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Gears of War 3 (Video Game Review)

Back in 2006, Epic Games introduced the gaming world to the first Gears of War video game in a planned trilogy. Gears of War, which was set on the planet Sera, marked the debut of Delta Squad and their leader Marcus Fenix. The game also laid out the ongoing 15-year war between the Human armies (including the COGs) and the ground-dwelling beasts from hell known as the Locust. The COG’s were in a struggle of survival against the massive Locust army who emerged from underground on what became known as “Emergence Day.” It was essentially a story about hope, survival, and most-importantly Brotherhood, as the player(s) got to see the story through the eyes of Marcus Fenix and Dominic Santiago. Marcus is a decorated war hero from the Pendulum Wars, who was imprisoned for leaving his post in order to try and save his dad, scientist Adam Fenix (this comes into play in Gears 3). Marcus is set free by his best friend Dom in a last-ditch effort to save humanity from the unrelenting Locust. Little did we know back then, that Dom coming back to set Marcus free from his cell, foreshadowed the bond between the two childhood friends and the rest of Delta Squad. It was truly the first sign of what would be an ongoing theme in the Gears franchise, “Brothers to the End.” So now that you’re properly introduced to the series and ready to play Gears of War 3, sadly this is the closure to the Delta Squad trilogy, you probably think you know exactly what to expect after playing the first two Gears games and the GOW3 beta?

Let me be the first to tell you that you’re wrong, so fucking wrong it’s not even funny. Epic Games has taken nearly 3 years to craft this gaming masterpiece after deciding to push the release date back from April 2011 to September 2011; to their credit this move probably made the game much better and definitely not worse. The first game established the franchise and introduced gamers to the characters in the Gears Universe, but lacked a truly compelling story as admitted by Epic Games. Epic brought in famed comic book author Joshua Ortega to write the story for Gears of War 2 and by doing this, the story improved leaps and bounds compared to the first game. Ortega also penned a spin-off Gears of War Comic series that introduced fans to many new characters such as Jace Stratton and others. In the time it made to create the Gears of War trilogy Epic Games released a couple novels that filled in the events and time-periods in between games. For these, Epic turned to author Karen Traviss, who made a name for herself in the geek world by writing several of the popular Star Wars novels. The Gears of War book series flushed out even more of Delta Squad’s background story and many of the events from the Pendulum Wars, Emergence Day, and in the end leads readers right up the start of Gears of War 3.

After the success of her book-writing Traviss was brought into the video game industry to write the story for Gears of War 3, and she brings many of the characters from the comics and novels into the game that had never been mentioned previously. The reason I’m detailing all of this is because if you have not read the comics or novels many of the new characters will not seem familiar to you. I recommend that you pick-up the novels and give them a quick read because they are excellent and with Gears 3 launching in a mere 5 days; at the very least drop by the Gears of War wiki page and read about some of these new characters background stories. Without spoiling any of the Gears of War 3 plot for you, the final chapter begins 18 months after the end of Gears of War 2 and as previously mentioned will close the book on the Delta Squad trilogy. Lead Designer Cliff Bleszinski was quoted saying, “You can expect that we’ll answer a majority of the questions players have about the history of the Sera and what’s going on,” continuing “we’re not going to answer everything, but I can tell you that this will be the end to that specific trilogy.” The game opens with what minimal remains of the COG forces left after fighting the Locust for the past 15 years. The COG are basically disbanded once Chairman Prescott went missing (abandoned his post), after making the choice to sink and flood the last COG stronghold Jacinto at the end of Gears of War 2. Thinking they have eliminated the Locust for good and are too far away from the Lambent, the former COGs are just trying to live out their lives in whatever peace they can find.

