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Gears of War introduced players to the world of Sera during a war between the humans and subterranean creatures known as the Locust. Known for popularizing the cover mechanics so prominent in games today, Gears of War is a grim, atmospheric, violent and gory third-person shooter that proves to be a lot of fun. It was followed up by Gears of War 2 which introduced some cool new features and mechanics and takes players on an action-packed adventure through Locust territory. The story would continue in the next entry, Gears of War 3, which focuses on the rise of the Lambent, a new threat to the human race. Developed by Epic Games and published by Microsoft Studios, Gears of War 3 was released for Xbox 360 in September, 2011. New story content was released as DLC and players maintain an experience level that persists across all game modes and can earn rewards like characters and skins to use in the game’s multiplayer mode.
Set a couple of years after the events of Gears of War 2, some Locust forces remain and while the humans attempt to rebuild their civilization, new Lambent foes become threat to humanity. The story in the main campaign centers on Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad and their quest to locate Marcus’ father after they learn he’s still alive. The Shadow of RAAM DLC campaign is a prequel story set before the events of the first game. It details the evacuation of the city of Ilima in response to an assault by the Locust and an incoming Kryllstorm. Players will take on the roles of Michael Barrick and General RAAM, the main antagonist from the first game. Gears of War 3 does include a little drama in its story which I feel makes the plot a little more interesting than being just another tale of war. That said, those invested in the Gears lore, including the comic series may really enjoy the Shadow of RAAM campaign and even recognize some familiar faces. Along with the series cast of regulars, celebrity talent was brought in to voice some of the new characters including Michael B. Jordan as Jace and Ice-T as Griffin.
Gears of War 3 doesn’t change too much of what we’ve come to know and love. It features the same cover-based gameplay, violent gory action, and cooperative play. The campaigns can be played normally or in the Arcade mode which adds a scoring system and lets you apply mutators to mix things up. It’s a lot of fun and adds a good amount of replay value. Gears of War 3 does feature competitive multiplayer modes which do support bots and, unfortunately, I was unable to find any matches.
The Horde mode does return and has been revamped. Kills now grant you points and money that can be spent on weapons and base building including decoys and barriers among other things. New to Gears of War 3 is the Beast mode where the objective is to kill waves of humans as fast as possible. You can choose to be one of many creatures and earn extra time for killing humans and destroying fortifications. I do think this mode is probably best enjoyed with other players because I can’t say I enjoyed it too much playing solo.
The campaigns are your typical Gears of War experience. In the main campaign, you’ll primarily play as Marcus but you’ll also get the chance to play as Cole for a little while. When playing as General RAAM, things are a little different. He’s shielded by Kryll and can direct them at his foes to tear them apart or he can simply kill them with his blade which can be quite satisfying. You can impale foes and even watch RAAM pick them up and decapitate them. Unfortunately, his segments are repetitive which is my only major gripe with the DLC campaign. Every time you play as him, you’re escorting and protecting a Tremor Locust as it plants thumpers which are used to call in Seeders. It’s just the same thing over and over again. Most of the time, you’ll be playing as Michael and his encounters are more interesting.
One thing I noticed right off the bat is that the gunplay in Gears of War 3 does feel a little better than that of it’s predecessors. All of the classic weapons return and Gears 3 does introduce a lot of new firepower. I think most weapons have great feedback and the gore seems slightly bloodier which helps make kills feel more satisfying and rewarding. You can now frag tag meat shields and I, personally, love tagging enemies with grenades and watching them explode. My favorite new weapon is easily the Retro Lancer, an assault rifle with a bayonet and despite the high recoil, I just love the way it feels when fired. Some other standout new weapons include the sawed-off shotgun, incendiary grenades, and the Digger which fires Savage Locust that travel under the ground and then pop out and explode.
The campaigns will often have you moving from one encounter to another. Cover is still important although some of the new enemies and weapons will force you to relocate often making you think a little more on your feet this time around. For example, cover may not protect you from shots from a Digger, and several Lambent foes simply rush the player. Others utilize attacks that can hurt you even if you are behind cover. Furthermore, Lambent enemies explode when killed making them somewhat dangerous to engage up close.
