Indulge me for a moment as I digress into a short history of Gears of War and myself briefly. It's been a long time coming for me. The Gears of War series is the cornerstone to this console generation for me, and it was the first Gears game that truly opened my eyes to what was possible on next generation technology. That game will always hold a special place with me, because what it offered at its time was unparalleled and it gave me a multiplayer experience that helped shape and expand me becoming a better player overall in online shooters. Get good at Gears of War online, and all MP games after will be second nature to you, but just because you are god like at X game will not make you good at Gears of War. It was a beast of its own.
Then came Gears 2. Years spent drooling and being so excited to finally get to play it. Unfortunately, it didn't love up to any bit of hype. While the campaign portion was done well outside a few mistakes such as the Maria bit for Dom and the final boss being a joke in how easy it was, it still satisfied me. Where it failed and where it will always be remembered is for having the single worst online of any game this generation. The mistakes were too much to list, and it was the only game that I ever broke my entire life. I've never thrown a controller or anything else if I got a little upset at a game, but Gears of War 2 managed to get me boiling mad. It's with that moment that I decided to just write the series off.
So what changed? Well if you read my beta impressions then you know the online portion was looking poised to deliver. I was willing to put aside my vow to not give EPIC anymore money after Gears of War 2's awful existence. Was it the right choice?
Most definitely. Gears of War 3 is without a doubt the game that helps solidify what this entire last 6 years of console generation gaming has come to bolster. Triple A franchises with more content than you can shake a stick at, and all of it is polished to shine. Before I go underway to show some of the areas it may not shine, just remember that while the game makes a few hiccups here and there, it isn't even close enough to discourage me from recommending it to ANYONE. It is the best game of this console generation, and it's with this game and the rest in this quarter that we can finally come and bid farewell to the 360/PS3 era, because whatever it is developers do from here on consoles isn't going to be enough to WOW people like Gears of War 1 did to start the generation off and how Gears of War 3 is trying to bid farewell to it.
The campaign to Gears of War 3 is everything EPIC has been hoping to accomplish with both Gears of War 1 and 2. Put you on a different planet, feel what these people are going through and have had to live with, and all the while tell you an engaging story filled with mystery and plenty of action that makes Michael Bay movies look like child's play. Without giving too much away you can expect moments that go for some emotional pay out, and depending on how much of a hard ass you are, it may make you wince or it may make you laugh. For me I was more towards the choked up side, because I felt the scene was handled well. As for the mystery in the story a lot of questions are answered, but too many are left without clarity. What makes it worse is too many points in the story when Adam Fenix tries to tell Marcus answers to questions gamers has, Marcus will just cut him off and tell him to tell him later. This is horse shit and lazy story writing, because too much of the answers you get are all saved literally for the last 2 chapters of the game in the final act, while the rest of what is told is just trying to get you there and try to immerse you in the planet and the people you fight with.
Gears of War 3's campaign's strongest moments are the set piece moments in the campaign. Moments like being underwater in a submarine make you feel underwater more than even a game like Bioshock attempted to. You'll rip across highways filled with crazy fire fights in the back of trucks on machine guns, you'll take out giant sea creatures the size of navy vessels, and even more jaw dropping moments await towards the end of the game. This is all made infinitely more enjoyable thanks to what is being done under the hood graphically.
Unreal Engine 3 in EPIC's hands is ridiculous. Lighting is without a rival. From the way the sun can stream in from windows, to the weather effects during storms at night, you won't find better lighting anywhere. Another thing truly worthy of praise is the attention to detail in the character's eyes this time. When Dom gets choked up at one point in the game, you can see the tears in his eyes and it's done superbly. Unfortunately even the Gears of War series isn't safe against Unreal Engine pop in issues which I ran across in Act 3, but compared to Gears of War 1 and 2 where it was non stop, I can only remember 2 moments this time where it happened. It's also worth noting the hair on Anya is fucking awful. Too often it looks blurry and like someone smeared grease and gravy into her hair. This is all nitpicking though in a game that makes you wonder how in the hell the Xbox 360 is capable of this all these years later when people had already declared it was pushed to its limits years ago. Only a few titles rival what is done here on PS3, and I'm willing to claim as of right now this is the best looking game on consoles without question. Even the likes of Killzone 3, God of War 3, and Uncharted 2 are lacking some of the detail you will see here both in the campaign and in the games array of multiplayer modes.
