Gears of War 3 Campaign Hands-On Preview -- Act 1 Cuts DeepBy Miguel Concepcion - Posted Aug 15, 2011
It's rare to see a franchise achieve its third installment on the same console it began from. When they do happen, they're often quite memorable, if the likes of Super Mario Brothers 3, Dragon Quest III, and Devil May Cry 3 are any indication. Thanks to the current prolonged console cycle, we're gonna see what talented studios are going to pull off with over half a decade of exposure to the same dev tools. To complement the survivalist tone of Resistance 3 and the epic adventure of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, this fall brings us the amped and aggro return of Delta Squad and Gears of War 3.
Epic Games' third-person shooter series has come along way since the boxy, right angle-intensive designs of Act 1 from the first Gears Of War. In the initial portion of GoW3’s single-player campaign, which we recently had a chance to go hands-on with, monotonous graytones have given way to a wider eye-catching color palette and antiquated old world architecture is replaced with an Ark-like Raven’s Nest. It’s one of the biggest, most fleshed out naval vessels I’ve ever playthrough in a videogame. It does help that the Raven’s Nest consists of three ships and an Imulsion rig.
This also makes it an unsurprisingly prime battlefield for the Lambent Locust as well as Delta Squad. This comes with the usual GoW abundance of exploding barrels, attack options beyond the Lancer, and of course, spots to duck and cover. And you’ll need all the cover you can find, because the Lambent Stalks are all over the place, dropping other Lambent.
This opportunity to play GoW3’s first act also showed us the full version of the dual perspective narrative that we all saw in its abbreviated form at E3, where we saw how Cole Train's foursome aids Fenix's team in taking out the the Lambent Leviathan. While this takedown only took 10 minutes at E3, the true length of Act I is a much more drawn out affair that will take many players over two hours.
With Epic's Bulletstorm still fresh in our minds, it a nice change and contrast to return to more grounded yet equally sensational weapons with Gears. The "old pair of shoes" appeal of both Lancers doesn't get old, and it's addicting to get in those gruesome melee kills. This hands-on time also gave us the opportunity to operate both the exo-suit industrial forklift loader and its militarized suped-up version, the Silverback. As we saw at E3, this mini walking tank packs a punch and makes for a good shield for your buddies at the cost of swift mobility for the Silverback pilot
The gameflow is much more engaging too, aided by the fact that many of Delta Squad’s first few goals are focused on damage control as the Lambent cause havoc on the ship. If it's not a helipad that needs to be raised, it's a literal fire that needs to be put out. Moreover, backtracking is kept to a minimum, focusing more on exploration of newer areas of this vast amalgam of ships.
If there's one aspect to Gears of War 3's story that makes it stand out over the last two games, it's a greater emphasis on sentimentality. The subplot concerning Marcus' relationship with his dad actually starts off the game as a poignant prologue dream sequence. It's a light bloom-drenched playable scene that provides a brief refresher on the controls before the game starts proper. The fact that the scene involves Marcus defending his dad’s home from a siege of Locusts also makes for a finely blunt metaphor. Elian Fenix also factors into the narrative near the end of Marcus' Act I story arc where he hints at a discovery of the true importance of the Imulsion.
Any Gears fan can make an educated guess on how sentimentality would fit in with Cole Train. A return to Hanover also meant a visit to the Cougars' thrashball stadium. Seeing Cole fantasize about the past is a touching moment and adds perspective to all the past scenes in the series where The Stranded revere Cole as a celebrity. The continual presence of Lambent Locust quickly bring Cole back to the present, though, and he's happy to do so.
It was also during this portion that I played around with the more heavy duty weapons of the game, including the tandem-operated vulcan cannon. At one point I also had to operate a mortar in order to take down--believe it or not--a living Locust airship.
The aforementioned gameflow is even more impressive in this section of Act I. The way the levels transition from the Stranded outposts in Hanover to the stadium to the bridge at the end of Act I felt incredibly seamless (the presence of a zipline almost always helps with these kinds of transitions too).
The most important thing this first act achieved is in setting the tone for the rest of the game. If these first couple hours were any indication, it's quite a challenge imagining what's going to come next. Perhaps we'll also see and play through moments of introspection with Dominic and Anya. If Epic Games knows how to maintain momentum, then we're pretty sure this grand Leviathan takedown won't be the game's only highlight.