Gears of War 3 (XBox 360)

It’s time for a review on the XBox 360! Yes, what may be the biggest xbox 360 exclusive of the year – and possibly one of the most anticipated 360 exclusives ever – has finally come out this week: Gears of War 3. Unfortunately, I missed out on the first two, so I’m a bit out of the loop on the past goings on with this series, so that’s the perspective this review is coming from.

Message From the Tourist Advisory Board of Sera

I’m just going to go out and say it: Gears of War 3 is an absolutely phenomenal game from a presentation standpoint. The audio, the music, and the graphics are all exceptional. There is very little that is not praiseworthy about all of them. Taking it one at a time though, I’m going to start with graphics.

Sera is not a beautiful world anymore, it has been absolutely demolished on multiple occasions during a long history of war and conflict. But it is incredibly well-designed with unique environments, fantastic vistas, and even a rather gorgeous underwater scene. Despite being mostly just scene after scene of wreckage, each scene is distinct and recognizable, showing you both a taste of what Sera must have once been and giving you a feel for what happened in previous titles. The people are the very typical Unreal Engine style bulky humanoids(wide shoulders, no necks, etc.), but the detail and artistic integrity that was put into each character’s design blew me away. The animations are all very well done, although there is some clipping that can be found when running near walls or other players, but that is truly not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

The music chosen is all incredibly suitable and well-integrated into all facets of the game – from epic pieces during certain cut-scenes to memorable background tracks amplifying the moods of every part of the game. Gears of War 3’s soundtrack will surely take it’s place among the best video gaming has to offer – and I truly hope that Video Games Live gets the chance to translate it to a live orchestra because I think hearing it live would be truly amazing.

With regards to the sound effects and voicework, again all I can say is that it is nearly flawlessly done. All of the sound effects work very well, the sounds of enemies exploding, or the chainsaw, or even the little pesky diggers digging all have the appropriate impact. Nearly all of the voicework – I’d say 95% of it – is fantastic. The only character whose voice bothered me was Augustus Cole – but then again, everything about him just didn’t feel right but I’ll get onto that later. But the voice cast contains such incredible talent as Fred Tatasciore, Michael Gough, and John Dimaggio, and they, for the most part, work together so naturally that it truly is one of the most amazing performances I’ve seen in a long time. But overall, the presentation of this game was incredible, and having one bad voice just doesn’t mar that enough for me to care.

A Tale of Brothers

From the start, from what I understand, Gears has been a story primarily about brotherhood in a world being torn apart. The camaraderie between Marcus and Dom especially, but also between nearly all of the characters plays that off perfectly. Every little bit of banter, little quip at Baird’s expense, or ‘motivational speech’ feels… just right. That’s really the best word for it. The exception to all of this, and my biggest downpoint to this entire game, is Augustus Cole. With the exception of a few moments, Cole’s character felt so tacked on… so wrong… that I had to actually look it up to see if he was a new addition to the third game. His character seemed to completely lack any of the above camaraderie, and his personality just felt… so unsuited. My initial thought was that the developers of this game had gotten a big celebrity who wasn’t much of a voice actor to lend his ‘star power’ to it and just built a role that didn’t require much acting to play – a ‘celebrity’. His entire chapter of the game was a letdown, and I was so relieved when it ended and I could move away from his character and almost forget he was there at all. But I’m done ranting about it – let’s get back to the good stuff. You could really tell this was building up to an end as you played through, not only from the story itself, but from the mixed desperation and resignation heard in the voices. They knew this was going to be the end, one way or another… and that really showed through without them having to outright say it.

The story itself was for the most part so good that I don’t even need to include the caveat ‘for a shooter’ when talking about it. The story, despite being one about a group of grizzled, ‘manly’ battle-hardened veterans, truly had a tremendous depth and range of emotion – from exhilaration to shock, from desperation and tragic sadness to hopeful relief, from resignation to burning rage. I will not deny that there were moments in this game where I cried for what had happened, and that is not something I can typically say about a shooter. Props to the writers, they’ve created a truly epic conclusion to what seemed to be a truly epic story – I only wish I’d stepped into it sooner.

