Gears of War 3 Review

By Michael Leffler - Posted Sep 15, 2011

Razor sharp gameplay and an aggressive amount of features never fail to entertain. The campaign stops short of transcendence, but the level of blood, sweat, and heart clearly poured into Gears of War 3 creates a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

The Pros
  • Combat dialed to perfection
  • Improved Multiplayer
  • Unreal Engine is out-of-control beautiful
  • More than your money's worth
The Cons
  • Story doesn't quite live up to the "Brothers to the End" hype
  • No solo Beast mode
  • Supporting characters should be seen and not heard

Gears of War 3 Review:

Gears of War 3 opens two years after the sinking of Jacinto: Dom has turned farmer and Marcus Fenix is haunted by visions of his father’s death.

The hallmark of the Gears of War franchise is a blend of somber apocalyptic tone and pulse pounding gameplay. Gears 3 is no different. The last remnants of humanity winnow ever closer to extinction, and the remaining Gears are stationed on an aircraft carrier. The world of Sera has grown even more dangerous since the end of the last game with the introduction of a new strain of emulsion-infected Locusts called the Lambent who will definitely ruin your day.

If It Glows, We Can Kill It

Before you can say “torture barge,” Marcus learns that his father is actually still alive and might have a weapon that will destroy the Lambent once and for all. It’s rescue mission time!

For the first third of the game, nearly every enemy explodes. Or mutates. Or both. Getting in close with the shotgun like I did in previous installments will get you bloodied, and on higher difficulty levels, outright killed. It was almost a relief when I picked up my first meat shield.

The design of the Lambent is inventive and monstrous, but they just aren’t as compelling as the Locust. Maybe it’s because they don’t have a culture of their own and are nothing more than a plague to be stamped out. They’re scary, but have about as much depth as a strain of typhoid.

This is an advertisement - This story continues below

Deep in the Heart of Sera

Thankfully, the human characters are given their due. This is our last game with the members of Delta Squad and Epic knows it. Gears 3 takes care to slow down the action and give the heroes their own moments, whether it be Cole Train remembering his Thrashball glory days, or a quiet pause with Dom at his wife’s grave. Baird even develops a trait that isn’t sarcasm.

Marcus himself is a changed man. The self-loathing from earlier games is burned away and what’s left is a leader and a son, pure and simple.

Sadly, new characters like Jace and Sam are given little life beyond their quips. The campaign supports 4-player co-op (which is fantastic by the way) but that means you have at least four characters with you at all times, if not five or six. It gets a little crowded. Do we really need to hear one-liners from every single character after every single event?

Here’s the big question: does the story bring the trilogy to a satisfying close? It does. For the most part.

The plot clips along at a good pace and plenty of character moments shine through, but I didn’t feel that freight-train-of-doom I was promised in the trailers. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the salvation of humanity lies with Adam Fenix and not the direct actions of Delta Squad. Maybe Epic just wasn’t interested in making a campaign that was a total bummer from beginning to end. Whatever the reason, the stakes don’t feel as desperate or immediate as previous installments.

For all the clutch moments in this story, Gears 3 never quite reaches the heart-wrenching heights of the Maria scene in Gears 2. But to be fair, few games ever have. All that being said, the final moments are earnest, earned, and effective.

Enough of all the emotional blather, on to what's important. . .

Gears of War 3

Curb Stomp That Appetite!!

Gears of War 3 is a triumph of gameplay and design, pure and simple.

The brutal, cover-based combat that made Gears famous is polished to perfection. Everything is faster, but only just. The increased pace adds a sense of urgency to combat without turning the whole thing into Call of Duty. Your twitch reflex is still less important than your ability to strategize on your feet in the moments you have to engage the enemy before he ends you.

And with new battles come new tools. The Digger Launcher fires a burrowing grenade that explodes behind cover. The Retro Lancer features a bayonet charge. And the Silverback Mech is loaded for bear with so much firepower even James Cameron is jealous.

I found myself using every weapon as I progressed through the campaign. Each weapon offers unique attributes and since ammo is in shorter supply than ever before, I often found myself grabbing whatever the enemy dropped after a battle and trying it on for a while, at least until the next bauble came along to catch my eye.

