Gears Of War 3 game review
Studio: Epic Games
PEGI Rating: 18
Number of players on one console: 2
Co-op support: two on one console, 2-5 online
System Link support: 2-10
Online multiplayer: 2-10
HDTV output: 720p/1080i/1080p
In-Game Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
After having to sink humanity’s final stronghold into the ground in a bid to eradicate the invading Locust hordes at the end of Gears or War 2, the human survivors now find themselves scattered around the Earth’s surface, scavenging out an existence as best they can.
Unfortunately, though, as well as the Locust still representing a persistent if diminished enemy, the remnants of humanity also now face a new, mutated enemy: the Lambent.
Can Marcus Fenix and the remaining members of his beefcake COG posse find a way to save humanity for one last time?
For the first hour of playing Gears of War 3, our main feeling was, surprisingly, one of gentle disappointment. A surprise made all the more alarming by the fact that for half of that time period we’d been having a go with the new version of one of our all-time favourite gaming experiences of the past: the GOW Horde mode.
The problem was that we just didn’t feel we were experiencing anything new. Don’t get us wrong; we’re not one of those daft review sites which believes that the latest game in a successful, much-loved series has to offer anything radically different in gameplay terms. But we just couldn’t deny that Gears of War 3 not only felt too close to Gears of War 2, it actually felt slightly worse.
Thankfully, though, these feelings evaporated over the course of the (many, many) subsequent hours we’ve spent playing GOW3. With Horde, for instance, it became apparent that our initial ‘meh’ feelings were just caused by the fact that we were playing with only one other person rather than a full complement of four, and that we were playing the opening few rounds rather than the unfeasibly but brilliantly tough latter stages of a 50-level Horde extravaganza.
As for the campaign, after a rather quiet, even ponderous start, the game suddenly kicks into gear when it throws at you a beast of such unfathomable proportions that you’re scarcely able to believe your humble Xbox 360 is actually capable of technically producing such a monstrosity. And from that moment, you’re hooked – even though the once-groundbreaking but now old hat cover system remains the same, the shooting mechanics remain the same, and the extent of your characters abilities remains broadly the same.
in other words, the sheer scale of Gears of War 3‘s action shifts your perspective from that initial feeling of ‘oh, it’s just the same game again’ to ‘hey, if a game engine ain’t broke, there’s no need to fix it’.
In fact, it’s constantly surprising throughout the campaign just how unbroken the GOW gameplay engine really is. It proves remarkably resilient to being put within ever more spectacular scenarios and settings, always feeling natural and fluid, and never being overwhelmed by the scale of the action. Even when that scale really does become almost insane at times.
Any worries that GOW3 would struggle to up the shock and awe factor from GOW2 – a game which itself redefined the idea of console game spectacle when it first came out – are quickly and repeatedly curb-stomped. Whether it’s the sight of half a dozen huge Lambent ‘stalks’ erupting out of the ground and spewing forth mutant enemies onto the ground, or it’s one of the grotesque new ‘air ships’ the Locus are now using, or it’s one of the game’s jaw-dropping ‘boss battles’, there are many moments in GOW3’s campaign that will leave you so goggle-eyed at what you’re seeing that you’ll forget you’re supposed to be, like, shooting things and stuff.
To some extent you could argue there’s not a lot of substance behind the flash looks. For instance, more often than not defeating the huge enemies attacking you is no more complicated than just repeatedly shooting weak points handily highlighted by the fact that they glow, a la Lost Planet. But actually, in this case the fact that you seldom have to seriously engage your brain to progress through GOW3 arguably makes it easier to just lose yourself in the simple visceral fun of going toe to toe with such fine graphical specimens.
Even when you’re not faced with an enormous enemy, GOW3 still keeps the excitement levels up with the surprising variety of its locations and the sheer volume of lesser enemies that hurtle your way at very regular intervals.
There are a few moments where the gameplay sags a bit; Act IV, in particular, feels a bit of a ‘grind’ after the excellence of Act III. It’s also a pity that the game’s story doesn’t really kick in with any potency until you’re around two thirds of the way into the campaign, relying too heavily in its early stages on cheap and repetitive ‘scavenge’ missions and some rather hit and miss ‘character development’.
Another problem is the enemy AI, which frequently finds enemies simply strolling past you as if you’re not there. The AI of your fellow squad members during the campaign is conversely arguably too good, as they tend to deal with the enemy so effectively without your help that you sometimes feel like a mere passenger. This is particularly true playing on Normal difficulty setting, making the game much too easy; we hardly ever felt in jeopardy or as if we needed to be really skilfull until we upped the difficulty to Hardcore.
Some people might feel annoyed, too, that the campaign only lasts between 8-10 hours – though for us this felt fine given how much online content the GOW3 package has to fill your time (more on this in the Online section).
However much we try, though, it’s practically impossible to imagine GOW3’s shortcomings stopping anyone from having anything less than a blast while playing its campaign – especially if they can rope in a few mates now that the campaign supports full four-player co-op.