To kick off the multiplayer options is the campaign co-op. You and up to 3 other players can run through the entire campaign and each player can pick their own individual difficulties so that even players who aren't quite up to snuff of Insane mode can still hit it up with buddies on a mode they are more comfortable with. If you are competitive than you can turn on arcade mode for co-op and compete for scores that are put up on leaderboards, AND you can turn on mutators that are unlocked to change up the game drastically. Think Halo's skulls which do things like make enemies spew confetti on headshots, etc. Once you are done with your campaign fun though you can start getting into the two other co-op modes to have fun with.
The first mode and the shorter of the two available is Beast mode which is new to Gears of War 3. Here you and up to 4 buddies can play as various Locust with all different abilities and play styles. As you go through the waves you unlock newer and better Locust to use to destroy the C.O.G army. If you finish off all the C.O.G soldiers before time runs out, then you proceed to the next wave. The A.I will have tons of defenses up, turrents, silverback mechs, and will have no problems rushing your buddies down back into spawn on Insane. Every kill nets you money and extra time to the round, so you can keep getting back into the game with better Locust and hopefully you will be able to survive all of its 12 waves.
Next up is a returning favorite and one the industry has taken note of since Gears of War 2 to include into their games; Horde Mode. The goal is simple just survive 50 waves of increasingly difficult Locust with up to 4 buddies. Every 10th wave you will be greeted with a boss wave that is completely random on what you will get, and some bosses are definitely more ridiculous than others varying from things like Brumaks to Reavers. What's new to Horde 2.0 here in Gears of War 3 is now you can build up defenses and level up the skills on what you invest money into. Buy and upgrade decoys and you'll level that skill to eventually unlock mini auto turrets, or level up barriers to start turning barb wire fences into laser grid fences. All of this gives Horde its own existence that isn't just a mere distraction you do a few times and put to rest, and will hopefully give players more reason to come back for more and more fun with friends.
You've been waiting for it, and here it is; online competitive multiplayer. Gears of War 3 is without question THE smoothest online experience on consoles when you are playing on dedicated servers. Having played damn near everything this generation has had to offer for multiplayer I can't think of anything that comes this close to just having not only fast matchmaking, but super responsive matches when you are in them where shots register immediately and you no longer have to worry about issues with a host running rampant on everyone with his shotgun becoming a nuclear warhead compared to everyone else. Sadly there just hasn't been enough dedicated servers, and after the first 24-48 hours the game has buckled under the pressure to the incoming flux of players. More games I have spent on peer to peer, and unfortunately it's only a slight improvement to Gears of War 2's peer to peer. It's still bull shit and the host can be spotted quickly, and results after games help prove it was just host pushing you into the dirt and not getting out played. Too often I'll see my 1.9K/D and team work with friends put to ruin by a guy with a .9K/D without a mic or friends he's playing with, just destroy everyone thanks to him being host. It's at these points the game is 100% not worth playing to someone who is hardcore about competition and balance, while a more casual player may not notice or just not care.
There is an elephant in the room though other than games going to hosting that needs addressing and that is the sawed off shotgun. If you step into a few messageboards, the game chat itself, or go find some youtube videos to showcase its faults you will see that this gun is in need of some serious tweaks to help adjust and make it more fair in this games ecosystem of guns. You can talk theory Gears all day about X will beat it in situation Y, but that's all just theory and requires things to go exactly your way, but more often than not these things will not align for you and the sawed off user will come out the victor. The weapons description reads you must be within melee range for it to kill, but videos have shown you can sit about 10X farther than away and still get a 1 shot kill, while even the Gnasher shotgun, with its further range, cannot do that and will require 3 shots to do the same. My complaint with it is definitely its range which will lead you to die if you are holding a Gnasher shotgun against it, since the Gnasher has no stopping power, the sawed off player can just run at you and not be slowed down, and even you backing up cannot stop this bull from blowing you to bits. What may be worse is what this gun has done to the overall flow of combat within Gears of War. Now no corner is safe, and you cannot move around maps with some speed, because around any corner could be a sawed off user. This makes the game come to a creeping halt too often if the other team has more than 1 sawed off user who likes to camp around corners. Someone camping with a Gnasher isn't as bad thanks to the need for aiming required with a Gnasher, so you still have a chance if you get caught. It's quite a lot to say about 1 weapon, and while a few ways exist to combat scrub players using them, the ways to combat campers or a skilled player who willingly uses it are just not present for it in its current state so hopefully EPIC takes some initiative and listens to the community to just reduce its range or add some stopping power on the Gnasher to help still keep it effective in close range where it should be, but not let you bum rush opponents without any thought or aiming.
