California Literary Review

Video Game Review: Gears of War 3

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September 25th, 2011 at 11:32 am

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Gears of War 3 box art
Gears of War 3

Release Date: September 20th, 2011
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
Genre: OG Cover Shooter /Horde Mode
ESRB: M for Mature

CLR Rating: ★★★½☆


I Find it Kind of Funny, Find it Kind of Sad

Perhaps it’s just me, but it always seemed like Cliff Bleszinski and Epic Games had something heavy on their minds when they launched the original Gears of War back in 2006. Maybe it was the original trailer featuring a lone soldier walking through ruined cities, fighting a war he had no hope of winning against unending waves of monsters while the Gary Jules cover of “Mad World” plays, sealing a sense of hopelessness into a scant minute.

Maybe it was the fact that the title itself implies a game that will speak of war itself. “Blood is the oil that keeps the gears of war grinding” seemed to be the implied meaning. That title, coupled with that trailer created an impression of a game that perhaps sought to speak of the horrors of war itself. Would this actually be an anti-war war game? Was that even possible?

Gears of War 3 video game

When one of your iconic images is a gun attached to a chainsaw, I’m going to guess “no”?

Yeah, while it maintained all of the apocalyptic elements featured in the advertising, the only real weight in Gears of War was the bulk of its characters – massive man mountains of murder muscle – as the game usually maintained such good humor, though of the gallows variety, that it was actually closer to a buddy cop comedy running entirely on genre clichés. Of course, though this wasn’t what the ad or the title led me to believe, it also wasn’t a bad thing; Gears of War was a flat-out good time to be had by all!

One that proved to be revolutionary, as I’m sure “Cliffy B” didn’t expect the game’s unique cover mechanics to practically become a new genre overnight. Or that the sequel’s online Horde Mode would become a de rigueur in any shooter after it. Because producers usually misconstrue what makes a game popular, both elements spawned more imitations than Jennifer Anniston’s haircut did circa 1995!

Wow, a Friends joke. Could I be any more outdated?

So here we have come at last, to the ‘final’ installment of the trilogy, Gears of War 3. Does it prove as ground-breaking as its predecessors? As fun? Does it finally make any sort of point other than “attaching a chainsaw to a machine gun is the most awesome thing ever! ” or does it all just end up a repetitious mess of re-used ideas and end up, like my love life, a major disappointment?

Gears of War 3 video game

Marcus Fenix has a turret made of other guns for those that still want to compare him to “that guy from Smash Mouth”.

Alright, let’s break down the Gears plot for those that think a drone is what their boss refers to them in private. Simply put, the world of Gears of War is all about substitution. The location is not Earth, but the planet Sera. The good guys aren’t of the U.S.A. but the COG (Coalition of Ordered Governments). The substance that caused the war isn’t oil, but a radioactive version called “immulsion.” The main characters aren’t the Ninja Turtles, they’re just more foul-mouthed and sarcastic human versions: Marcus Fenix is Leonardo the Dutiful Leader, Cole is the upbeat Michelangelo, Baird is the smart Donatello, and since Gears 2 Dominic is the angsty Raphael (though with good cause).

In each Gears game, these four men of “Delta Squad” who look like they were built in a Kenmore factory enact one desperate plan or another to kill the Locust, the subterranean race of ugly, vaguely insect-like creatures that invaded the surface and killed most of humanity in the game’s backstory. The first had a plan to detonate a big bomb, the second involved sinking a city onto an underground citadel, and here in the third, Marcus’ father Adam turns out to be alive and with a new plan to end the war. The majority of the game is spent figuring out where he is, how to get to him, and setting his plan in motion, while fighting the newly emerged “Lambent”, even scarier (and far more explodier) monsters that caused the original scary monsters to attack in the first place. You know, just another day on Sera.

Gears of War 3 video game

It’s impossible not to love the Cole Train! He’s got a heart (and a gun) made of gold! Wooo!

Except the big theme of Gears 3, hinted at in its own depressing trailer, seems to be that this is the last stand of humanity, and that things might not end as well as they hope. But as with the original game, the disparity between the advertising and the plot of the third installment is quite vast. This excursion ends up yet another super-awesome-fun-time-action-movie filled with explosions and “big damn heroes” moments while the heroes crack wry jokes along the way.

