There’s always been more to the Gears of War franchise lurking under the surface. Sure, the games themselves seemed like mindless macho brosturbation, there were the artsy trailers. There was the fact that the world seemed to have so much lore, but we only saw a little of it. After all, you play as simple COGs in the massive gears of war. Gears of War 3 finally takes the story where it has always yearned to go, making it one of the most satisfying campaigns of the year. Couple that with one of the most complete multiplayer suites and you’re in for quite a time.
Times are bad in the Gears universe. The war between humans and locust took a turn when the last city, Jacinto, was sunk, flooding the locust. The remnants of humanity managed to take brief salvation on an island, but their hopes for peace were dashed when the lambent, locust mutated by the planet’s mysterious fuel imulsion, attacked. With no military or government left, our heroes are now adrift on a helicopter carrier, just trying to survive. So, to recap: the world’s dying, there’s a three-way war going on, humanity is fucked.
And it’s taking a toll on our heroes. Marcus is haunted by regret and remorse about his past. Dom, who has lost his children and wife to this lengthy war, is in a fragile mental state. Cole is going through a mid-life crisis, realizing his days as a professional athlete really are gone. Baird’s still kind of a dick. Anya’s on the team now too and just about everyone from the first two games is back to some extent, as are a few newcomers. Most importantly, we’ve got Jace, played by Friday Night Light’s Michael B. Jordan and Sam, played by Uncharted 2‘s Claudia Black.
Gears of War 3 has a substantial campaign that’s a real delight to play through. I give a lot of credit sci fi author Karen Traviss, who was able to turn down the bro-isms and find the depth in the characters. My only complaint about the campaign is that it felt a little to padded out with needless sequences. A few too many times I had to go get fuel or go flip a set number of switches, which hurt the games pacing. Notably, there’s a lengthy detour with a character played by Ice T that is awesome, but adds literally nothing to the story but time. But in the end, the game is fun and I can’t really complain about getting to play more of it.
The shooting in Gears of War 3 is simply the best of any third person shooter. Everything feels just right. There’s enough of a variety in the campaign enemies to keep you interested and keep your tactics from getting stale. I found hardcore to be the best difficulty for me, it was challenging but never truly frustrating. I played with AI allies, and I imagine it’s even more fun with three real human coop partners. That’s right, the game is up to four player coop. I told you, this game has all the multiplayer you could want.
Horde mode, Gears of War 2‘s biggest contribution to gaming, returns with new tower defense mechanics. You can build and upgrade barriers to keep your team safe against the waves of AI enemies. There’s another, new coop mode too: beast mode. It’s like reverse horde mode, ala Left 4 Dead. You play as locust beasts, from the lowly tickers all the way up to berserkers, and try to kill a group of AI humans. Beast mode is a neat addition and surprisingly fun to play, give it a shot.
All the versus modes are back, with the addition of a new casual option. This means I can play without just getting mercilessly shotgunned in the back, but I fear I’ll get kicked out of casual eventually. In the meantime, I’m having a lot of fun. There are plenty of characters and weapon skins to be unlocked, although there’s also an absurdly expensive collections of skins you could just buy too. But don’t do that. It’s almost as bad as horse armor.
Hands down, Gears of War 3 is the best game in this already stellar franchise. The story is easier to follow, more emotional and gives closure to most (read: not all) of the plot threads. The multiplayer is just about everything I could ask for. Get some friends together and have some fun. If nothing else, enjoy playing the only game in which Ice T rides off into the sunset giving you the finger.