Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Gears of War 3 Review
[Gears of War 3
Developed by Epic Games
Published by Microsoft Game Studios
ESRB: M - For Blood And Gore, Intense Violence, And Strong Language]
I've always had a love-hate relationship with the Gears of War series. The series has very well-executed gameplay, really enjoyable multiplayer, even more enjoyable co-op, and extremely polished triple-A campaigns that have remarkable set-pieces. That being said, it's also a series that embodies so many of the worst cliches in gaming, from the color-palette that has only one primary color which is used only for bodily fluids; the meat-head, alpha-male, locker-room banter of the protagonists, a cliche'd "aliens don't like humans" story with no interesting themes or ideas enveloping it, and, of course, it introduced the industry to cover systems, and while Gears uses cover-combat well, its numerous, more poorly done imitators make it almost seem like it was for the worse.
That being said, my love-hate relationship has shifted trajectory into straight-up love with the latest installment in the popular franchise Gears of War 3, which is not only the best game in the series but also one of the best games of the year so far. The cliches are still there but they've been dialed down to a level that's bearable, and whereas the combat was well-executed in the previous installments, this time, the gameplay is so polished you can see your reflection on it and it will always look like Brad Pitt.
Yeah, the plot is still cliche'd as ever. Humanity is nearly extinct and the newest additional threat of Lambent Locust aliens are just making things even harder for them to stay alive. You (and three other friends if you're in co-op) are part of the last remaining soldiers of the COG army which sounds an awful lot like the COCK army, pardon my immaturity, though there are more X-chromosomes this time around with the addition of female Gears soldiers so props for that, I guess. Marcus Fenix, leader of this group of remaining humans, realizes that his thought-to-be-dead father is actually alive and perhaps has something that can defeat the Locust and the Lambent, and still not a single challenging, interesting, or original thought or idea is presented.
Yet the story is actually really good this time around. It obviously doesn't have the complexity of masterpieces like Bioshock, or even Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for that matter, but what makes it work this time is that the team at Epic Games decided to make the characters not annoying macho-douches. The humor actually feels solid now and the banter actually inspired some genuine chuckles every now and then (Though there's still the occasional groan-inducing one-liner), and the addition of female Gears soldiers, as mentioned earlier, keeps the over-masculine dudebro mentality from becoming over-the-top.
Epic also apparently learned its lesson from the second installment that emotional moments, namely the cheesy Dom-Maria back-story, do not work if they're ham-fisted, melodramatic, or whiny. This time, the emotional center actually feels consistent and fits more fluidly into the big picture while still not interrupting the signature broseph nature of the dialogue or feeling like parody like the second game did.
To give you an example: There was one bizarre sequence in which one of the characters Cole, a former Thrashball player (Yeah, it's as ridiculous as it sounds), has a flashback of his glory days on the stadium, and it was one of the strangest things I've ever experienced in a game. Not because it was cheesy, over-the-top (which it totally was), but because it was also strangely effective and endearing. This is because it actually fit the character that they've developed over the course of three games, and I think that's the main reason why the emotional flourishes work better this time around: It just fits more fluidly. Whereas the tone in Gears 2 was really inconsistent, Gears 3 keeps a nice balance between the humor and the drama. Rather than the characters just being archetypes, they're archetypes that have actual motivations and characteristics about them.
This all culminates into a surprisingly touching and poignant moment with Dom during Act III of the game, which is odd considering that Dom is the same character responsible for one of the worst aspects of Gears 2, which was the Maria scenario. This time, however, Dom actually has an emotional arc throughout the game that resonates into an almost crushing high point. He begins the game whining about his wife as usual, watering numerous plants in her honor, but then begins to realize that Maria is in a better place and that he should make good use of his own life by helping his fellow Gears no matter the cost. And it actually works.
I never thought I'd say this, but a Gears of War game has actually emotionally resonated with me. I'm just as surprised as you probably are. Without spoiling anything, a visit to a graveyard followed by a sequence in which he drives a truck actually struck a real chord with me. I still wouldn't rank it as high as, say, Shadow of the Colossus or Silent Hill 2 when it comes to games that are able to break me down into a pathetic sad-sack, but it is really effective.