I will stop there with the plot-line to make sure you aren’t spoiled to one of the greatest stories ever to make an appearance in a virtual experience. The game’s story brings the Gears universe to life like no writer has done before, or probably could do if they had been given a chance. By blending in story lines from novels and the 2 previous Gears video games, Traviss pulls you directly into the character’s feelings of desperation to live, as well as the loyalty to one another that hits you in the gut like a Mike Tyson uppercut. The story campaign also introduces 4 Player Co-Op for the first time. Unlike the previous 2 games, players will not be forced to play as Marcus and Dom the whole game. You will get to branch out to other members of Delta Squad and see how different events unfold through their eyes (we’ll leave that information for you to find out while playing). There are also many new Locust and Lambent enemies that will try to obliterate you and your teammates into extinction. The new lambent forms of Locust are the one enemy you really need to keep an eye on because they can often morph into different forms, raining disaster down on your whole team with extreme force. The design team at Epic Games portrays Delta’s anxiety of facing the ever changing lambent forms by spacing out supplies to make it feel like you’re always on the run for ammo and/or cover. The campaign is longer than the previous 2 games and as I stated above, “One of the Best Stories of Any Game I Have Ever Played.” The story mode (played by yourself or with teammates) alone is worth the $59.99 price tag, but that’s not all that Gears of War 3 excels at, the award-winning multiplayer is back and better than ever.

The well-known Gears of War multiplayer experience returns with stellar improvements across every mode and game type. Instead of sitting back on their laurels, Epic listened to the Gear’s community and learned a valuable lesson from the Gears of War 2 Launch; this time to go above and beyond with the multiplayer in Gears of War 3. As mentioned in the campaign section, Gears of War 3 brings 4 Player Co-Op to the table for the first time. In previous games, Player 1 was Marcus and Player 2 was Dom (always) even though you often had other members of Delta Squad moving along with you. Now players have the chance to experience different parts of the story through the eyes of the other Delta members, and this makes for a much more enjoyable co-op experience. As you go through the story Acts, the characters that you play can change from chapter to chapter and scene to scene. Players 1-4 are assigned to set numbers much like in the first 2 games had Player1 always as Marcus. If you want to play as Dom through his parts of the campaign you need to be Player 2, and if you want play as another character you will have to pick whatever number 1-4 that character is assigned. You do not get the choice of picking just any COG member to play through the entire game during co-op mode. The “Drop In and Drop Out” aspect of co-op also returns to allow players to join mid-session or leave when they need to take a bathroom break.

Another new game mode for Gears of War 3 is Arcade Mode. Arcade mode lets you play through different chapters of the campaign with competitive scoring on to compete with 1-4 players. It is very similar to the campaign competitive scoring that Bungie Studios introduced in Halo 3 ODST and Halo Reach. It adds a great new way to play against your friends in Co-Op. Players can choose from any chapter that they have beaten previously or you can choose to start and finish the campaign in Arcade Mode. Any collectables that haven’t been found or were missed during previous games will be present as well. The key for Arcade mode is making sure that your multiplier, which is displayed in the top-left corner, is always on the rise or at least maintained at its current level to score big. Also returning and getting a revamp is Horde Mode. Epic Games introduced Horde Mode in Gears of War 2 and it was received with critical acclaim. Players from 1-5 could join together to fight wave after wave (Waves 1-50) of Locust that increased in number and difficulty every 10 Waves. Epic Games could have just sat back and put the exact same Horde Mode into Gears of War 3 with new maps and most fans around the globe would be content, but instead Epic completely redefined gaming once again with Horde Mode 2.0.

Being a member of the COG Soldiers earns you in-game credits to purchase several different types of defenses to hold the Locust Horde at bay. Players can build up razor wire barricades, purchase gun turrets, or the Silverback Attack Mech. You will earn credits for different things in each wave including kills, purchased equipment kills, reviving teammates, and surviving wave to wave. What that you say, Player 3 is $1000 short of having enough credits to purchase a Silverback, any combination of the other 4 Players can give their earned credits to any other player by walking up to them and zooming with the left trigger to give credits or ammo to any other player. Another twist that Epic added in to Horde Mode is Boss Waves. In Horde 1.0, the Locust would get health and damage boosts every 10 Waves as players progressed up to Wave 50. Now when you hit that magic 10th Wave, a Boss will appear for the COGS to survive and make it to the next set of ten. Bosses include Brumacks, Berserkers, and Corpsers that will require the COG Players to work as a team to take it down. When players reach Wave 10, whichever Boss appears is completely random each time you play. If you were to get taken out in a wave, players have the option to buy back in if they have enough credits in their bank. Horde Mode 2.0 takes Horde 1.0 to another level of fun that I didn’t think was possible.

