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The Epic Conclusion
Many people overuse the words "Awesome" and "Epic" They are thrown about to describe things which are neither awe-inspiring, or the stuff of legend. Gears of War 3, on the other hand, comes pretty close to both. Marcus Fenix and his fellow COGs are reduced to living on a the sea since Jacinto, the last city safe from the Locust on the entire planet, was destroyed at the end of Gears or War 2. They're not even close to being safe. The Lambent, a third faction introduced in the second game, can find them at any time, pushing up stalks from the ocean floor and sprouting enemy soldiers from pods. You will fight an uphill, final battle the whole way through this game, and you're probably going to like doing it. This game is truly awesome, with tight controls, beautiful graphics, and an epic conclusion to the story.
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If you've played Gears of War before, there won't be much new in this section for you. The game has the same responsive controls as the first two. The left stick moves, and the right aims. The left trigger takes aim, and the right one fires. The right bumper reloads, allowing you to reload the weapon faster with a correctly timed second press. B is a weapon-specific melee attack. X is a context sensitive interaction button, while A continues to be the context sensitive cover button. Y focuses on points of interest and performs executions, while the left bumper brings up an overlay that shows you where to go. Weapons are accessed by pushing the cardinal directions on the d-pad.
The Gears of War series pretty much defined the modern third person cover-based shooter, with many games taking a page from Epic's Playbook, such as Shadowgun. The controls are fluid and responsive although you will be killed pretty easily if you stand and trade shots with the hordes of enemies you're presented with. It's much safer to hide behind a rock or knock over a table and stick your gun out while firing blindly. It makes the enemy seek cover, and gives you a chance to catch your breath (conveniently also healing you back to full health) and take aim. You can do all sorts of context sensitive things with your cover, including following moving mine carts to get into a flanking position. The cover button also lets you "roadie run," which is a sort of crouching run to minimize your profile.
Unless you're blown up, taking too much damage doesn't kill you, but knocks you down and lets you limp towards a friend. If your teammate revives you in time, you can "walk it off" and keep fighting. Sometimes the computer controlled teammates don't rescue you as soon as you'd like, so playing with friends can be a huge improvement. Your friends will take control of one of your squad mates, of which you always seem to have at least three. You're always told where you need to go next so outside of combat the game isn't extremely difficult.
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Of course, combat is the meat and potatoes of the game. Some people don't even play the single player mode of games any more, which can be a shame. Gears of War 3's multiplayer has so many options and game types that if you start with multiplayer you might be too busy to check out single player!
Just like in every multiplayer shooter game, there's Team Deathmatch, where two teams try to eliminate each other. It pales in comparison to the other modes with more rules than "shoot the other guy," though. In Execution, you need to finish off your opponents with an execution, before their teammates revive them. In Capture the Leader, one member of each team is the "target." He or she must be grabbed and held at gunpoint for a set amount of time. The final mode is Wingman, where four teams of two compete against each other. Horde mode also returns with the new ability to buy upgrades and fortifications to your base as you fight waves and waves of Locust with your team. There's also a new game type called "Beast Mode" where your team takes control of the Locust attacking a COG base. The object is to overrun the humans within the time limit. Beast mode also features upgrades to buy as well as the ability to choose many different units which are unplayable in other game modes, like the fearsome Berserker.
As you play any game mode, even singe-player, you earn experience points (XP) for kills and other feats. Gain enough, and your level will raise. Higher levels mean more character and weapon options, which are a nice cosmetic touch with no effect on gameplay other than, possibly, the admiration or intimidation of your fellow players. The games are all hosted on Epic's servers, so all players are put on an even playing field when it comes to latency and ping issues. No more blaming the other team winning on host advantage!
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Simply put, this game is gorgeous. Epic made the Unreal Engine, and they show it off like nobody's business in this game. There's no slowdown, the sun and shadows look realistic, and there are tons of nice little touches everywhere.The cover blends into the surroundings, so one doesn't get the feeling that there are convenient waist-high walls strategically placed about like in the first game. The Lambent and the Locust are both visually distinct lizard monsters, and the humans, while way beefier than most humans from planet Earth, fit. They don't look out-of-place considering the game's overall style.
The game is massively bloody, your main weapon by default has a chainsaw bayonet with which you can cut your enemies into bits if you get close enough. This level of realism means it is absolutely not for kids. The blood (and the language) can be turned off, but kids might still get the message that guns are neat and get an unrealistic impression of violence if they see grownups playing this, what with everyone "walking it off" from gunshot wounds and all. This wasn't really as much of a problem when we didn't have graphics this good. If good graphics are your thing, though, it may be worth buying an Xbox 360 just for this game.
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Sound And Music
All the weapons sound loud and feel satisfying. The voice acting is far better than your average Hollywood action movie, but then again, the voice actors aren't performing outrageous athetic feats while delivering their one liners. All of the industrial equpment and vehicles have a very gritty sound, like the weapons. It's very atmopsheric, and it works. There's really nothing bad to say here unless you really don't like loud noises or explosions, in which case this is perhaps not the game for you.
Gears of War's iconic music plays often when the actions gets heavy, it's simple but catchy and and you may catch yourself humming along. It adds nicely to the overall feel of the game.
There is some swearing, though it didn't really seem out of place or context when it was used except for one loudmouthed character voiced by Ice-T, so either he has to swear all the time because he is a rapper or he was excellently in character. Either way, the language has a separate filter from the violence, which is nice if Grandma or children are in the other room while you're playing, as long as they stay there and don't see all the bloody dismemberment. The filters, both for violence and swearing, are a day late and a dollar short. Some things are just not for kids.
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All the loose ends from the previous two games are tied up by the end of the game, except for maybe why the Locust even exist. It does explain why they attacked the humans of Sera and what the deal with the Lambent is. It also explains what Marcus's father, long thought dead, is up to. While it says that humanity is pretty much consigned to living on a boat, that's not really true. Since the game takes place from the Coalition of Ordered Government's point of view, everyone who doesn't like them (and there are many of those, called the Stranded) don't really keep in contact. Things aren't quite as bad as Marcus and company think, though they're still pretty bad as long as the Lambent and Locust are around. In fact, things are WORSE than they think... but I'm not going to say, it's better you play the game to find out why. And of course... does Carmine survive? A Carmine brother has died in each of the first two games, can Clayton buck the trend?
The game hits many action movie high notes, along with some slightly silly moments. Everyone gets their chance to be in the spotlight (especially Augustus "Cole Train" Cole) before the game comes to a very final and satisfying ending. There's no formulaic romance between Marcus and Anya, though he obviously likes her, which is another neat departure from action movie cliche. The Gears of War series has always used in media res storytelling so some things might not quite clear without repeated playthroughs or outside explanation. For a violent shooter, giving the player's intelligence the benefit of the doubt and avoiding cliche is quite refreshing. Besides, exposition characters are annoying.
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Worth a Purchase Or Not?
The guys at Epic have an excellent handle on what their name and that word means. This game is one of, if not the best, third person shooters released yet. It's responsive, gorgeous, and has enough content out of the box (with more planned) to last most players a good long while. It resets the standards for third person shooters, and any fan of the genre will probably love it. It's definitely not for kids though, even with the content filters enabled. It's rated M for good reason.
- Images from Gears of War 3
- Gears of War Offical Website, http://gearsofwar.xbox.com
- Source: Author's Experience