I don’t really care for the Lambent. Lambent Polyps, Humans, and Wretches simply rush the player and there are several areas in the game where you’re fending off hordes of these types. In general, I feel like the entire Lambent force require less tactical thinking to eliminate than the standard Locust. Encounters with these enemies feel very chaotic and when you have to constantly relocate and avoid hordes of incoming foes that can also explode, the encounters can end up feeling tedious and it does become a bit repetitive.
Encounters with the Locust are a little more interesting because they take cover, revive fallen allies, toss grenades and I love how they come launching out the ground, making for a grand entrance. There are some new types along with variations of existing types like Armored Kantus and small Corpsers that burrow under the ground and attack when they get close which made me think of Graboids from the Tremors films.
One standout element of Gears 3 is the friendly AI which has been significantly improved. In fact, it’s so good, you can actually let your squadmates do most of the work on the Casual and Normal difficulties. They will shoot at and kill enemies, revive you and each other, and you can actually utilize their intelligence to flank and get the jump on foes. With this kind of intelligence, I kind of wish the command system from the first game made a return but maybe a little more fleshed out. However, Gears of War 3 does let you utilize a mechanic called Spotting. This is when you mark a specific enemy for your squadmates to focus their fire on.
The main campaign will take you to an excellent variety of locations and Shadow of RAAM is set in the city of Ilima so you’ll be navigating around a lot urban environments in this campaign. The main campaign will take you to multiple towns, a naval shipyard, a Locust stronghold, and around a carrier ship among others. Like the previous entry, the environments are linear with some areas and branching paths off to the sides and exploration can lead you to collectibles. Encounters are typically set in more open-ended areas allowing for different approaches.
One thing I will say about the campaign is that it rarely slows down. If you’re not engaged in a standard firefight, you’ll probably be participating in one of the many set pieces and scripted sequences that are peppered throughout the campaign. There’s a segment early in the game that has Marcus entering an exo-suit called a Silverback and using it to take down a boss. Many times you’ll be forced to hold your position or defend or protect something and sometimes it makes for a cool set piece like when you’re riding on a Gas Barge and have to defend it from enemy Barges and Reavers or when you’re manning the gun of a submarine to fend off attacking enemies or the one chapter that simply has you protecting a fort from an incoming army of Locust.
I would say Gears of War 3 does look better than its predecessors and it is enhanced for the Xbox One X. Even when playing it upscaled, the presentation still holds up and looks crisp. The game showcases some beautiful backdrops, including distant and destroyed landscapes along with solid texture work and lighting. The visual effects are also good with some extremely satisfying Lambent explosions. As for the audio, I would say the soundtrack is on par with the previous games which means its pretty good and contains a nice mix of orchestral tunes that fit the action well. Many weapons sound good, explosions sound great and the Locust and Lambent often growl and snarl during combat. On the technical side, I did not encounter any major bugs or issues.
From a gameplay perspective, I think Gears of War 3 is the best in the series up to this point. It basically takes everything that was great about the previous games and throws in some new stuff, making it feel like the ultimate Gears experience. I had a great time with it but I still prefer Gears 2. I think its the atmosphere and tone I like better. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the Lambent, either. Gears of War 3 takes you on a rather beefy journey and the arcade mode and co-op add a lot of replay value to the experience. But there’s just something about this game that doesn’t click with me and I can’t put my finger on it. I had to check my achievements to confirm I beat this at least once before because after a few hours of this playthrough, I began to question if I really did because I couldn’t remember single thing about anything I was experiencing. It wasn’t until I reached the final areas that I recognized something. It’s like I just blanked out ninety percent of the campaign. Regardless, the story does take you on a great action-packed adventure complete with the violent and gory cover-based third-person shooter action the series is known for.
I would recommend Gears of War 3 to fans of the series and action games. It’s more of the same and then some. It’s well made, action-packed and a lot of fun. I can’t say its innovative or revolutionary. It’s exactly what you would expect from a Gears of War game so if you liked the previous games, I don’t see why you wouldn’t like this.