Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Epic Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
On paper, a game about a group of space marines fighting aliens on a fictional planet sounds formulaic in the extreme but Cliff Blezinski and his team always managed to succeed in making the Gears franchise work by ensuring that despite the silliness, the chainsaws and the bloodshed, at its heart was a game that was simple to pick up and fun to play. The lancer – the game’s default weapon which is basically a chainsaw mounted assault rifle – is as satisfying to use today as it first was five years ago. And if anything, Epic have tweaked, tinkered and honed their craft so that the story mode has an improved sense of pacing and that the balance of the weapons is just about perfect in the multiplayer mode.
Gears of War 3‘s campaign mode clocks in at around ten hours to complete and there is a mixture of arena battles, set pieces against gigantic foes and on-the-rails shooting galleries. The on-the-rails parts are notably improved over the previous two games. There is a better balance of control and cinematic spectacle this time around. The sequence in which Marcus and his team use an airship to travel through a valley provided an unexpected and previously unseen sense of scale to the Gears series. The standard arena battles where the Cogs fight in an enclosed space against several waves of enemies are made enjoyable by the prescense of several mini-games that lead towards achievements. I played the entire campaign in co-op mode and we were striving to complete a particular achievement for finishing off enemies using the entire arsenal of weapons in the game (there are 24 different attacks that must be used to unlock the achievement). So what could potentially be the least engaging part of a game that is all about spectacle actually turned into one of the enjoyable sections. I felt a bit like me and my partner were Asterix and Obelix fighting the Romans or Legolas and Gimli tallying up who could kill more orcs in a creative fashion. It sounds like a little thing but the existence of micro-scale challenges greatly improves the overall experience. Gears provides plenty of them and presents easy stat tracking to see your progress.
As for the story itself, while it doesn’t quite answer everything as conclusively as one would hope (why the hell the alien Queen is the only one of her kind to take human form remains a mystery), it is still pretty enjoyable fare. The best thing I can compare it to is the original Predator film. There is just a wonderful sense of comradery as these five or six absurdly macho marines slay several hundred aliens, talk trash and save the world. Blezinksi and co-producer Rod Ferguson both cited a thematic link with the game’s focus on family bereavement with their own experiences of losing their fathers at a young age. The key death scenes in this game are actually pretty tastefully handled by video gaming standards.
A noticable difference in the game’s presentation is the introduction of a much brighter colour pallette. There is plenty of foliage, blue skies and bright yellow alien goo coating the game’s environment. It is certainly to game’s betterment and I’m glad to see Epic take a page out of Bungie’s playbook as they traditionally had plenty of bright primary colours in the Halo universe.
When its all said and done, Gears of War 3 is a robust, refined and thoroughly enjoyable conclusion to this trilogy. It carries over everything you enjoyed about the original two games, improves things in small measures and delivers a satisfying conclusion. Although a new Xbox console hasn’t been announced yet, one wonders whether there can’t be one too far away from now. Seeing the current story arcs wrapping up for Halo, Gears of War and Mass Effect (in the first quarter of next year), it feels like a lot of big blockbuster game franchises associated with this console are nearing an end. Gears of War was good, bloody fun and its had a terrific five year run.