Gears of War 3 – two weeks in


End of the beginning?

Epic Studios brings the conclusion of the trilogy that defined the early days of the xbox360, what better way to open up the gaming equivalent to the silly season?

Taking a moment to remember the original Gears of War, the initial visuals were knockouts for the time, the Mad World promo was an instant classic and the online gaming was something that brought waves and waves of new Gold members to xbox Live. Microsoft had a new cash cow to back-up the Master Chief, the adventures of Marcus Fenix and Dominic Santiago were the future.

I had dabbled with online gaming over the years, but it was a sunny afternoon in 2006 when things got exciting. My local retailer called to advise they were selling early and I was home sick, an hour later I had feet up and was ploughing through the early levels learning all about active reloads. A couple of hours later I took a break and tentatively fired up the multiplayer, hours later it was dark and my wife came home.

The sequel was inevitable and even though the developer had piled in the effort to make it bigger and better there were flaws, the painful vehicle sections had stayed, painful boss encounters had stayed and the story often took a turn for the ridiculous. The multiplayer had bots introduced and this was a bonus, because the net code was so poor, for me in New Zealand I never got a game online. I probably spent more time sitting in empty lobbies waiting for a loose player to turn up than I spent playing with the bots. There is something primeval about the Gears online play, if you rise above the shotgun whores and the grenade taggers here is a deep seated satisfaction o be had when ramming a chainsaw Lancer into the back of an unsuspecting Grub. This is not a buzz you can get from playing bots.

Gears 3 certainly brings the series home, the story is engaging and the quality of the cutscenes keep your attention the first time round. Epic have managed to take every positive element from the first two and none of the bad stuff. I for one abhor boss battles and even though there were a couple of times in this game that they popped up their big heads they were not the grinding, frustrating encounters of the second game.

The internet has been awash with accolades and great reviews, so after completing the campaign and giving it some thought this is my reaction. It is a great package, the campaign is a well crafted and fitting end to the story every cutscene was watchable without waffle. The game mechanics are slick and the visuals have been ramped up past beautiful, sharp textures, excellent modeling and a well used colour palette put this title into a league of its own.

The variety of enemies is well crafted and the introduction of the lambent, even though their core behavior is somewhat reminiscent of Left 4 Dead are a welcome change of pace to the Locust. Something interesting about the Locust and Gears 2 vs. Gears 3, the second game introduced Kantus as a full on Boss, pretty much a unique individual. Now there a more Kantus than I can shake a stick at, however shaking sticks is nowhere near as effective as a grenade tag. Executions have been improved, so be sure to make time mid-battle for seeing some of the special images.

Backing you up is a full four-COG squad, this is most welcome as there is generally half the squad standing in sticky situations and they are better at reviving you than teammates in competitive matches. One thing I did enjoy was to see teammates being downed on a regular basis, given the AI support in Call of Duty games tends to be indestructible when you are not, that has always been somewhat annoying.

Take the game online and the world opens up in terms of co-op and versus game types, the campaign can be played four player and levels can also be revisited in a Arcade style score mode, this could be a useful way to grind out a few achievements. The classic and much copied Horde mode is back with some exciting bells and whistles, plus a reverse Horde called Beast mode, where you hand a limited amount of time to destroy a team of humans and hero characters. Beast is fun, especially seeing the clock tick down and deciding which creature to spend some points on.

The biggest single improvement online has to be the actual connectivity, coming from a position where I could never get an online game with Gears 2 because of the notriously bad system, Gears 3 is picking up games beautifully fast and without any noticeable lag.

The game is nigh on perfect, apart from the occasional control issue and the moments when a desperate run for safety leaves me stuck to a wall showing my arse to the enemy. With a package that covers all bases, a game that has some valuable heart rending moments and the end of a trilogy that began soon after the birth of the xbox 360, everybody should own a copy.