It’s a blast to be sure, and very funny thanks to some genuinely good writing, but it does cause one to wonder if the team at Epic Games know that the importance of any story, the main point that resonates with the audience, lies in the ending. For while there are moments of despair and heartache, the adventure never decides to take a stand and make a statement, even though it often seems like it’s going to. Not to spoil anything, but rather than turning the plight of these soldiers into a sad but poignant resolution of an extinction war, everything turns out to be solved in the final minutes by Adam’s big deus ex machina device that quite literally solves all of the problems the COG has.

Frankly, I’m not actually surprised that things end this way. The unfortunate fact is that crafting an ending that leaves no room for sequels and attempting to actually put a franchise to bed in gaming is nigh impossible. Video games are sequel driven things, even the ones with something on their minds. So though the subtext of Gears of War has rather consistently been that wars for oil, er, I mean “immulsion,” will invariably cause the death of humanity no matter where we end up or how far we progress, it also has to live up to the expectations of gamers who just want to shoot things in a well-constructed world.

Gears of War 3 video game

This installment finally un-sausages the fest a bit with the inclusion of several ladies as new cast members. Unfortunately none of the new characters really leave a strong impression. Well, at least not on the player. This drone however . . .

For the gameplay of Gears of War 3 is very well constructed indeed, especially the copious amounts of multiplayer modes. Not only are there six different types of online death-match to be had, Horde mode returns bigger and better than ever, and the entire game has been given the modern treatment of persistent stat tracking, along with the ability to play through the story in a competitive manner via “Arcade” mode. Topping things off is the 3.0 version of innovation, “Beast,” which finally lets players take control of the less humanoid locust and wreck bloody swaths of destruction like shoppers on Black Friday.

The Versus Multiplayer options are the standards of all shooters everywhere, though most have a twist unique to the franchise. Capture the Flag is instead “Capture the Leader”, where you have to hold onto an opposing player, “Execution” requires double tapping opponents lest they get up again, and “Wingman” forces limited camaraderie. All are pretty fun, but for the unprepared, just know that most battles invariably end up like a hillbilly family reunion: Dueling Shotguns at six paces while everyone rolls around on the ground.

Horde mode gets improved with ideas that seem lifted from some of the competitors that originally lifted Horde mode itself. You now earn cash for kills and use it to purchase defensive fortifications that allow your team to make a firmer stand against the impossible onslaught, but to keep things fair, the Locust keep getting upgraded as you progress and every tenth wave presents a particularly nasty boss rush. To get to the end, you’ll have to make smart use of team tactics, as well as the battlemechs last seen killing Na’vi in Avatar.

Gears of War 3 video game

Ah mechanized battle suits. Is there anything you can’t do? Aside from not being awesome of course.

Then there’s Beast mode, which is unfortunately no Horde mode. While it’s fleeting fun to scuttle around as an explosive termite or a giant centipede with a taser for a mouth, it’s simply not challenging or deep enough to merit more than a few romps in this monster mash. Perhaps with some improvements (or DLC) down the line it could be, but right now it’s easily the weakest link in the overall package of Gears 3.

Other than this one lackluster offering, there’s really nothing wrong with the execution or implementation of any actual gameplay in Gears of War 3. The weapons are all well balanced, the cover system has been refined to the point of near perfection, the art and sound design are top notch which are overall more varied and brighter than the earlier entries, and the persistent stats are not only well integrated, but due to how content unlocks they actively encourage players to try everything the game offers and stick around for the long haul. As Cliffy B. said in an interview, he doesn’t want you to date Gears 3, he wants you to marry it.

Gears of War 3 video game

For Dom, that would make it his second marriage I guess?

Well, as long as you can get behind a game that’s fully embraced the competitive side of the Wily Line, you could easily find yourself wed to Gears of War 3 with nary a second glance at a flirtatious Call of Duty or the sultry and seductive thrills of the next Halo. There are simply too many funny lines, crowning moments of awesome and a diverse set of options here to end up ditched the second something new and shiny comes along. But that’s as far as I’m stretching this particular metaphor; if I go any further it’s going to get weird.

It was nice to hang out with the guys of gears again. They provide a good time and their antics are amusing. It’s just that they’re a lot like that one buddy who ended up a bartender after dropping out of school. Sure he might be your friend, and you can always count on him for a good time and a few laughs, but you also know that he’s simply not embracing his full potential, and you know that you should stop coming by and supporting him so maybe he’d get his act together, but the bar is successful and there’s always lots on tap.

Besides sometimes you just need a drink, or in this case, a chance to chainsaw someone in half with your gun. Damn, it just hits the spot after a long day, don’t it?

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Gears of War 3 Trailer

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