It’s easy to write off a sequel, even a big-name one, as just more of the same. And much of the time you’re right to do so. I enjoyed Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood immensely, but it legitimately felt like Assassin’s Creed 2, Part 2. Gears of War 3 certainly feels like a continuation of the story set down in the first two installments, but even taken alone it is a well-polished package full to the brim with well-executed content that, above all else, is fun and engaging to play.
Aside from finishing the story, which has never really been much to talk about, what does Gears of War 3 bring to the table? It brings a campaign that (even if the story isn’t Oscar material) is well-paced, challenging enough to make success mean something, and full of situations that are over-the-top enough to make you want to play the campaign over again in cooperative mode with arcade scoring on.
Cooperation is a central gameplay theme through the Gears franchise. In the original first two games, Epic showed how much Marcus and Dom depended on each other by splitting them up regularly, and it worked. I hated working through the building while my buddy was downstairs in the parking lot, and I hated working through the lower levels of the Hollow while he was up on a catwalk, but I respected what Epic showed me: that we are nowhere near as effective apart as we are together. Gears of War 3 expands on this by filling out your roster permanently to four, occasionally working in groups of two. This works phenomenally well, as the AI is improved from Gears of War 2 and is much more adept at picking you up after an enemy has downed you, and it facilitates larger battles with a fighting force that feels up to the challenge. The squad size change also means that Gears 3 supports four-player cooperative play throughout the campaign.
Multiplayer is a huge point of focus in Gears of War. For months after each game’s release ,my friends list was full of people testing their mettle in multiplayer or Horde mode. Gears of War 2’s Horde mode, while not the first game to use the concept, revitalized a gaming concept that many were glad to see return. Whether you first played a Horde equivalent in Ghost Recon, Halo: ODST, Gears of War 2 or Borderlands, the immediacy and fun of wave after wave of progressively-more-challenging enemies keeps players coming back for more. Epic has revitalized the concept again by adding light tower defense elements to the mode, allowing players to purchase turrets for offense, razor wire for defense and decoys to convince the Locust to shoot at something else for a little while. With 50 waves to work through on every multiplayer map available, Horde mode won’t get old for a good, long while. Beast mode is shorter, but allows players to play as the complete Locust menagerie. Sure, you get to control a drone in deathmatch, but no other mode lets you play as a Ticker, Wretch, Berserker, or Mauler taking progressively better equipped humans from small groups of stranded to well-fortified groups of Gears soldiers. Taking up to five people through 50 waves of Horde or 12 waves of Beast mode are both engaging multiplayer experiences that you just won’t find anywhere else.
And when you have your heart set on competitive multiplayer, you’re covered there as well. Gears of War 3’s primary versus mode is a team deathmatch that takes cues from the Battlefield ticket system. Instead of respawing until a certain number of kills has been racked up, you’ll respawn until your team is out of tickets. The difference is subtle, but a good surge is more punishing here than in Halo: Reach because you’ll run out of respawns instead of just facing a kill-count deficit. Ranked matches are also hosted on dedicated servers which makes everything run smoother and makes the shotgun a viable weapon for all players instead of just the host. Map design is interesting, and often asymmetrical without feeling cheap. You’ll fight to take the high ground, but it’s not impossible to get there, it’s possible to take it from your enemy and, if you’re careful, it’s possible to defend it until the end of the match.
Gears of War 3 iterates and polishes on everything that was present in Gears of War 2 and the folks at Epic still had time to add new modes, new weapons, and new enemies. Nothing feels like filler here, and the Gears of War 3 disc will have a reserved spot in my 360 for a long, long time.
Pros: Polished gameplay, new modes
Cons: It’s still Gears, if you don’t want that