Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: Gears of War 3

The videogames industry plays home to many high-profile franchises these days, ranging from the long-running family friendly escapades of Nintendo’s beloved Super Mario games to the more modern, more mature experiences offered by the likes of Resistance and KillZone. Epic Games’ Gears of War is […]
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The videogames industry plays home to many high-profile franchises these days, ranging from the long-running family friendly escapades of Nintendo’s beloved Super Mario games to the more modern, more mature experiences offered by the likes of Resistance and KillZone. Epic Games’ Gears of War is arguably one of the most poignant of all interactive adult entertainment, perhaps even eclipsing Microsoft’s own Halo franchise, and this latest instalment is evidence as to just why that might be. Set to launch globally next week, Gears of War 3 is simply one of the most precisely engineered videogames of all time.

Upon beginning the Campaign Gears of War 3 immediately throws one of its many ballsy decisions at you. Playing on anything other than the Casual difficulty setting will forgo the commonplace tutorial, throwing you into a heated battle with merely a whisper of context. Though this battle is inevitably easy, the decision to only give the gamer feedback on their performance (mechanics overlooked as opposed to those required) rather than hold their hand is an indication that Epic Games have been listening to the demands of the long-time gamers, and have made every effort to satisfy them. Gears of War 3 is a game aimed squarely at the core videogame hobbyist demographic, and doesn’t shy away from it.

That being said, there is leniency towards newcomers which has clearly been incorporated not to influence them to buy the game, but to allow them to jump in with their partner or friend without too many hurdles. As strange as this may seem, the barrier for entry with Gears of War 3­ – provided the options have been configured correctly – is lower than many Wii games.

The Campaign can be played through in both the traditional mode and Arcade mode, a new addition that allows you to replay any unlocked level with Mutators enabled. Mutators adjust the default ruleset just as they do in Epic Games’ other AAA production, Unreal Tournament. Similar to Halo’s Skulls, the Arcade mode offers a comprehensive scoring system that is affected by the enabled Mutators, A multiplier builds with each consecutive kill and decreases with damage taken, while points are awarded for kills, assists and other beneficial actions. It’s a very interesting system that is balanced perfectly to encourage repeated play, though just as with the core Campaign the replayability is enhanced significantly when playing co-operatively.

The plot remains constructed of the usual science-fiction arrangement pillared by the washing machine characters that have always been the staples of the series. The fact that Fenix, Santiago, Cole and co. are no more personable than in previous instalments is unlikely to do the game any harm however, as those invested in the story will already have accepted this as par for the course, and those playing for the shear thrill of the experience will continue to do so, regardless of whether their hero is dressed in futuristic armour or a tutu. It’s almost inconsequential that the plotline is a pale shade of overly familiar alien invaders, but for those wishing to become involved with the storyline after having missed the first two titles have the option of viewing a “Previously in Gears…” sequence, allowing gamers to catch-up with the most important events of the series thus far.

Both Gears of War and Gears of War 2 are considered leaders in their genre, but there’s no denying that the expectation placed upon this third instalment would see anything less than direct improvement as a disappointment. Thankfully, Gears of War 3­ uses the increasing cast list to do just this, renovating the gunplay just enough to keep things feeling fresh throughout the duration of the five act Campaign. The mixture of enemy types constantly changes the pace of combat sections, with no two consecutive fights allowing the use of the same tactics. A basic understanding of the weaponry available and familiar strategies, such as flanking manoeuvres and tactical grenade use, is key to success, are the surest route to success, but Gears of War 3­ does offer players plenty of room to improvise.

One of the biggest improvements to the gameplay is arguably the vastly more open environments. The tight corridors and courtyards of the earlier Gears of War games were never really a lowlight until you play Gears of War 3. Within twenty minutes the game proves that there’s more than just the graphics that have benefited from the uptake of new development techniques.