Moving onward is to the modes you can play now in the retail. You have ranked, quick match, and private lobbies for everything. If at any point a player drops out a bot will replace them, and if the game IS on peer to peer hosting, and the host quits the game does migrate to a new host now and restarts the last round. You will be able to play Warzone, Execution, Team Death Match, Capture the Leader, King of the Hill, and Wingman. Each mode offers different things, and there is a little bit of something for everyone. One of my complaints here now though is that matches are far too short in execution and warzone. Previously it was set up in order to win your team needed 5 rounds, but EPIC idiotically changed it down to 3. This needs to be changed back to how it was, because now 2 bad rounds destroy the game for you and make it impossible to get acclimated to what your enemy team is likely to do, and adjust strategies for the map at hand.
Speaking of maps the game has launched with 10 maps. Without listing them all I'm just going to mention the ones I feel need tweaks. Overpass is the one with the biggest flaw in which an entire team can just run up to the top of a set up steps that overlook the whole map and are allowed to just camp and hold the entire area up there for the rest of the game if they just work together. The map could use another way to reach that area, so it's not an auto win button much like getting the boom shot on Grindyard was in Gears of War 2. Checkout also feels it wasn't fixed from beta where its main issue was there was little reason to go to the electronics side of the map at the start of a round, since the better power weapons are at the check out. I would have liked to see the mulcher replaced with something like a torque bow one round and a mulcher the other. My last issue is with Thrashball which I wish one of the new paths out of the spawn would have connected all the way up to the middle bleacher area, instead of just to the steps. Too often just like in the beta a team can camp up there and lock down the stairs making it impossible for your team to do anything to push up there even with the use of grenades. These minor issues aside the rest of the maps are well done and allow for balanced fun.
Lastly is a few other minor gripes. Grenades have too large of a blast radius. How this wasn't address from the beta is beyond me. The Snub pistol STILL feels like a worthless piece of shit you will rarely swap to unless you run completely out of ammo. I would have also liked to see the online have notifications on the main menu telling you when dedicated servers are up and kicking in your region so I would know when I should play or not since like mentioned that peer to peer just isn't for me. The final thing missing from this game is something to appease us hardcore Gears of War vets. EPIC has gone out of their way to do everything and anything to bring in more casual players and make the game approachable to them, but the hardcore player service is a bit hit and miss. One of the most requested things during beta was a classic playlist that just makes the weapon choices on spawn only Gnasher and Lancer, that way all the excess crap thrown in for casual players to deal with Gears vets is taken out, leaving us in the hardcore demographic to enjoy the tweaks to Gears of War overtime with the fun of the Gnasher CQC focus from Gears of War 1.
There's a lot to discuss with Gears of War 3, and this review only scratches the surface of it. You could touch on emblems/titles, the achievements, the games unlockables from executions to characters and skins, and tons more. I'm surprised a pre-order incentive wasn't a kitchen sink, because EPIC threw everything else at it. No game this holiday season or this entire console generation has offered you this much for a $60.00 disc, and with DLC already set up you can expect for this game to just keep adding to an already extensive package.
Gears of War 3 is a game you have to play immediately, and sink your teeth into. With the issues listed you may think the game is maybe suffering, but like I prefaced before I wrote this, most of the issues I listed are minor ones that are almost forgettable when you play a few games with friends. Gears of War is still one of the only games that can make me get up out of my seat and shout out in excitement as I win a game for our team as the last person standing against 4+ enemies. That's why I have to give this game a 9.5, and it may very well be the closest you can get to perfect this generation when it comes to the shooter genre.