The word 'blockbuster' is thrown around across various media platforms more and more these days. Often, it is the go-to tag line used to adorn promotional material to help shift units. It can be defined as,
“Something or someone that is forcefully or overwhelmingly impressive, effective or influential.”
“A motion picture, novel etc. especially one lavishly produced, that has or is expected to have wide popular appeal or success.”
There can be no doubt, Epic Games' Gears of War 3 is an emphatic and unapologetic blockbuster of the most brash variety.
Gears of War 3 spawns you two years or so further down the astral calendar from the end of Gears 2. Jacinto, the last known human metropolis of the planet Sera, has fallen, leaving Marcus Fenix and his iron clad, Herculean Delta Squad, soldiers of a now largely nomadic human race. The Locust aren't going away and neither are their old foes and cousins, the Lambent. There's sure to be more trouble afoot courtesy of Sera's favourite malformed miscreants, bent out of shape following their exposure to a toxic ooze, known as 'imulsion'.
It's not long at all before, if you needed to dust down your rusty COGs, you're afforded the chance to do just that. Your ship, the CNV Sovereign, is boarded by a mixed bag of mutant militants pulled from a healthy cross section of the Lambent community. As you may expect, Gears 3's action is not unlike that of its hugely successful predecessors. Equipped with your trusty Lancer, it is up to you and your squad, with friends old and new in tow, to clear out those pesky Horde. The weaponry at hand has evolved, yet remains consistent with past iterations, and the cover based, third person combat is familiar while lighter on it's feet from point to point than Gears 1 and 2. Just minutes in, you will feel like you have never been away.
First time players need not fear, Gears 3 offers a steely yet steady learning curve. Prior to your initial foray into Lambent waters, you are treated to a stylish dream sequence, subtly recapping events from the recent Gears calendar, it is a vague nod that might be better appreciated by veterans of the franchise but still, it does a good job of giving newer players some warm up time, while going some way to explaining Marcus' mindset and motivations. Events may be new to you, but as you pace the Sovereign's lower decks, you will find yourself quickly reacquainted with, or educated in, Gears unique set up.
Gears 3's variety of difficulty options are also an appealing contributor to the story mode, an easy or normal play through can be romped around without particular care or credit paid to the option of cover, whereas a hardcore, or even more so, insane single player trek may have you wiping the sweat from your brow as you duck bullets and breathe cool air on your red raw analogue jockeys. Swollen thumbs aside, Gears 3 delivers a rewarding and engaging combat experience, wherever your comfort zone lies.
If Gears of War 3 resonates familiar characters and combat, then it's echo is nothing less than 'Gears ja vu'. One hundred empty shells discarded, a brief cut scene and pause for dramatic swelling will follow before reloading and re-engaging, just as before. While the repetitiveness can begin to rub, there are some spectacular exceptions and these plot binding twists go a long way to ensuring Gears' best overall plot to date, even if it is often coated with brainless steel.
Gears of War 3 is a genuine visual treat. Certain moments are a joy, one sub oceanic voyage in particular, to behold. The feeling of breadth to the landscape is enforced throughout, and coupled with the bleak backdrop, succeeds in bringing home the baron nature of your task. It is scored beautifully too, moments of heightened tension are enhanced with climactic orchestral backing even if some of Gears 3's more tender moments perhaps miss a trick every now and then.
The story arc in Gears of War 3 is by no means the strong point of the game, there are some noteworthy anomalies however. An early sortie, where you will play as two separate COG squads covering the same mission from two different perspectives, one after the other, is a particular highlight. It's a shame that it falls so early on and never becomes a reoccurring theme.
Throughout, there are several occasions where a choice of position or route is available before key missions. There are often multiple split paths to take as you navigate each level as well. Again it is a shame that these merely pay lip service to a largely linear, set piece to set piece experience.
The combat itself is as fulfilling, if not more so, than ever before. Limbs dismember with bloody relish, the glowing extremities protruding from your Lambent pursuers will convulse and capitulate under heavy fire, and there are more varied and vicious executions than you can shake a Locust's bloodied upper arm at. By far the most appealing arena to take advantage of these executions in, is Gears of War 3's multiplayer mode. Gears 3 online is simply brilliant.