Have you ever thought that Horde Mode is amazing, but I sure would get a chance to flip the script and play as the Locust? Well the time is here with the all-new Beast Mode. Beast Mode is Horde Mode turned upside down and tasks you and your teammates to eliminate all the COG and Stranded soldiers in a limited timeframe. As you breakdown the COG’s defenses and eliminate their forces you will put precious seconds back on the clock as well as credits to purchase bigger and more dangerous Locust Forces. As you progress through the 12 Waves, the COG forces will also increase in size and strength. The COGS will add stronger defenses and weapons as you progress. Similar to the BOSS Waves in Horde 2.0, the COG forces with add Heroes to their forces. The Heroes include any of the named Soldiers from COGS such as Dizzy, Jace, Marcus, etc. Beast Mode is a fun and fast paced mode that will have you scrambling to get the last kill before the timer runs out and is every bit as fun as Horde Mode. The last mode to cover is the Competitive Versus Mode. Epic Games learned valuable lessons with the launch of Gears of War 2 in the matchmaking versus modes. Gears 2 launched with a broken Competitive Matchmaking system that had many gamers frustrated while Epic worked the kinks out, and to Epic’s credit, they stuck with getting Gears 2 online play better and better through different title updates.

Taking all of the Gears 2 data into account paved the way to the Gears 3 Multiplayer Beta that ran for several weeks earlier this year to very positive reviews. Epic addressed one of the fans biggest complaints about online gaming in general with host advantage and lousy connections to other players. Epic took this opportunity to step-up to the plate and announced Gears of War 3 would have dedicated servers for online versus matchmaking. Epic implemented the dedicated servers into the Beta and players worldwide rejoiced to play Gears Competitive online that ran as smooth as butter. A gear 3 also adds several new game types to the online menu such as Capture the Leader and Team Death Match. The game comes with 10 maps on the shipped game disc with more map packs announced for post launch DLC that be purchased at a discount through the new announced Gears Season Pass. With the limited amount of press review copies that were sent out, the number of actual human players was very small. Most of the matches we played had a mixture of human players and bots. Once the game launches on September, 20th we will add a more comprehensive Competitive Match Making review here on PlanetXbox360.com post launch. This will give us time to put the game through its paces when more people have the game.

The Gears of War series has been a fan favorite since 2006 and the characters that everyone knows and loves is sadly coming to the end of the trilogy. It most certainly won’t be the last Gears game from Epic with its record breaking pre-order sales. So to send Delta Squad of in grand fashion, Epic Games set out to make Gears 3 one to remember. The delay from the April Launch to the September Launch gave Epic the time to study numbers from the Beta and put the Icing on the Cake with Gears 3. The story perfectly written by Karen Traviss and is a great bookend to the Delta Squad trilogy. With addition of dedicated servers to the Competitive Versus Multiplayer on the console, Epic sets the bar for the other multiplayer games releasing this Holiday Season and for years to come. The revamped Horde 2.0 and the debut of Beast Mode set Gears of War 3 as the best of the series to date. Epic delivers a masterpiece that will be in line for several Game of the Year nominations early next year. Gears of War 3 is the game all Gears Fans have dreamt of since playing the first title back in 2006, but rest assured Gear Heads this is not a dream it’s a reality. If there is one Xbox 360 game you should purchase this year make it the masterpiece from Epic Games that goes by the name Gears of War 3, if you’re disappointed you probably should pick-up the next copy of that poppin Justin Bieber album.

Game Information:
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Reviewed for Xbox 360
Release Date: September 20, 2011

Score: 10 out of 10
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