It's hard to believe that almost five years have passed since Emergence Day. The bane of the humans on Sera was a boon for the gamers on Earth, as we plunged headlong into a grim new world of brutal, cover-based combat and gorgeous visuals. Now the third-person shooter trilogy comes to a superb climax in Gears of War 3. Building on the savage shoot-outs and merciless melees of its predecessors, Gears of War 3 hones the series' signature action to a wickedly sharp edge. Cooperative and competitive opportunities are broader and better than ever, but the most stunning achievement is the campaign. It's an exhilarating, emotional, and thoroughly satisfying finale for the series, and it makes Gears of War 3 one of the best shooters of the year.
6334315NoneThat'll teach 'em to mess with a man's tomatoes.
Things haven't been good for the Gears since the first cutscene of the series, and this time around, the human race is really on the ropes. Having sacrificed their last civilized holdout in a desperate bid to destroy the Locust, they now cling to survival in isolated forts and on ships, teetering on the verge of annihilation. The included "Previously On..." video gives you a disappointingly meager refresher, but the first act of the campaign sets the tone beautifully. It starts with a surreal surprise that undermines your expectations right from the get-go, and then it reacquaints you with Delta Squad. Marcus grumbles about taking orders while Dom cultivates plants, and this brief moment of quiet offers a nice contrast to the chaos moments later when Marcus is barking out orders and Dom is threatening to kill the enemies that mess up his garden.
Gears of War has always done brash well, and this game is no exception. A salty new female squad member named Sam gives Baird a run for his sarcastic money, and the Cole Train barrels along, full steam ahead. Some of his lines are groan-worthy, while some are genuinely amusing, and the same holds true for many characters in the game. Regardless of whether you cringe or chuckle, the dialogue does a great job of creating a sense of camaraderie that bonds both new and old members of Delta Squad into a cohesive unit. Their fraternal connection makes you feel like you know the characters well, and sets the stage for the outstanding campaign to come.
An early revelation shocks Marcus Fenix, but you get only a glimpse of internal turmoil as he overrides his emotions to be the leader his squad needs. It isn't until halfway through the first act that the game really flexes its storytelling muscle. Stepping out of Marcus Fenix's boots, you play as Cole Train on a foraging mission to the town where he earned his reputation as a star athlete. Your first encounter with his past includes a simple line that foreshadows the journey you are about to take: "You ever feel like you're dead, but nobody told you?" As you catch more and more snippets of the life that used to be, the horrifying reality of the life that is begins to sink in deeper than it ever did before. By the time you see this chapter through its hallucinatory climax, you don't just have a whole new understanding of Augustus Cole; you have a richer understanding of what it must be like for everyone still alive on this war-ravaged planet. As the campaign progresses, different characters, environments, and situations intertwine to further flesh out your emotional investment in this world. Gears of War 3 delivers some truly poignant moments and boasts some of the best storytelling ever seen in a shooter, complemented by great facial animation, an expressive soundtrack, and excellent pacing.
6334314NoneThe Retro Lancer offers new and exciting ways to maim and execute your enemies.
As you journey from ship to shore and beyond, you visit a variety of beautifully designed locations. Improvised settlements of human and Locust alike convey the desperate state of Seran surface dwellers and contrast starkly with the areas humans have forsaken. These places all have meaningful connections to the story, so every narrative detour feels natural. The same goes for the gameplay detours. Logical on-rails vehicle sequences link major locations, providing exciting interludes that last just long enough to add some welcome diversity. The only vehicles you actually pilot are squat exoskeletons that move like a bulkier, robotic version of you. They are used sparingly and handle well, offering a heady feeling of destructive power. Gears of War 3 doles out cutscenes, combat, and changes of pace in skillful measure, and maintains this delicate balance within the on-foot firefights.
Conflict zones vary widely in size and shape. Claustrophobic rooms channel you straight into your enemies, while larger areas give you plenty of room to flank your foes. Such spacious locations often play host to a new type of enemy spawn point, the Lambent stalk. Like the emergence holes before it, the stalk must be damaged to stanch the flow of enemies, and this can require some active maneuvering on your part. You need to use cover to stay alive, but you also must venture out into the field of fire to stop these spawn points and locate powerful weapons to wield against your foes. Returning favorites like the Mortar and Mulcher are joined by the One Shot (guess how it got that name) and the massive Vulcan, a devastating minigun that can only be moved by two people. Most of your arsenal is made up of guns that will be familiar to series veterans, providing a gruesome and satisfying array of ways to deal death at all ranges. Bullets still hit their marks with gratifying squish noises, and roaring chainsaws proclaim that the tried-and-true combat mechanics are once again in top form.