The storyline of the Gears of War trilogy has finally brought us its final act! One of the most exciting gameplay experiences ever designed, the third piece in the Gears of War story once again hands the player the torch for saving humanity from the Locust hordes that threaten to destroy the planet Sera and populate it with reptilian aliens.
Epic Games has brought the Gears of War story to a shredding, blood spattering coup de grace. Humankind has been battling the underground Locust enemy for years. The new enemy is the “glowies,” the Lambent who were infected from toxic Imulsion fluid that humans had pumped into the Locust tunnels (in the Gears of War 2 storyline). The star character Macus Fenix leads Delta squad, one of the commando teams of the Coalition of Ordered Governments, in fighting the Locust horde for Sera’s freedom. Gears of War 3 opens in the middle of the “Gears of War timeline.” Marcus is being broken out of the Slab with the help of some familiar characters, where he had been condemned to 40 years for disobeying orders. You break out as Marcus, run — and never look back. You can check out the Gears of War timeline to get caught up on the backstory of the saga.
The various multiplayer maps of Gears of War 3 are fueled by Epic’s own Unreal Engine 3, and the crisp lines of the characters and the vivid details of the various landscapes are the result. The beautifully rendered environment and challenging combat sequences are the most powerful elements of Gears of War 3. As promised, UE3′s update with the 30 FPS delivers a smooth video experience throughout the firefights. I did notice a few minor jerks that signalled a drop in frame rate delivery during the campaign. The game experience has been enhanced by recent upgrades made to UE3: motion blurring, lighting, and shadowing. Advanced motion blur features in use include motion blur skinning (only implemented on Xbox 360 and PC platforms), that simulates the capture of actual motion for different parts of the character’s body (one arm swinging faster than another arm). The lighting is more natural and appealing, and the characters move believably between the light and shadows of the game environment. Shadows themselves are more authentically rendered, adding further to the natural feel of the in-game landscape.
The move to dedicated servers has clearly made a huge difference in online play. Whether this move will be permanent, or whether Epic may eventually move toward implementing a P2P/dedicated server model remains to be seen.
The game mechanics are fluid third-person combat moves, with its own GOW3 branded mechanic of huddled running called the “roadie run.” The taking cover move is fluidly controlled by the player, and organically moves onto the action of shooting enemies. When your ammo is getting low, doing active reloading can reduce reload time to less than half a second by snagging the R-bumper at the right time. And, don’t forget, the awesome curb stomping and chainsawing of Locusts that make this game the apotheosis of violence are always handy with the B button. As far as the general gameplay, the entire campaign can be played by four players in co-op mode. In fact, even in single-player, you are backed up by three rotating COG homies at all times. The advantage of this means that you can be revived fairly quickly when you are downed by Locust lead. Gears of War 3 has brought in two additional female protagonists to the cause, Sam Byrne and Anya Stroud, who add to the complexity of the game experience — Epic finally listened to the clarion call of female gamers to add female leads in the game.
One important change to note for Team Deathmatch players is that there is a “respawn pool” for the team. Once the allocated respawns are used up, you’re screwed. The multiplayer options are as exciting as they are varied. “Arcade Mode” allows players to compete for high scores and add variables called “mutators” to the game, such as audio tracks, XP bonuses, etc., to add higher stakes. “Beast Mode” allows players to play as Locusts in the game. “Horde Mode” is now on steroids, adding a tower-defense element to the formula of increasing difficulty of oncoming waves of Locust attacks. Enemy kills can be cashed in for upgraded defenses, gun turrets, ammo … you get the idea.
Last but not least, these are my favorite new weapons in Gears of War 3: the One Shot and the Retro Lancer. The One Shot can be mounted on a tripod. See the Locust on the ridge. Look down the scope with the laser sight. Pull the trigger and poof goes the red mist. Last but not least, the Retro Lancer. Yeah, it recoils like a crazy mule. But squeeze the trigger at close range for the most powerful rain of lead in the COG arsenal. And bayoneting Locust scum in the swirling fog of war never felt so good. And the best thing is, you get to do it with Marcus and Delta squad, because you care about your team. And that is why Gears of War 3 is so good — why we want to come back, again and again: to fight for Delta squad as brothers to the end.