Machine guns, Marines and mayhem, oh my! The final and amazing installment of one of the most impressive third-person shooter games of the past decade strives to not only punctuate the franchise, but also delivers one of the most surprisingly poignant games of the year. A lot of films could take some lessons from Gears of War 3, a thoroughly satisfying bookend to the definitive shooter trilogy.
Gears of War 3 proves that a chapter doesn't have to suck just because it has a "3" in the title. Yes, Spider-man, I'm talking to you. Gears of War 3 easily outperforms its predecessors in just about every way. The gameplay is sharper than Wolverine's claws, and the storytelling is far better than you might expect.
For the uninitiated, Gears of War 3 picks up eighteen months after the end of Gears of War 2. Marcus Fenix and his band of merry muscled men (the "Gears"), the Marines of the fictional Earth-like world Sera, were forced to destroy the Jacinto plateau, the last major city on the planet. This mission was handed down to them by the Coalition of Ordered Governments, or COG. Gears work for the COG, you see.
I'm not sure what the metaphor of gears and cogs have to do with planetary war and genocide, but sometimes you just have to go with it. Either way, it's a cool name. Now where was I? Since the appearance of the Locust, subterranean monsters, on Emergence Day or E-Day, seventeen years prior, mankind has been pushed to brink of extinction.
To make matters worse, the Locusts have become even more powerful after being exposed to a mysterious energetic fluid called Imulsion. The remaining few survivors have decided to Alamo up at the island of Vectes. The now leaderless COG disbands and separates to the safest places left.
Everything about Gears of War 3 demonstrates an extraordinary evolution of the game. The visuals pop with awe-inspiring flair while fractured lighting and billowy smoke effects bring the world to life. They give this final and fragile view of a war-torn vision of Sera a poignancy we haven't seen before. Drama aplenty ensues, along with lots of surprises for the baddest group of aliens annihilating space Marines since "Aliens." Delta Squad has grown and changed, bringing the total number of playable characters to eight, adding the now-armored Anya Stroud, Samantha "Sam" Byrne and Jayson "Jace" Strattonplus to the ranks alongside Marcus, Dom, Cole, Baird and, of course, Carmine.
As I mentioned before, the story behind Gears 3 is astoundingly more emotional than one might expect from a game like this, bringing just as much bromance as it does bloodshed. While the dialog is cheesier than a Little Caesar's pizza at times -- all right, a lot of the time -- it's exactly the type of banter that will bond players to the characters. In fact, it goes a long way towards establishing a sense of camaraderie that gives us an essential connection and makes us feel like we really know these guys. Some of the Gearheads, like Cole, even get flashbacks to fill players in on what life was like before E-Day. It provides some satisfying back stories for characters, if only to give us a glimpse of the Sera that was and inform us of just how much they lost.
At its heart, Gears 3 tells a story of survival. Everything you do over the course of the five-act story revolves around endurance. You'll go from escaping ambushes to scrounging for supplies to scavenging fuel to using ammo-less Retro Lancers, your primary weapon, in nasty-ass bayonet fights. Everything feels solemnly desperate and dire, a motif the designers use to great effect throughout the campaign.
Gears 3 feels exactly the way you'd expect it to feel, but better, as everything's been overhauled and fine-tuned. There's a ton of new implements of doom with which to shoot, impale, gouge and chew up your enemies. They include weapons like the Digger, a gun that allows you to fire a grenade underground for sneaky kills, and the Silverback, a sweet power loader straight out of "Aliens" outfitted with a pair of bad-ass chainguns.
So instead of just visiting the lavish war-ravaged landscapes, the designers opt for locales that actually have some significance to the Gearheads themselves. Gorgeous animations and cut-scenes show characters staring at the decimated husks of their hometowns. Even for a bunch of fellas who look like they were carved out of blocks of pure testosterone, these moments still have emotional resonance.
Gears of War 3 even succeeds at juggling that oh-so-delicate balance of action, cut-scenes and animations. So while there are new weapons, new enemies, and new multiplayer modes, it's clear that Epic didn't want to stray from the path too much. It seems like the developer instead opted to take the universe as it stands and work within the already-established boundaries to bring the trilogy to a close instead of reinventing the cog. Yes, the game is better overall-arguably the best of the series-but it's still the same stuff we've done and seen before. Thankfully, most of the multiplayer sins of the past have been seriously overhauled.
Gears of War 3 embodies everything you hope a game sequel would: state-of-the-art gameplay and graphics, compelling characters and plot, and a fitting and rewarding conclusion to the story of the Gears. The attention to detail on every level is pervasive, as it is nearly comprehensive.
Like any game, even the best ones, there are flubs and flaws to be had, but I can guarantee you that after you've spent about 15-20 hours in the world of Sera, you're going to be hard pressed to find much to complain about. It certainly didn't keep me from having one bloody hell of a good time. Third-player games have had a lot of milestones over the past decade or so, and I have a feeling that Gears of War 3 will certainly become one of those milestones that shooter games will be compared with to for years and years to come.
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