But wait? Why am I still talking about the story? None of us, dudebro, bum-tumblers care about story! Let's talk about the combat! Yeah! That's what real penis-owners are all about, right?! And not unlike my penis, the combat is as solid as a god damn rock. The cover system in Gears 3 is perhaps the smoothest cover system I've ever experienced out of any game ever, allowing you to navigate from point A to point B with ease and fluidity, and I think I just found another stupid dick joke somewhere there.
The gunplay is still as strong as ever with a great variety of different weapons that bring some color to every firefight. The digger launcher adds some difficulty to the cover-combat since it is able to move past cover, the One-Shot rifle allows for some bloody explosions of gore, and as annoying as the recoil for the Retro Lancer is, nothing is more satisfying than executing a perfect bayonet charge.
There is also plenty of variety in enemies. Your typical Locusts, Boomers, Tickers, and Wretches are all there, in addition to armored versions of the Kantus that lead to really difficult and intense fights, the Lambent versions of enemies that explode upon death and can stretch their limbs out, Corpsers that have armored fronts, etc. Each firefight has a wide variety of these enemies bunched together and coupled with the unique weapons, they all feel fresh and fun.
Also, this is probably one of the most well-paced campaigns I've played in a long while. Whereas games like Call of Duty: Black Ops just bombard you with too much action and explosions that it becomes incoherent and messy to play, Gears actually takes its time to settle everything in before it bombards you with action and explosions, and even then, it never becomes too much that the player can't handle. The final three chapters in particular have a remarkable crescendo that feels like the best blockbuster action finale to not come out of Hollywood.
But what am I still talking about the campaign for? None of us penis owners talk about that either! Let's talk about the multiplayer! That way we can wave our gigantic willies around at each other! Whip out your Kinects/Vision Cameras, people!
In all seriousness, though, if all you want is a downright fun multiplayer experience without having to hand your money into Activision's "It Prints Money, Bitch"-o-meter, you can't go wrong with Gears 3. The smooth cover system and weapon variety translates nicely into multiplayer and everything is balanced enough for any remotely skilled player to gain the upper hand. Hell, I was able to get an MVP ribbon multiple times throughout the game, and I normally suck at Gears multiplayer.
This doesn't mean that it's been dumbed down, but the controls are no refined to a point that you can fluidly dispatch enemies and have a fighting chance againt more skilled players. Or you can just exploit the over-powered Sawed-Off Shotgun like me. Whatever works.
If you're more into fighting WITH friends rather than against them, the co-op is pretty much some of the best you'll play all year. Horde mode has an added layer of strategy thanks to some Tower-defense elements that deviate from the monotony of fighting wave after wave of baddies, and if you tire of the typical shooter combat, you can always jump into Beast mode for an almost completely new approach to Horde by taking control of the various Locust creatures this time around.
Simply put, Gears 3 practically has it all. A polished campaign with refined multiplayer and co-op. The only thing it's missing is tits and it will viably satisfy all your nerdiest desires.
If I have any qualms with the game, they're all pretty much nit picks. While the enemy AI is very well programmed, the same can't be said for friendly AI. Sure, they can hold their own in a firefight, but when you're bleeding out and crawling to a safe spot, they'll get distracted by a butterfly and heartily ignore your wounded cries for help even when you're kneeling down right in front of them.
While Epic has made more of an effort to add some color to the environments, they still unfortunately follow the Real Is Brown trope to a ridiculous degree. And yeah, improved as the plot is, it's still riddled with the usual cliches and still nary a single challenging thought or idea is presented.
Still, though, I can't recommend this game enough, and I won't need to considering pretty much everyone and their grandmother is playing it.
Final Verdict: Gears of War 3 may not have the depth or complexity of classics like Bioshock or even Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but it's the best you can possibly do with a big-budget blockbuster game. The campaign is extremely well-paced and remarkably polished, the multiplayer is the best out of any Gears game, co-op is a total blast whether it be in campaign, horde, or beast mode; the entire game is a huge variety pack of great and varied modes that anyone can enjoy, regardless of its cliches.
That is all.
See ya next time. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to softly cry to myself in a fetal position while listening to Mad World for the eighty bazillionth time. "Hello teacher tell me what's my lesson..."