Versus matchmaking, much like an over-inquisitive Locust, is split into six pieces, all right then... modes (look, that nearly made sense), from the particularly traditional and equally appealing solo and team death match modes to 'Wingman' a two v two v two v two affair, 'Capture the leader', a Mexican stand off, where the team that holds the leader of the other team by the metaphorical man veggies for the longest, wins. Let's not forget the most sadistically satisfying multiplayer mode of all, 'Execution' where each player on each team must strive for murderous glory using executions only, getting up close and personal can be a risk as in this mode, you'll have but one life.
Gears of war 3 embellishes it's multiplayer offering straight out of the box, certain weekends, for example, will carry with them specific rules, such as limiting you to a particular weapon, encouraging you to break from the norm and get even more creative, callous, vehement and violent. All sounds too much? Once again, don't worry, when you first dive head first into the multiplayer bloodbath, you have the option of swimming in shallower, if equally bloody waters. It's a beginner mode, of sorts, that requires a certain amount of time invested before you are forced to jettison your inflatable rubber ducky wings and hit the virtual deep end. Even then, the usual ranked and unranked match options are available, whichever you might choose to play, your home screen will look like the fall out of a drunken game of pin the tail on the donkey, with medals and badges tracking your every success and stumble. Gears of War 3 truly gift wraps it's multiplayer to suit hardcore and new fans alike.
And we haven't even mentioned 'Horde' mode yet. If you are yet to get your teeth in, feel free to get hungry and forget your manners. Fifty levels of cover based bliss await, in which you must fight to the bitter end against ever increasing swarms of slaughter starved enemies of varying shapes, sizes and snouts. Like in multiplayer, at launch there are ten maps to choose from. Every one genuinely different, both in it's individual aesthetic and physical composition. Each kill awards points that turn into cold hard space cash, using this wisely during the brief intervals between the impending waves, will help purchase or preserve your defences, buy new weapons, or invest in more unusual artefacts such as a decoy target dummy to draw the fire of your foes. Every ten waves will bring a climactic boss brawl too, a neat new addition. You can choose to engage the horde with the help (or hindrance) of up to three 'mutators' in a given match, selectable options that throw entertaining or challenging curveballs your way. These may be as simple as 'friendly fire' or the more humorous 'headless chicken', forcing your decapitated foes to attack each other for a while. All this glorious gore can be shared locally, or even better, online with up to four of your closest e-pals.
'Beast' mode is another exceptional evolution for the Gears of war franchise. Instead of defending your base, you must don your best Horde finery and assault the last strongholds of the 'Stranded' humans. Like in 'Horde' mode, your resources are dependant on the cash you earn. In 'Beast' mode however, your hard earned astro dollars must be spent not on defences, but on the wide variety of beasts you can choose to control. Each one will have a different monetary value, and each class will deliver it's own brand of devastation. You might choose to play as anything from the slow moving, melee oriented butcher, to the highly explosive ticker or take on the role of the more standard, lancer wielding, cover hungry, 'Savage drone'. You control only one at a time and using them wisely is vital.
The humans are bedded in, resistant and resilient and gaining the right balance amongst your party to ensure their swift demise is no easy task, attempting this mode solo is nigh on narcissistic. It's almost like a run and gun, third person, over the shoulder, cover based real time strategy, tower assault experience. Whatever it is, it's innovative, unique in mainstream video gaming, engrossing and hugely rewarding as you progress.
You and your Horde or hero mashing posse don't have to skulk off to bed after wave fifty is done though, oh no. For the first time in Gears history, you can play through the full campaign with up to three other players, just kick the guy who sucked most in Horde, yeah? You can get through an average campaign playthrough in as little as eight hours. Played through without due care, it can turn into a largely forgettable experience. Embraced for what it is with a full team on board, it will likely deliver far more.
Gears of War 3 is a blockbuster. In fact, it is an overwhelmingly impressive, lavishly produced adventure that will have widespread success, regardless of it's feather light single player journey.
It's prototypical of how a product of it's stature and content should be defined.
To play Gears of War as a single player experience would be to do the game and yourself a true injustice. The essence of the blockbuster is not to just watch the first ten minutes and leave before the action truly gets under way.
It certainly isn't to question the over the top dialogue set amid an ostinato of explosives and expletives. It is to buy the ticket and take the ride. Gears of War 3 is the best third person action shooter money can buy, with the most engaging and addictive overall online experience of any game, ever. It is unlikely to start apologising now.