The first time I saw the original “Gears of War” in 2006 it inspired me to buy an Xbox 360, and when “Gears of War 2” came out in 2008, I picked it up at midnight and by 10 a.m. I had played it straight through, so naturally my expectations were high for the third entry in the Xbox 360’s staple franchise.
“Gears of War 3” follows the continued exploits of Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad, four six-foot, 350-pound badasses who wield chainsaw-equipped assault rifles against the locusts: ugly, six-foot, 350-pound monsters. Narrative prowess has never been a focal point of the franchise.
Despite what the franchise has lacked in plot thus far, “Gears of War 3” does manage to pack an emotional punch or two. One particularly powerful, bromantic turn will have even the most stoic of men shedding a tear like they’re watching “The Shawshank Redemption.”
Beyond that, “Gears of War 3” serves as a bookend to a trilogy, and it wraps up a majority of the story threads presented in the first two installments of the series nicely, and without resorting to eye-roll inducing story elements shoehorned into the narrative at the eleventh hour.
But who cares? The masses play “Gears of War” to blow up monsters and disembowel enemies with chainsaw bayonets, and that’s exactly where “Gears of War 3” excels. Heads still explode when you shoot, stomp and beat them, limbs still fly every which way when confronted with explosive force, and the newly added Retro-Lancer lets you charge into enemies and impale them in the gut. Sweet.
All of the above violence is executed through the simple, straightforward gameplay that has served as the defining characteristic of the franchise: run to cover, shoot, reload, repeat. If this formula didn’t appeal to you before it won’t change your mind now, but for longtime fans there’s something to be said for not fixing what isn’t broken.
There are, however, several attempts to change things up for players. Two vehicular sequences are highlights that provide the game with eye-catching set pieces. There are also several new enemy types, such as a behemoth wielding grenades that burrow underground and pop up in your face and hair-raising, over-sized centipedes with electrifying mandibles, that force players out of cover and into the crossfire.
Developer Epic also shakes things up with the newly added Beast mode, which gives players the opportunity to join the ranks of the locust army and eradicate humanity. Beast mode puts the central conflict of “Gears” in an entirely new light, particularly when you play as such beasts as the Ticker, a football-sized gnat that shuffles about the map until it finds an unlucky human, at which point it blows itself up. However, I was severely disappointed to discover that Beast mode puts players on the clock, and if the wave of human resistance hasn’t been eradicated when the clock hits zero, you’re done. If you’re a challenge junkie you’ll enjoy the extra handicap, but if you expect to be able to take on wave after wave of enemies, you may find yourself disappointed.
Luckily, Horde mode is back, which allows players to do exactly that. There are a few more variables than there were in “Gears of War 2;” each kill earns you points, which can be used to purchase weapons and ammo and to build and upgrade turrets and barricades. Playing Horde in spit-screen with a friend quickly turns into an adrenaline-fueled shouting match as you try to thwart all 50 waves. Horde mode is easily one of the best facets of “Gears of War 3.”
Where the “Gears of War” franchise will go from here is uncertain, though it would be hard to doubt that a fourth installment is somewhere down the line. But if the third installment were to cap off the series, then the trilogy would still be able to stand amongst the best franchises in video games, in large part thanks to the high caliber of “Gears of War 3.”
Image courtesy of nextgn.com