The game included a brief history video showing the events of the previous games which was nice, but lacked detail and really still left me without a good understanding of what had happened. But it did help. What helped more was the introductory level. After that, while I didn’t feel as though I knew the story, I definitely felt as though I had a good grasp for the feel of what was happening and where it was heading. At no point did I feel as though my not having played the first two games held me back from enjoyment or understanding, which is difficult to do without being obvious about it so again, much praise to the writing team for managing that.

The game contained many amazing story cutscenes, all paced throughout the game so as to not become excessive, but still enough to add a great deal of information and chance for a bit more storytelling. Two of these scenes stand out from the rest for their amazing design, however. The first is a scene in the middle which I can’t discuss much because the event would be such a huge spoiler so as to ruin a huge, albeit very well foreshadowed, event… but suffice it to say the every element of this cutscene, from dialog and writing to music design and visual cues was absolutely perfect. The other is the ending, which truly was a perfect way to end a trilogy of tragedy and war.

What Would a ‘Gear’ be Without Teeth?

That’s right, it’s time to discuss combat in all it’s many forms: and Gears 3 has a lot of them. You name it, Gears probably has some form of it. There are wide open firefights, cqc-heavy corridors, heavy artillery, turret-play on everything from fortresses to trucks to dirigibles to submarines, and even mech-fighting. The variety in the combat serves to ensure that you never feel like you’re getting stuck doing too much of the same thing, and helps to pace out the game incredibly well. The game’s campaign has a good length, in the 14-20 hour range I would guess, and at no point did the combat ever feel old for me. Not only that, but each and every type of combat was amazingly well-done and felt natural to the game.

The controls all were very accurate and responsive. Although I did have a bit of trouble getting used to the control scheme, I suspect that has more to do with me not having played previous shooters on the 360, and the differences between the ps3 and the 360 than it does with the game itself.

The squad AI for the other characters when you’re playing alone in the campaign is fairly good for the most part, although it can be a bit easily distracted. I had a few times where I’d be downed, and one would start running to help me, and then something would change the focus of the action(like a boss would move or a new enemy would jump down somewhere far away) and they’d forget about me and run halfway across the map leaving me to die. Also the AI would sometimes get in my way, preventing me from going down a hall or leaving an elevator until I’d moved in a specific way to trigger them to react. A third minor AI problem was that they were very hard to catch standing still making it incredibly difficult to change weapons with one if you wanted what they had! Aside from those 3 minor issues, I found the AI to be quite useful and never felt as if they were more of a burden than a help – which is a good thing since in so many games your AI teammates are absolutely useless.

Your arsenal is full of weapons from the truly simplistic to the crazy and unbelievable. While the pure number of weapons isn’t that high, the variety covers every major base and gives you some really fun and crazy tools to use, both in the single and multiplayer. You’ve got two shotguns, multiple options for your handguns, a sniper rifle, an smg, an assault rifle, and the specialty weapons – the most unique of these being the Digger which fires a burrowing grenade that pops up and explodes.  Overall, despite not being the largest arsenal out there, it does feel very complete. At no point during the single player did I feel like there were any other weapons that could be added to the game. In the multiplayer, I am somewhat disappointed that so far I’ve been unable to find any method to be a sniper without running around looking for random weapon spawns. This annoys me, because I’ve always been most comfortable as a sniper and it’s just not feasible to do regularly in the multiplayer.

Gears Work Well With Others

What a nice little segue we have to go into multiplayer… aside from that one starting loadout issue, I am fully and completely blown away by the variety, integrity, and enjoyability of the multiplayer in Gears 3. What are now widely considered the ‘standard’ team multiplayer shooter modes are both there – tdm and ‘conquest’ style – and done as well as anyone could hope. In addition, there are a few really unique vs modes including, as an example, an execution-only team deathmatch game mode.

