by: Stephen Crane
I've had Gears of War 3 for about a week now and had the opportunity to play through just about all the game modes as well as all of the campaign. Plenty of reviews have already come out, but these are my experiences and my thoughts on a week with the game.
Released For: Xbox360
System Played On: Xbox360 Elite
Hours Played: According to Raptr 15.
Single Player Progress: Completed campaign on normal.
Single Player Thoughts: Gears of War 3 is a game that is deeply involved in its setting and plot. As the story is something rather essential to its single player, and since I don't want to spoil anything, I will try to keep this as spoiler free as possible and post my thoughts on the story overall soon.
Assessing the value of the campaign as a whole is a bit difficult. The gameplay, mechanics, and the variation in play styles is nothing short of fantastic. Never before has Gears of War felt so polished with tight controls and beautiful pacing. If you're a veteran player of the series or the genre in general, Normal might be a bit easy for you. That being said even when the game felt easy I never got bored. There were quite a few times where I would walk away from a really intense portion of the game and feel my heart pounding and my hands shaking from the nerves and the possibility of getting overwhelmed by the Lambent or the Locust.
The challenge of the campaign doesn't come from the objectives. In fact, the game holds your hands for most objectives. If you have any question of where to go, hold LB and look for a star. If you need to go into a certain building your squad mates will tell you three different times. While trying to repair a submarine I was looking for the rotary. One squad mate announced "That building looks promising" followed by another stating "The maintenance building (the aforementioned 'that building') might have what we're looking for." Just in case I didn't know what I was supposed to care about, the third squad mate says "The Maintenance building is where we're most likely to find the rotary to fix the submarine."
It really felt like Gears of War 3 wasn't confident enough that its
players would be able to find their way around challenges on their own. The hand holding led to tremendously clumsy dialog that really hurt the experience as a whole. I get that the puzzles may have slowed the time between shooting, but an action game should find a way to incorporate puzzles and objectives without slowing down the experience or really just avoid them all together. Unfortunately they felt more like simple devices to move the plot along than a real attempt at trying to up the ante.
That being said, the combat was often a puzzle unto itself. Not a puzzle in the "these controls are confusing" way, but in trying to figure out the best strategy to use. Occasionally the enemies would come out in large enough waves that I had to really think about where I was going to take cover, or what weapon would be most effective. It was exciting, and sometimes just when I thought I had a breather, a gunker would drop from the ceiling and begin wreaking havoc.
The AI elevated itself above many other war games. You may not have control or give orders to your AI squad mates, but they were very good about taking down enemies and not getting killed in the process. It really did feel like I could see the logic behind the actions they were taking and that's always a plus. The opponent AI was also pretty good and generally fit well with the type of opponent we saw. The Lambent were a little bit more brazen and erratic. The Locust AI was nuanced and it felt like each enemy type really did have its own personality. The wide variety of opponents also made sure the game didn't get stale.
I'm going to go ahead now and discuss the plot in very general terms. The Gears of War story resonates so well and in my opinion, works despite clunky dialog and the invocation of strong clichés. I will be posting pretty soon exactly what my full impressions were on the whole experiences, so keep an eye out.
The Gears of War series as a whole has generally felt like a standard script of an action series, if not every action series. I could pick and choose specific tropes to mention, but I think I'll just leave this here instead. Oddly enough, the story manages to feel successful and many have felt strong emotions towards it. It wasn't the story of Marcus Fenix that drew me in, but rather the overall story of Sera.
While I feel the script was often off, what really carried the story along was the aesthetics. You really got the feeling that Sera was a planet ravaged by multiple wars. You don't ever meet a typical "stripperific" female because the designers knew that no woman would enter combat with less armor than her male counterpart. The game does manage to stray quite well from racist caricatures (except for Cole who, to give the writers credit, may be an homage to Terry Tate: Office Linebacker) or token sexy characters. If you take a moment to go look at the writings on some of the game's in-game collectibles, the world building is amazing. You start to understand connections and realize how the world came together.
If you got the game just to play the multiplayer mode, you are missing out. Hop on and play through the campaign, even with friends. You won't be sorry.
Multiplayer Progress: Reached level 15.
Multiplayer Thoughts: Quite frankly, I really enjoyed the multiplayer aspects of the game. The King of the Hill style matches were what I found most enjoyable, but both Horde and Beast mode felt very balanced and very enjoyable.
When you are playing against other gamers online it can be either the most triumphant moments of your life, or the most frustrating. Personally I enjoyed the objective based game modes like King of the Hill more than the deathmatches. I found deathmatches to be more about scrambling while objective based matches forced teamwork a bit more.
One complaint I've heard over and over is about the sawed off shotgun. It is essentially a one-hit close range kill, and what it is lacking in depth range, it makes up for in the bullet spread. It's the game's noob tube, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you look online and on a few forums you'll find plenty of tips on how to either beat the sawed-off or tips on how to use it. The gun is fairly balanced, and I feel the cheapness is actually fairly necessary to allow new players to feel competitive against the veteran players. I'll explain my thoughts on noob tubes in depth some time in the future, but for now let's just say I really don't have a problem with them.
The decision to use dedicated servers is something I actually really appreciate. It cuts down on the lag, or the dependence on having a good host. I never felt like the match was over-laggy, and match finding was quick and painless. I didn't have to worry when just about everyone on the other team disconnected because they were quickly replaced by AI until new players could fill their shoes. It's that attention to user experiences that I enjoyed the best. Game flow was never unnecessarily interrupted so I got to do what I enjoyed the best: killing things in gratuitous style.
Even the executions were amazingly fun. Nothing felt more rewarding than kicking a crawling enemy on his back, ripping his arm off and repeatedly smacking him in the face with the bloody end. It felt SO much better than teabagging in Halo. It also felt really good to kill someone you caught in the middle of bludgeoning.
Overall Thoughts: With polished game mechanics in everything, you can really see that Epic Games took a lot of time to focus on every little detail of playing the game. The controls are tight and everything about the game screams of polish. The game could do with a bit of a stronger focus on the dialog and the writing, but everything else is put together so cleanly I find it hard to fault the game.
Recommendation: If you have an Xbox 360, I can't recommend this game enough. It is absolutely worth the hype and the $59.99. If you don't want to pay that much for a game, you can probably even find it used at Gamestop for $58.99. Now that's a real steal right there. Gears of War 3 is a standout game and possibly the perfect end to the series. I'll be interested to see what the DLC is going to be.