears of War belongs squarely in the latter category.
The story pans out over multiple parts of the world and this is where Gears of War 3 stands out from its predecessors. Where Gears 1 and 2 had only one motif going on, aka gritty, Gears 3 astonishes with the breadth of locations. Each has been built with painstaking detail and the Unreal Engine is pushed to the limit to render them all in glorious high definition. The art design is colourful, and the detail doesn’t take away from the fact that it is still a video game. Epic weren’t going for realism. Realism is commuting two hours daily. When I play, I want to escape into different worlds. Is this the best looking game on the Xbox 360? Quite possibly. Is it the best looking game across consoles? It certainly comes close. Throughout the campaign, there was hardly any stuttering and no pop-in at all.
Combat is an area where Epic doesn’t mess around. The average Gears of War player is not too interested in the story and locale. They want to make mincemeat out of the hordes of enemies. Epic doesn’t disappoint here either. Old enemies, new enemies, old tricks, new tricks – everything is there. It’s possible that you stick with the tried and tested Lancer/Shotgun combo and finish the game, but where’s the fun in that! Try out some of the new weapons and see the funky execution moves. There are new bosses and mini bosses to take out in style, with set pieces that will make Naughty Dog sit up and take notice. Just when you think that an Act cannot be surpassed, the next one comes along and astonishes you further. There’s only one thing I want to point out – difficulty has been turned down drastically. While Gears 1 on Normal was quite fun to play, and Gears 2 on Normal was decent, Gears 3 on Normal is a cakewalk. I can count the number of times I died on one hand. I guess in easy mode, they just hand you the Achievement Points.
On the multi-player side of things, drop-in, drop-out co-op mode still remains super smooth, versus mode now has dedicated servers to fall back on, and the ever popular Horde mode makes a return, and it’s as brutal as ever. However, the new twist is that there’s a kind of tower defence game thrown in for added challenge. There’s a new mode called Beast, where you get to control the Horde, which attacks humans. It’s good fun, but I think I will stick with plain vanilla multiplayer. Sticking grenades never gets old.
The jury is still out on whether this final chapter in the trilogy is the best of the lot. Personally, I think Gears 2 was better, although this comes pretty close. There are areas where this surpasses it – the locations, the graphics and some of the set pieces. That said, Gears of War 3 is a must-play game. The multiplayer still rocks, the single player campaign is rock solid, and most importantly, it is immense fun. Many game designers forget that video games are meant to be fun. Thankfully, Cliffy B didn’t and we can thank the day that Marcus Fenix and the COG arrived on our consoles.