Gears of War 3

For a Locust, She’s a Knockout

Fighting in dour hallways is a thing of the past, because Gears 3 goes big in just about every way. Building-sized Leviathan attacking your ship? Check. Leisurely dirigible tours across blasted wasteland? Absolutely. Even a truck chase that evokes the best parts of Road Warrior. Not to mention a knockdown dragout fight for your life every five minutes.

The amount of detail in every level of the game is staggering, from a massive burning shipwreck filling the horizon to family photos arranged on the shelf by Dom’s cot.

The Unreal Engine is out of control. You’ll encounter a jaw-dropping vista around every other corner and I frequently got distracted just looking up at the sun. Seriously, Gears 3 doesn’t even look like it’s on the same console as the original Gears.

Gears of War 3

Nasty, Brutish, and Short – But At Least You Have Friends

After the lag-infested launch of Gears 2, Epic vowed that Gears 3 would be better. And it is. SO much better. Dedicated servers make all the difference and multiplayer runs like it should, you die because you ran into someone better than you.

The standard Versus arena cranks out the hits with all the modes familiar to any multiplayer aficionado: Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Capture the Leader. Within just a few matches, it’s clear that a lot of time has been spent knocking the edges off any rough patches.

I’m sorry to say, if you sucked at Gears 2’s multiplayer you’ll still suck at Gears 3 multiplayer, but at least now there are ribbons!!

At the end of every match you’re awarded ribbons for your achievements. Ribbons are scored by getting multi-kills, reviving teammates, even being the first to die, so even if you’re more useless than tits on a Brumak at least you feel like you’re progressing. It sounds stupid but by adding ribbons, Gears rewards great players and lessens the sting the loser feels after a good pwning at the same time. It’s a small thing, but it can make the difference between someone sticking it out and jumping into the next round or popping in a different game.

Gears of War 3

Sun Tzu’s The Art of Horde

Horde is not only my personal favorite element from Gears of War 2, but a trend-setting game mode copied by nearly every shooter franchise on the market. Horde 2.0 manages to improve on it.

Players earn in-game cash for every enemy they kill, and that cash goes towards purchasing defensive upgrades, weapons, and ammo. The money mechanism encourages players to go for kills while at the same time introducing an added layer of strategy. Arguing about whether to upgrade to a laser fence or buy that extra turret makes the whole thing feel more like a game and less like a grim recreation of the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Spoiler!!

Gears of War 3

Sexy Beast

It’s here, Beast Mode. This is what everyone will be talking about. Beast Mode is a 12-wave time-attack mode where players select different Locust creatures and attempt to kill a fortified band of A.I. humans.

I love the tickers. You will too.

Every creature is unique and fun to play in their own way, it’s not fair to make me pick a favorite (Mauler, Kantus, Serapede, Boomer). Pity there’s no single-player aspect to this mode, it’s live teammates or nothing.

Thankfully, every single mode including Versus, Horde 2.0, Beast, Co-op, and Arcade has matchmaking. You will never be left high and dry just because your friends are on vacation.

Arcade Fire-fight

When dedicated multiplayer gets old, Arcade mode will send you back to the campaign but this time for points! Every kill adds to your score and the player with the highest score at the end of the chapter wins. Developers spend the majority of their dev time crafting a single-player experience that most gamers blow through on their way to multiplayer. By converting the campaign into a replayable multiplayer mode, Epic cleverly gets more bang for their buck. And so do you.

Gears of War 3

Brothers to the End

Gears of War 3 is a single title, but it feels more like four fully-formed and polished games mutated and merged into a human centipede of constant entertainment. If you are even remotely interested in shooters, Gears 3 will have something for you. Just look at how long this review is? And we weren’t even able to cover everything. This is one of the best values for a retail game we’ve seen in a long time.

I know my biggest gripes were about the story, but I have to admit when the final moments played out, I was a little sad. Multiplayer will live on, a Berserker rampage on Wave 12 of Beast Mode will never cease to be cathartic, and DLC will occasionally give us an excuse to write more Gears articles, but this is the end for Marcus, Dom and the comically enthusiastic Cole Train.

As the Gears beat their Lancer bayonets into plowshares and start the long road to re-building, they should rest easy knowing they’ve delivered the best game we possibly could have hoped for.