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Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360) artwork

Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360) review

"Weíve cared so little for these characters, their conflict or the world they inhabit that years from now, when the next big shooter craze arrives and Gears finally becomes obsolete, I canít help wondering if weíll look back on this trilogy with a collective shrug. Gears 3 is simply a great shooter, and for now, thatís enough. I love great shooters almost as much as I hate missed opportunities."

When the inevitable third installment of Epicís pioneering shooter trilogy was unveiled, I asked myself how this series would continue to stay relevant in an industry where every game wants to be Gears of War. I needed only to return to the seriesí distinct brand of combat for my question to be answered. For as little as Gears has evolved over the last five years, and for as many copycats as the series has inspired, I still donít think Iíve ever experienced more satisfying gunplay in any game, ever.

Gears of War 3 is one of those sequels, the kind where you get exactly what you sign up for and non-fans wonít be converted and so forth. And the many things this seriesí derogators continue to complain about, I find myself defending. I like the slowness and heaviness of the combat. Marcus and his fellow Gears control as awkwardly as ever, yet I feel this is intentional, because it means youíre putting yourself at risk every time you exit cover. In other games, weapons like sniper rifles and grenades are easy solutions to sticky situations; here, they handle so clumsily and give you so much exposure that even trying to use them forces you to evaluate whether or not theyíre even worth the effort. Gears established the cover system so players could outsmart their enemies rather than overpower them, and the gunplayís many limitations only underline its intelligence.

I donít have much to say about Gears 3ís multiplayer, so letís get this out of the way: Itís still good. One of the signatures of this seriesí unique brand of shooting is its emphasis on teamwork, and thatís never more apparent than when youíre working alongside other players (as opposed to the bots that flood the campaign and occasionally fill the slots in online matchmaking). But while the various team deathmatch modes are a great deal of fun (even if the shotguns are still way overpowered), itís Horde that continues to steal the show with its unique spin on the otherwise tired endurance scenario, in which players fight off increasingly deadly waves of Locust. Thereís nothing surprising about Gears 3ís multiplayer package. It plays to its strengths. I know a good chunk of the people who play games like these do so strictly for the online offerings, and theyíll get what theyíre looking for here.

Gears of War 3 asset

I am not one of those people. While the multiplayer was entertaining enough to prevent me from finishing the gameís solo mode as quickly as I would have liked, in the end, Iíll always be a campaign guy, and Gears 3 offers precisely what Iíd anticipated: another ten hours of tactical firefights, gorgeous set pieces and caveman dialog. Of course, to say that itís nothing but a rehash is unfair. Destructible cover is now a very real thing, and the gameís most prolific new weapon fires explosives that burrow underneath barricades, which can quickly and drastically alter the dynamic of any battlefield. Plus, weíre given a new set of adversaries in the terrifying Lambent.

Youíll remember that the Lambent appeared towards the end of the previous game as little more than glowing Locust. Eighteen months later, with both humanity and the Locust scattered and severely wounded, itís the Lambent plague that now poses the biggest threat to Sera, and I love that the game wastes no time in introducing us to fresh meat that needs to be slaughtered. The opening sequence alone acquaints us with one of Gears 3ís recurring scenarios, in which enormous Lambent stalks sprout up all around us and drop gooey enemies out of the sky, all of whom explode when you kill them and many of whom mutate on the spot. Remember how you felt the first time you blew a guyís head off in Resident Evil 4 and he just kept walking as a writhing tentacle sprung out of his neck? Thatís what youíll experience at least once every time you engage the Lambent.

Yet for as breathless as Gears 3 often is, there remains, for me, something missing. Cliffy B once famously stated that the second game in the series was ďdrunk on set pieces,Ē yet is that a bad thing? I know heís an admirer of Naughty Dogís Uncharted games, so surely he must see the value in theatricality. Gears 2ís set pieces were precisely how that game upped the ante; they were what kept me glued to my controller and what prevented it from feeling like one of those sequels that retread familiar ground with nothing new to contribute. Gears 3, on the other hand, is neither an exciting follow-up to that game nor a momentous conclusion to what we've perceived as a major trilogy. What does this final installment have to gain by toning it down a notch?

