One of the biggest, most anticipated games of the year was released this week. Join us for a spoiler-free discussion of Gears of War 3.
1. What is Gears of War 3?
Gears of War 3 is the third installment in one of the most popular, best selling video game franchises of all time. The third-person shooter game, available only on the Xbox 360, focuses on a small group of soldiers, known as Delta Squad, as they attempt to attempt to rid their planet of a subterranean alien group of enemies, known as the Locust. The game series has been well received by critics and players alike, winning Game of the Year in its first release and the first two games in the series have sold more than 12 million copies so far.
2. Why should I care?
Let’s get some things out of the way. Gears of War is one big cliché. It features soldiers with impossibly big bodies and overpowered weapons wreaking death and havoc, raining shell casings and hot lead with the rate of an Amazonian downpour. The plot and story crumble under scrutiny like an E-Hole (although the Gears 3 story is better than its predecessors) and the character development is like watching a slow motion video of snails racing. On RealPlayer. While it buffers on a 14.4 dial up modem. In short, Gears of War’s storyline is one big Schwarzenegger catch phrase: it’s macho and thinks it’s clever, but is really just the glue that holds the scenes of violence together.
Despite all of these shortcomings, Gears of War is one of the best video game series of all times. The level design is close to perfect, challenging where it needs to be, but rarely hair-pullingly, frustratingly so (this is another area where Gears 3 has improved from its predecessors) and, while it teaches you the game, it doesn’t hand-hold you through the entire first act like so many current games are wont to do. In terms of game mechanics, it’s difficult to imagine it being any better; it’s so well thought out that playing simply feels like second nature. Gears of War understands what it’s supposed to do, to be the best damn shooter out there, a task it performs admirably. And because Gears of War 3 does its job so well, it turns into a more immersive and enjoyable experience.
Even if you’ve never played, the controller map is incredibly intuitive and easy to pick up, and when it’s time to seek a hiding place, the cover system is the gold standard for shooters. The maps in Gears 3 are huge, with plenty of opportunities for ambushing enemies or finding a place to hide while healing. Finally, the backgrounds and environments are truly beautiful and, since much of Gears 3 takes place outside, the game is more lush and rich than ever this time around. For a game this violent, it’s nice to find those surreal moments when you’re ducking to heal or moving to the next action piece and admire the beautiful vistas — the contrast is almost palpable.
In the end, maybe the one thing that makes Gears of War such a memorable and enjoyable gaming experience is the camaraderie that Marcus, Dom, Baird, and The Cole Train share. I don’t know whether it’s the subtle storytelling techniques that Epic Games uses when unfolding these characters, or the hell that I’ve been through with each of these guys over the course of three games, or if it’s something else. But the bottom line is that even though I know very little about these characters, I’ve been made to feel empathetic with them. In a way, it’s very similar to the friends I’ve played Gears of War with over XBox Live. I’ve never met these other players from other states or countries and I don’t know much about them. But I still really enjoy going to battle with them.
3. Is there any objectionable language or obscene amounts of blood and gore?
Yes. And a lot of both. On top of that, it’s a very violent game — you can vivisect your opponent with your gun that has a chainsaw attached to its undercarriage. But, if you’re inclined, you can turn off both language and gore via the options menu. While it does not detract from the story, it noticeably lessens the intensity of the battle scenes.
4. So can my kids play it?
I’m somebody who thinks that nine-year-olds shouldn’t be playing Modern Warfare, yet almost every single one of my son’s friends do, so, bearing that in mind, I don’t think kids should play Gears of War either. With the mature content left on, it is very intense. Bodies are blasted apart, blood is splattered on the screen and profanity is as prevalent as the plentiful weapon caches. With the mature content off, it’s just marginally better. I don’t want to go off on a rant, start a flame war or pretend to parent your kids for you, but there’s a reason some games receive Mature ratings. ‘Nuff said.
If you feel compelled to get this game for your child, but have some reservations, I’d suggest playing it yourself first. Borrow a copy of Gears or pick one up used. Or you can play any of the Gears of War games cooperatively, which will allow you to not only talk about things that are potentially objectionable for younger players but also get completely pwned by someone a quarter of your age.
5. What’s new in this game?
One of the nicest, biggest changes is that you can now play four-player co-op campaigns. That’s right, before you had only one shoulder to cry on while endlessly repeating boss battles on Insane difficulty, now there will be two more players who you can commiserate with when one of you dies just feet away from the checkpoint.
Weapons see a significant change. First, some old weapons with minor tweaks: the Hammerburst now has access to better accuracy (pressing the right thumbstick brings up iron sights and a first person view), the Gorgon Pistol now operates like a submachine gun and smoke grenades will stun enemies when they ignite.
Next are the new weapons, some of which you’ll be familiar with if you played the beta. There’s a sawed off shotgun, which can take out two enemies at once, and a retro lancer, similar to the lancer, but absolutely horrible with any distance between you and the enemy. Some bigger weapons include the Digger, which can send an explosive beneath the ground, only to pop up behind a barrier of sandbags or similar cover. Finally, there’s an incendiary grenade, which spreads fire all around its target, and the One Shot, which instantly kills everything it hits. There’s also a mech suit that Marcus and friends can use. It’s called the Silverback and the suit allows players to pick up some large objects, while enhancing a player’s damage-taking ability and, as a special added bonus, it fires machine gun rounds and rockets.
Multiplayer stays largely the same, with the exception of the elimination of Annex and minor tweaks to the existing games. However, beginners get a bonus by being able to take extra damage while learning the game in multiplayer, an advantage that goes away once players reach level five. It’s also worth noting that, throughout the entire game, players have the ability to spot enemies for their allies. With a couple quick button pushes, you can identify a hidden enemy you’ve spotted to the rest of your team.
One of the most popular multiplayer modes, Horde, returns but with a significant difference. Five players are again up against 50 ever-increasingly difficult waves of enemies, but instead of finding a spot and holing up, players now pick a command post to defend. With each wave, players earn cash they can use to purchase defensive and offensive countermeasures. Plus, every tenth wave includes a particularly nasty boss, beginning with a Brumak at level ten. While the previous version of Horde worked best with teamwork, version 2.0 is unbeatable without it.
Finally, there’s Beast mode, a new game to the Gears empire. It plays similarly to Horde, but the player is the Locust. You start as lower level monsters and, by accumulating kills, you can earn tokens, which you can cash in for higher level monsters. They’ve also decided to include stereoscopic 3D for some unfathomable reason.
6. Is it worth the hype?
It is. In just about every way that matters, the team over at Epic have saved their best for last. The weapons, enemies, story, top-notch voice acting, incredible vistas, and maps in Gears of War 3 are better than either of the two previous games. Plus, thanks to the new Unreal Engine, it plays and looks better than ever before.
When the campaign ended, I was actually a little sad, disappointed that it was all over. But eager to tackle the whole thing again on insane and waste countless hours playing Horde and Beast and go back looking for all the collectibles …
7. Is it really over?
The way the story ends, it feels like the ending. However, I would be impressed if Epic could walk away from such a popular and high selling franchise. Plus, when Cliff Bleszinski took possession of the Gears of War 3 motorcycle on American Chopperthe other night, he said “If we do another game, I don’t see how we can’t figure out a way to [include the motorcycle].” Reading too much into that? Probably. (But I hope not.)
8. Anything else?
That’s about it. But if you are interested in Gears of War 3, check out the Gears Season Pass, which will include all the downloadable content — maps, campaign, etc. — with first DLC arriving in November. It’s an additional $30, but to eke every possible minute you can out of your game purchase, it’s worth looking into.