Gears of War 3: catchup review

Chainsaw bayonets have been a secure staple in the Gears of War series ever since the first game and they still haven’t changed. And why should they? Viciously ripping your opponent in half, reducing them to a puddle of chunky horror is the ultimate way to ensure an enemy isn’t playing dead. You can say a similar thing about the cover based shooting mechanics. They haven’t changed since the first game. Why fix what isn’t broken? Right?

Gears of War 3 is undeniably Gears of War. You take control of Marcus Fenix and carve your way through hordes of enemies with your rifle chainsaw multi-tool. The bare bones are the same, with cover hugging and peep-out shooting being the dominant feature for a third time. It feels so identical you could drop into Gears of War 2 and not feel any difference in terms of control or character movement. You could argue that this means it all feels natural and instinctive as soon as you enter the game, but at the same time it doesn’t feel new.

Locust burst out the ground, a bit like dangerously insane rabbits with trigger fingers.

One of the biggest differences this time around is the dramatic shift in environment. Taking place eighteen months after the events of Gears 2, the story begins with Mr Fenix and chums on an aircraft carrier. The interior looks like your typical industrial environment, but as soon as you get topside the sun-kissed deck looks distinctly different from the brown and grey slurry pallet the previous games have smeared on our screens. These brighter environments are common throughout Gears 3, and are shuffled into the deck of familiar, darker environments similar to what we’ve seen already. It’s a refreshing change and definitely improves the atmosphere and sense that you are treading on new ground.

The campaign is well paced and feels a lot more dynamic than Gears 2, with enemy encounters switching frequently between the Lambent and Locust. Objectives begin rather mundane, with most of your jollies centring on gathering supplies for survival; although things focus a lot more towards the end of the game. We won’t spoil anything, but this does neatly tie up the saga of Marcus Fenix and Delta squad. There are some things that are either gaping plot holes or material left out for the inevitable follow-up book, but the ending is satisfying.

Backtracking to things that haven’t changed, the AI is still without hope. With up to three bots following you around at all times, AI on AI battles frequently happen. On one hand, your pretend friends can be quite useful. It is possible to sit in the corner not participating and to let your teammates do all the work. Whilst they can get incapacitated, we never saw one of them die, even on hardcore difficulty. They are at least competent at ranged combat. Problems emerge when you want their help in any other situation.

Stuffing that thing's eye with bullets might be a good idea in this situation.

We’ve seen AI teammates circle enemies with their backs to each other, as if they are both chasing the same tail and never meeting in the middle. There’s also the frustrating bug that occurs when you get incapacitated. Your fellow gears often mistake your character’s screams of “Revive me” for “Stand still”. On too many occasions have we managed to shuffle our bleeding body to a friendly AI only for them to stand there, doing nothing to help. This gets really frustrating, especially if there are only one or two enemies left.

Multiplayer is probably the area that has seen the most love. The entire campaign is now playable in four player co-op, and is definitely the best way to enjoy the main game. Not having to rely on dopey AI is very handy, although it does mean you have to find not so dopey humans. You can also run through the campaign in Arcade mode with other people, bringing some score driven competition to the co-op experience.

Beast mode is the newest addition which lets players take control of the Locust horde and rush against AI COG defenders. This is brilliant fun, and a great change from the standard cover shooter monotony. You can play as tickers, drones, corpsers, berserkers and many other enemy types. Each game pits you against 12 waves of increasingly difficult resistance and it can be completed in about 30 minutes. As fantastic as it is, it feels very similar each time, with no randomisation of your opponents other than their starting position. We would love to see this fleshed out in future DLC.

I think she likes you. Just be sure to take out life insurance before hugging.

Horde mode also returns and allows you to build fortifications against waves of enemies, such as fences and turrets. This mode is great fun when you have a good team, but be prepared for a long game. Getting to wave 30 took us two hours, and there are 50 waves in total if you can see it through to the end. Every tenth wave drops a boss on you, from berserkers to brumaks, and these can get tense. Another great mode though.

Also on offer is the standard deathmatch affair. This is the least imaginative of the online modes, but you know if you like online competitive shooters or not. You earn experience in all game modes (including the campaign) and this can be used to unlock new characters and weapon skins. It’s all cosmetic unlocks, so veterans don’t have an equipment advantage over new players.

If you’ve played previous games then you already know if you will like Gears of War 3. It’s more of the same and great as ever. The multiplayer is a huge improvement and the campaign is stronger than Gears 2. If you’re into third person cover shooters then this ticks all of the boxes. The unchanged formula is starting to feel a bit repetitive now, but works for a third outing. However, if we are to see anymore Gears of War games it would be wise to mix things up a bit, as the copy and paste gameplay might not sit well for a fourth game.

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Written by Anthony H

Anthony has been playing games for far too much of his life, starting with the MS-DOS classic Mario is Missing. Since then his tastes have evolved to include just about anything, but his soft spot lies with shooters and the odd strategy game. Anthony will inspire you with his prose, uplift you with his wit and lie to you in his biography.

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