Oh, wait: Cliffy B also set out to tell ďan unforgettable story of bravery and sacrifice in the face of insurmountable odds.Ē Is that it? Does he honestly believe that Gears 3 can stand up against its predecessors based on its emotional weight alone? Not a chance, Cliffy.

Gears of War 3 asset

To be fair, the writing Ė which has always been the seriesí biggest flaw Ė isnít as cringe-inducing this time around. The gameís most dramatic moments (i.e. when major characters die) are competently handled, the finale actually feels like a finale, and two women now join the cast to keep the profanity-laden brospeak to a minimum. Yet the previous games have retroactively done irreparable damage to the series at this point. Cole has a flashback early in the campaign that, in and of itself, should be sweet and touching. Yet Epic has already spent the last two games establishing Cole as nothing more than a one-dimensional composite of black stereotypes, and that prevents the scene from truly resonating with us.

The seriesí predictable story arcs and boneheaded dialog have also frequently gotten in the way of truly allowing us to appreciate the fascinating world that Epic has created. Iíve always been intrigued by Seraís unique architecture and eye-catching color schemes, and Iíve enjoyed watching the planet devolve from somewhat ravaged in the first Gears to the absolute wasteland itís become by the beginning of the third installment. (When we begin, Marcus and the gang are living on the sea because thereís so little inhabitable land left.) The artists continued to work their asses off for Gears 3, yet the writers remain insensitive to their efforts. One set piece about two-thirds of the way through the campaign Ė a city called Char Ė should have been one of the yearís most poignant, haunting moments, yet an awful new character named Jace constantly spoils the mood with out-of-place, unfunny wisecracks.

And after that, we get a cameo by none other than Ice-T, who was also kind enough to contribute Ė and this is saying something Ė the worst end credits song of the Gears franchise yet, sucking away what little emotional satisfaction the gameís conclusion may have had.

And this all got me thinking: How much has really changed? Gears 3 is riveting, intelligent and beautiful; itís worth buying for the same reasons the last two games were. But in the end, itís really nothing more than a very fun shooter, and I would think that the highly-anticipated final installment of the most influential franchise of this generation should feel like a hell of a lot more than that. What Gears does best, it continues to do better than any other game in the industry. Yet weíve cared so little for these characters, their conflict or the world they inhabit that years from now, when the next big shooter craze arrives and Gears finally becomes obsolete, I canít help wondering if weíll look back on this trilogy with a collective shrug. Gears 3 is simply a great shooter, and for now, thatís enough. I love great shooters almost as much as I hate missed opportunities.


Suskie's avatar
Staff review by Mike Suskie (October 08, 2011)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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overdrive posted October 13, 2011:

Very good look at this game and series as a whole, as a very good shooter series that just misses out on being memorable and therefore runs the risk of being made forgettable in time.

I used to love Medal of Honor back when it came much that I bought three more games in that series. Two of which will likely never get finished because after playing some more modern FPS games, they're just so clunky for me that the gameplay is unappealing and there's not enough of a draw otherwise for me to have any desire suck it up and play through obsolete mechanics. I mean, down the road, I might change my mind, but I doubt I'll overly enjoy the experience.

I got the feel that 5-10 years down the road, Gears of War might wind up being the same sort of thing.
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Suskie posted October 14, 2011:

Thanks a lot. I don't want it to sound like I'm retroactively viewing the first two games in a more negative light, though. Even if you judged them side-by-side, Gears 3 is the weakest of the bunch (though obviously still quite solid).

But the fact that this is part three in a trilogy does force me to view it from that perspective. The fact that I wasn't terribly excited for this release, or particularly sad when it was over, is a problem. These are great and highly influential shooters, but Gears 3 also underlines all of the opportunities Epic missed.

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