And on that note, the visual quality is superb throughout much of the game. The sketchbook-style colour palette does a remarkably good job of pitching Gears of War 3 as a different entity to both Gears of War and Gears of War 2: it’s a progression of their standards, not a continuation. The blood and fury remain present and correct but the art direction gives it all a much more sombre tone. If you choose to pay attention to the grainy filter – and many of the more observant gamers will immediately choose to do so – you’ll buy into a world that values your success much more than ever before. One where life isn’t considered such a cheap commodity: a rarity for a game where the main focus of your interaction is killing things.

The soundtrack presented alongside Gears of War 3­’s action is phenomenal, delivering tension from even the most casual combat sequence. The rapid increase in tempo, the contrast between aggression on-screen and aural drama is stunning, and while the character’s soundbytes are fairly frequent, they are delivered mid-battle with far more conviction than during moments of story progression.

Of course, it’s not perfect. Many of the interactive objects can be frustratingly pernickety about their demands as to where the player be standing in relation to them, and there’s a surprising lack of feedback with different terrain types: player can walk across a fairly deep looking puzzle with making even so much as a ripple across it’s plastic surface. These blemishes may seem small, but there are a number of unfortunate oversights that will eventually begin to irritate, which is such a shame when by-and-large Gears of War 3 features some of the highest production values seen on modern consoles.

In addition to the single-player and co-operative Campaign, Gears of War 3 features a wide array of multiplayer modes. Competitive combat is available in the familiar flavour of the Ranked Match, with all the usual Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes given a Gears of War seasoning, and a casual multiplayer mode is available to give gamers new to the franchise an opportunity to get up-to-speed. The multiplayer gameplay is a step above most other third-person action games, and is specifically an improvement on the direct predecessors to Gears of War 3. While multiplayer has always been an enjoyable experience in Gears of War, here in Gears of War 3 the competitive gameplay alone is enough to warrant a purchase.

Additional multiplayer modes come in the form of Horde 2.0 and the all-new Beast Mode. Horde 2.0 has seen a number of significant revisions, and now features a much closer resemblance to a Tower Defence game. Defences and ammunition can be bought using currency earned by killing enemies, with greater amounts offered for felling larger foes. Mid-level events and bosses make the Horde 2.0 much dynamic than its predecessor, but unfortunately no more entertaining. It’s an additional – and welcome – revision of the game’s rulesets, but once your team of friends gets the hang of it Horde 2.0 will become a frustration for failing at specific difficulty spikes repeatedly. The Best Mode is much more successful however, turning the tables and giving the player the opportunity to take down the COGs as a variety of Locust troop types.

Players must earn cash to purchase new units here in Beast Mode in a similar fashion to that of Horse 2.0, but a significant difference lies in the fact that players must take down an increasing number of enemy COG units within a time limit, as opposed to merely surviving. It’s another remix of the rules that is very addictive: so much so that once the Campaign has been finished it will surely be the Beast Mode that provides the Team Deathmatch multiplayer with the greatest competition in terms of hours played.

All of these gameplay modes are tied to gather by a comprehensive levelling system. Presented similarly to that of Halo: Reach, Gears of War 3’s player progression shames that of every similar system within modern games. The overwhelming compendium of ribbons, medals, awards and unlocks creates one of the most compulsive meta-game mechanics ever seen in videogames. Almost every good action offers additional experience points, and several good actions will typical tie together for a second bonus. The fact that most of these bonuses can be acquired at any time, in any gameplay mode – from causal to hardcore difficulty settings – means that the scale of progression remains compelling for players of any level.

Gears of War 3 was always expected to push the envelope, and thankfully Epic Games hasn’t disappointed. It’s a AAA videogame through-and-through, renovating the formula whilst offering a more complete experience than ever before. It’s accessible to the point of welcoming newcomers, but not so much as to encourage those who didn’t enjoy previous instalments to return here. After all, Gears of War 3 has to maintain a distinct level of challenge to entertain its core market, and that it does with a level of panache rarely seen in third-person action games. Gears of War 3 is certain to become one of the biggest success stories of 2011, and with the final release in our hands, Electronic Theatre can honestly say it’s earned the right to do so.











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