Gears of War 3 (XBOX 360)
Released in 2006 Gears of War was originally an Xbox 360 exclusive, powered by Epic's Unreal engine, that went on to sell millions of copies. It was also one of the most played games on Xbox live as people found the mix of action and cover gameplay combined with some great gameplay modes to be hugely enjoyable.
Two years later Epic Games returned with the sequel, Gears Of War 2 which retained the same third person viewpoint and cover gameplay style. This time everything had been enhanced with a new version of Unreal engine allowing for greater detail and the Gears universe receiving an expanded storyline. The multiplayer modes were also increased and this combined with a good co-op experience made for another bestselling title.
Next week see's Microsoft Games and Epic release Gears of War 3, the concluding part in the Gears Saga and we have been playing through the campaign. Read on to find out if Epic have been able to deliver a fitting end to the Delta Squad story.
NOTE: At the request of Microsoft we will not focus on the plot and finer detail from Gears of War 3 in this review, allowing you to experience/enjoy the surprises and story as they happen in-game.
In Gears of War 3 we once again find ourselves, for the majority of the game, playing as Marcus Fenix, the leader of Delta Squad who have been trying to save civilisation on the planet Sera since the original game. Throughout that time we have been battling against a race known as the Locust and it is fair to say that thing's haven't gone our way. Set eighteen months after the fall of Jacinto, the last major city, in the previous game we find ourselves aboard a military ship and it isn't long before we are under attack and the main storyline kicks off with the arrival of former COG leader Richard Prescott . Prescott brings with him a worn out video message from an important sub character who's reappearance forces Marcus to head into battle and down a path which will see us decide the fate of humanity, the Locust and an all new enemy called the Lambent.
In terms of controls players who have played through previous Gears of War games will find that the same control method has been implemented again. We move with left stick, look with right. Left trigger aims, right fires and one of the key aspects, cover, is actioned using A. Cover, as always, is a key aspect in this titles gameplay as it allows us to work our way through waves of enemy as well as heal any damage taken during battle. Should we take too much damage we can crawl to safety and healing from another team member is also possible.
There is no messing about with low level weapons in Gears of War 3 as Marcus, voiced again by John DiMaggio, is tooled up from the start of the game with items such as a shotgun and grenade launcher. Our familiar Lancer weapon is also in our initial arsenal and still features the chainsaw attachment for melee combat (B button) should an enemy get too close. Stun them and the familiar death scene can be executed.
As the game progresses the weapons at our disposal only get bigger and the gameplay gets refreshed a little as we board different modes of transport in order to reach the next objective. Along the way this also opens up the potential for multiple routes to a destination as well as decisions on how we want to play out a scene, pressing left or right trigger to choose between options.
We are of course not alone when playing through the campaign and those familiar with the franchise will find old friends from the previous games are here to see it towards the conclusion and this is another key aspect of Gears 3, Co-op.
In this game we can play though the campaign with up to three other gamers taking the roles of our Delta Squad companions who now also include a female character. This of course opens up the social aspect of the campaign hugely, allowing friends to experience the developments together.
Non-campaign multi-player action also plays a huge part in separating Gears of War from the previous games in the series with new gameplay modes making an appearance here. First up is Beast mode which see's us take part in games with up to 5 players (co-operative) as the Locust army. We fight key characters from the main campaign including Marcus and Dom in an attempt to wipe out the enemy. The cooperative Horde mode has been expanded to feature new upgrades and challenges which affect our battle to survive through waves of Locust enemies.
Competitive multiplayer is also present in Gears of War 3 and uses dedicated servers to provide the best gaming experience possible. Fans of Team Deathmatch, Capture the leader and King of the Hill will all find something which appeals here.
Finally, adding further replay potential to the game is the ability to gain achievements as we progress and a season pass will also be available for purchase in the week after release. This pass (2400points) will give us access to the four DLC packs being released from November and into next year. These packs will expand the campaign and multiplayer modes and will save fans 33% on buying the packs separately.
