Can you believe it’s been three years since the last Gears of War title launched? I’ve been away from the series for too long. Outside dabbling in the Gears of War 3 beta event — which I loved by the way — I really haven’t touched a Gears title since the last game released. But I picked up the controller, fired up Gears of War 3 and remembered almost instantly why I liked this franchise to begin with — it’s macho, explosive and, most importantly, a damn fine shooter. And having completed Gears 3’s campaign and mucked around for hours in the multiplayer component, I can easily say that this is Epic Games’ most refined effort to date. Gears of War 3 is the definitive Gears experience, bar none.
There’s a chapter about midway through the game’s third act called “Breakneck Run” that pretty much sums up the entire experience of Gears of War 3. The game might have a slow opener where you get a tour of the massive COG ship Sovereign, but after that point, Epic slams the accelerator to the floor and never lets up. Gears 3 is a tour de force that continuously one-ups itself in scope and scale in an adventure that sees you fighting a massive Leviathan, riding Locust air ships, hopping on a truck with a mounted rail gun to plow through hordes of Locust, and even traveling to places I’m not allowed to spoil in this review. Suffice it to say, Gears of War 3 is full of surprises, both from a gameplay and narrative standpoint.
Speaking of the game’s story, thankfully Gears 3 does not reach the level of cheese seen in Gears 2. You can breathe a sigh of relief, you won’t see anything as melodramatic in Gears 3 as the Dom/Maria subplot from Gears of War 2. Epic really learned their lesson with that misfire. But that’s not to say Gears 3 is devoid of all emotion either, it’s just that Epic has learned to check themselves before things get a little too out of hand… for the most part. There is a moment near the tail end of the game’s first act where Cole Train does some reminiscing about his Trashball heyday. Cole’s always been the Gears of War comic relief character, but this sequence takes it a little too far, if you ask me.
But I am happy that Gears of War 3 actually feels like a concluding chapter for not just Marcus Fenix, but for the entire Gears cast. Every character gets their moment to shine before the curtain closes. Epic wasn’t lying when they advertised that this game represented the end of the Gears story. There are some shocking, yet poignant twists that happen in Gears 3 that show just how high the stakes are and make this concluding chapter go out with a bang.
From a gameplay standpoint, Gears 3 is the most refined version of the series to date. Not only do the controls feel tighter than they have in the past, but Epic also made some small, yet important improvements to the game’s foundation. For instance, A.I. teammates, of which there are now three with you at all times, can actually revive you in the middle of combat. In some respects, this makes Gears’ campaign a cake walk since the threat of permanently dying pretty much dissipates, but this addition also makes sense from a conceptual standpoint. I always hated in previous Gears title that I could revive teammates, but they couldn’t revive me. Now you’re A.I. teammates can return the favor.
Also, Gears 3 features a handy “target pinpointer” that you can set on an enemy to have your entire team direct their fire at that specific target. This tool is incredibly useful if you’re playing the game through solo and need help taking down the bigger enemy types like Boomers and the likes. And, of course, Gears 3 wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t introduce some new weapons to toy around with. While I had a good time storming into battle wielding the massive meat clever or retro lancer, I gotta say the game’s mech, the Silverback, takes the cake. This thing is a beast with unlimited ammo and a nice wrinkle added to the tried-and-true, cover-to-cover formula of the Gears franchise.
There aren’t many titles on the market that can compete with the breath of multiplayer options available in Gears of War 3. Returning is the series’ staple cooperative mode, but this time you can play through the game’s entire campaign with up to four players instead of just two. It’s a feature that fans of the series have been clamoring for since the first Gears, and thankfully Epic delivers the goods for this final chapter.
Standard multiplayer modes and Horde mode return for Gears 3 as well. When it comes to Versus multiplayer, the standard modes you expect most online shooters to offer these days are present: deathmatch, team deathmatch, king of the hill, capture the leader, etc. Horde mode also sees a pretty substantial upgrade for Gears 3. The mode now features some tower defense elements that let you purchase and fortify your stronghold from incoming Locust threats.
Probably the largest addition to Gears of War 3’s multiplayer is the brand-new “Beast” mode. Think of this as reverse Horde, where you now get to play as the Locust, but instead of settling in for a marathon session of fifty, progressively harder rounds, Beast mode’s 12 rounds are played for speed. You start with a minute on the clock and you must kill pesky humans as quickly as possible to earn more time to continue playing. Killing computer-controlled humans earns you money which can be spent on reviving yourself and opening up bigger and badder beasts to play as, including the Berserker, Corpser and Boomer. Beast mode makes for a nice counterbalance to Gears’ classic Horde mode.
It might seem like I’m glancing over a lot of what multiplayer in Gears 3 has to offer. In some respects, you you're right. Just know that Gears of War 3’s multiplayer is robust. There’s so much to do that it can be daunting when first firing it up. But it all works smoothly and is a load of fun, and that’s what’s most important. Just like with the game’s campaign, Gears 3’s multiplayer is the most refined online experience Epic has pumped out yet.
I think the word “refined” is really the through line to describe Epic’s work on Gears of War 3. This is Gears perfected, folks. If you’re a fan of the series, this final chapter in the saga will not disappoint. It delivers everything you expect in a Gears of War title, and some things you don’t. Epic has sent this series out in style.
Full Disclosure: CraveOnline received 1 advance review copy of Gears of War 3 for the Xbox 360 from Edelman. We were held to the embargo date of Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 12:01am PST. Before starting our review, we completed the entire campaign on medium difficulty. We also played the game’s multiplayer component and every mode available for a handful of hours.