While the competitive multiplayer is all impressive, the game really shines when you look at it’s cooperative modes. In addition to the entire campaign being playable with up to 3 others, there are also a couple of truly distinct cooperative online modes. The returning favourite ‘Horde Mode’ which has spread into many many other games in many other forms is there in strong form, boasting not only fantastic cooperative gameplay and hectic fun but also an interesting strategic element in the form of building fortifications and base defenses. In addition to Horde mode is a sort of ‘reverse horde’ called ‘Beast Mode’ where you play as locust and lambent forces and have to kill the human forces. This is a truly unique experience and, once you get used to the different controls, a ton of fun. There is little that is more satisfying than running up to someone as a ticker and just blowing them away. Beast Mode controls can be a bit tricky to work with, but if you just play around and pay attention to the prompts when you pick a different type of locust or lambent unit, you’ll get the hang of it fairly quickly as they are quite intuitively designed.

The matchmaking system in Gears 3 is functional, if a little vague. It doesn’t really tell you what it’s looking for or why it’s ruling so much out, but since it does find matches relatively quickly this isn’t a huge problem. When people leave, provided they aren’t the host, the game will fill the slot with AI players until new players can be found – at least in non-ranked matches. I haven’t tried any ranked matches, so I can’t speak to whether the same is true there. Unfortunately, the AI isn’t very smart, and I found myself getting 5-8 kills off them in a row from them repeating one of the same few sets of actions over and over again. If the host leaves, the game will apparently restart itself assigning a new host, but quite often that causes others to disconnect. This last one also occurs during horde mode as well, which I learned much to my chagrin when I ended up trying to solo a wave after everyone else disconnected!

Final Thoughts

A few other things to be aware of. I did run into a bug where signing up for XBox Live Gold corrupted my save files, luckily I was already finished the game but for any new 360 players looking to get into Gears 3 multiplayer – I strongly recommend signing up before you start the game to avoid the chance of what happened to me happening to you. The game contains a large variety of trophies and medals to obtain, which should keep any shooter fan playing for months – even not counting the sheer joy that can be found in the multiplayer all on its own.

Overall

Gears of War 3 is a fantastic shooter with tons of content, great mechanics, a very strong, deep story and fantastic production values. What gripes I have are mostly just minor bugs – although I will once again reiterate that I did not enjoy the first chapter and a half simply due to how much I could not stand the character of Augustus Cole. But once I got past his segment in the spotlight, the game was absolutely fantastic and I enjoyed it immensely. A strong reason to own an XBox 360, and a fantastic closing act to the story of Marcus Fenix.

Pros:

  1. Responsive, accurate controls.
  2. Fantastic story, one of the best stories I’ve seen in any shooter, and a story good enough to stand among even games of other genres.
  3. Incredible Visuals and graphic quality.
  4. Almost every character is unique, well-written, well-acted and worked together flawlessly.
  5. Amazing music and sound effects.
  6. Some of the best cut scenes out there.
  7. Great ending.
  8. Phenomenal multiplayer including a truly unique game mode in ‘beast mode’.
  9. Good use of foreshadowing.
  10. Great feeling of brotherhood and friendship between the characters.
  11. Very thorough arsenal including a variety of reliable staples and a bunch of really fun unique weapons.
  12. Incredible variety among every aspect of the campaign.
  13. Campaign AI was mostly fairly good.
  14. For the most part, voice cast was fantastic.
  15. Ton of replayability.

Cons:

  1. Augustus Cole – I hated everything about this character to the point where I wish they’d made the game shorter and left out his segment of the story entirely.
  2. Controls too different from what I’m used to – this is a bit of a con for me, but overall not really a big deal.
  3. Minor clipping issues when running near other people or walls.
  4. A few minor AI issues could get frustrating.
  5. Matchmaking system in multiplayer is somewhat vague.
  6. Multiplayer AI is pretty bad.
  7. If host needs to be replaced, quite often many players will disconnect.
  8. No sniper options in vs mode multiplayer – forced to rely on random spawn weapons if you wish to be a sniper.

Review Written by: Sean

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