Graphics and Audio
As with many AAA game releases Gears of War 3 has a very cinematic feel to it, even from scene 1 as we watch the first cut scene which introduces us to a small gameplay tutorial and section of backstory. Throughout the game these cut scenes offer some fantastic detail, direction and cinematography which is right up there with the best available in games.
When playing the graphics are also impressive with plenty of detail on the characters and decent environments throughout. In fact quite often the environments and set pieces are awesome in their scope and quality and each Act has a unique look and feel to it. Taking the opening of the game as an example the small battle which takes place as the world around us seems to rebuild itself is rather special and that's when things are pretty basic. Moving on a number of chapters and the bosses which block our progress are huge, tough and awe inspiring, second only in their scope to some great vista's.
This excellent level of presentation continues throughout as Epic and the latest version of the Unreal engine push the console incredibly hard, and on occasion to its limit. Then for the real media enthusiasts there is the ability to enable 3D when an appropriate display is found.
The high production values continue into the audio aspects where we find plenty of epic explosions and powerful weapon sounds. Mixed in with this is a decent score and the voice acting is also very good, often great. This is down to the work of a few key voice actors who add real character to each role, delivering the script as well as we have heard in games.
Game Bundles and Hardware
It seems Epic and Microsoft are very much behind Gears of War 3 in terms of promotion and extras, realising there is a real fan base out there for the franchise and there will be multiple version of Gears 3 available as well as branded hardware. The normal edition retails for the standard price of a 360 game and with that we get the basic's. For a few £/$/€ more we get the Limited Edition with physical and in-game extras such as playable multi-player characters. The Epic Edition will retail for around double that of the standard edition and includes the Limited Edition items as well as Marcus Fenix Statue, book about the art/design and a weapon pack for in-game.
A limited edition branded console will also be available which bundles the game and unlocks of the playable multiplayer character and weapon pack. Branded wireless controllers are included also, as are a headset, 320GB drive and built in Wi-Fi.
Clearly Epic wanted to end this branch of the Gears storyline in an impressive way and this has resulted in a game which very much feels like a blockbuster movie. The style of direction has been improved from previous games, voice acting is as good as we have heard and the overall story offers many answers which fans of the series will have been waiting on. That said, new players to the franchise will still find the game easy to get into thanks to a helpful "previously in Gears of War" video which is available from the menu.
Regardless of the player's experience with the franchise one thing is clear, because of some well thought out and intuitive controls and gameplay Gears of War 3 is easy to pick up and play. Within the first few minutes of the game we are already versed in combat and the story then picks up, driving us along through hordes of enemy in the familiar Gears third person cover style gameplay.
Epic have also addressed one of the key issues from the previous game by building the competitive multiplayer aspect of Gears of War 3 on dedicated servers. This, combined with the new and expanded multiplayer options should also enhance the replay factor and lifespan of the product taking it towards being the key online game for 360 owners.
For those into the campaign mode things also improved on the multiplayer front as we can now play with three friends, enhancing the fun over previous games in the franchise. It is that which sums up Gears of War 3 best really... more of the same but taken to the next level. This absolutely is a game where just when you think you have seen it all a new twist occurs, or an enemy even larger or more dangerous than before blocks our way. There is a certain Borg-ish quality to the foes in this game, they have adapted and we need to do the same if humanity is to prevail.
Gears of War 3 is a fitting conclusion to this story arc which expands and evolves pretty much every aspect of the previous game to create an exceptional gaming experience.
||Finely tuned now that the franchise is in its third revision. Easy to pick up and play with plenty of depth and an engaging story to keep things moving along.
||Not perfect when compared to what is possible on modern PCs however for the platform Gears of War 3 impresses graphically. Excellent cut scenes and good environments push the 360 hard.
||The Score is good, weapon and environmental sounds great but the real stand-out is the voice acting which impresses throughout.
||Casual gamers get a good length single player campaign with vast co-op and competitive gameplay modes to back it up. Additional content will be available via DLC packs and it should be noted that this is the longest Gears game yet.
(Not an Average)
||Quite simply the best Gears of War yet.