"Ever feel like your dead but nobody told you?"
This is a line given by soldier Augustus Cole towards the beginning of Gears of War 3. These words stopped me dead in my tracks. They grabbed my by the jugular and forced me to sit up and to pay attention. They forced me to put down my Diet Snapple and look this man in the face.
After this the "Cole-Train" was no longer just a highly detailed character model in some video game, he was a solid human being. Those nine words conveyed to me the past, present and future of not only him but the rest of his rotating battalion of "Gears".
And I cared.
No other shooter has ever made me care for its characters like Gears of War. The time I have spent with the "Cole-Train", Marcus Fenix, Dominic Santiago, Damon Baird, Anya Stroud, Sam Byrne and others have shown me more about the nature of relationships and human resiliency than any fluffy JRPG.
For all the death and destruction, Microsoft has found a way to make this epic struggle for survival really mean something, allowed it to move past the gratuity of violence and ultimately made someone who is not a fan of aggressive shooters stop and marvel at the wholly human struggle encapsulated within this exceptional video game.
Make the jump for the full review
Gears of War 3 is a thoroughly satisfying experience. During my time on Sera the hours melted away in what felt like minutes. There is plenty to see and do on her war-torn shores as you traverse the final chapters of the Gears of War and it feels so good to do it! Afterwards I found my daily life to be incomplete without at least a few matches in the multiplayer arenas. The world of Gears 3 has infiltrated my gaming diet and I find it to be a most welcome staple.
During the main campaign I had the chance to be a tactical military strategist, weapons/vehicle expert, a combat field detective and companion to one of the most badass crews in games today. Marcus Fenix and his band of brothers do it all. They are smart, stacked and tough as nails. They bound onward without fear and with purpose. And they take you right along with them for the ride.
As the campaign begins we join Marcus Fenix 18 months after the events of Gears of War 2. He is currently on one of the ships to which the Gears have escaped after the bombing of the Locust stronghold. The ship is under attack by the mysterious Lambent threat and within a few minutes you are thrown into the fray of battle and re-introduced to Gears' meaty cover system.
The brief tutorials give you a running play by play of controls and objectives and provide a general overlay of the environment and what to expect from the current mission. These tutorials are fleeting which keeps you from getting too distracted but could be too quick for someone who isn't fully informed on the not so subtle nuances of the Lancer rifle or the more complex Silverback weapon/vehicle. There is a lot to take in with a variety of weapons both new and familiar.
Shotguns, Flame-throwers, Mortar Cannons and Satellite Lasers are just a few of the weapons that round out Gears 3's laundry list of destructive firepower. Each are built to serve a specific purpose on the battlefield and tailored to suit your personal play style.
If you'd like to surprise an advancing group you may want to equip the Sawed-off Shot Gun. This ultra powerful gun has pitiful reload speed but hardly needs it as it can one- shot almost anything at close range. The Flamethrower can stop tank-like enemies in their tracks and inflict DOT while your buddies pump them full of lead. My personal favorite (aside form my trusty Lancer) is the Hammer of Dawn, which can activate a remote laser satellite to cook your foes from the inside out! (fun!)
You can find these weapons lying around on the battlefield, in weapon caches and off the bodies of dispatched grunts. Switching between weapons can be done on the fly with the D-Pad and can be swapped out easily for others. You can only carry 3 firearms at a time from 2 classes and one grenade type as well but there is always an ample selection of "toys" to be found on the field if you find yourself getting bored with your current stock.
While shooting you will be using the environments to advance on the enemy with arguably the best tactical cover system in games today. The level design provides dozens of possible tactical configurations that will have you playing the chapters multiple times while you look for new ways to take ground.
While advancing on the enemy the A button will be your best friend. With it you can run, take cover and auto strafe along walls and through foxholes with lightning speed. Climbing over barricades and dodge rolls are also features. The A button is your main tool for success, is essential to survival and is the crux of any workable strategy.
Any relevant information not flashed onto the HUD is relayed through shouted commands from your rotating teammates who also provide superlative tactical support. The team "bot" AI will fill you in on everything and is so well designed you will feel like you are in the company of expert, living players.
Your AI companions will spread out and methodically dispatch waves of enemies with or without your help. There were many times I would enter a new area and search for the game's many collectibles and by the time I had caught up to the rest of the team the area would already be secured!
You can also play this campaign online with friends, which is super fun. As you snag kill and achievements Gears 3 keeps tabs on your performance and awards you experience. You gain levels like any RPG, which has some affect on multiplayer matching.
When you're finished with the story you can test your mettle worldwide with the mix of multiplayer arena challenges. The same core mechanics are in place here with new parameters and rules. There are a variety of maps to play and there are plenty of medals and achievements that can only be obtained by playing these modes.
Some of the included arenas are the Horde Mode where you will fight waves of Locust. Before each wave a stronghold is built with the cash earned from killing enemies. Your ability to create successful strongholds will increase each time you build or repair something. Cash can also net you the privilege of the top tier weapons and grenades, allowing you to take your tactics up a notch. As you advance, each new wave gets more difficult, adding tougher grunts and more taxing situations. When KO'd you can re-spawn but at a hefty cost.
Beast Mode allows you to take the form of Locust monsters adding new twists and varying game play. The objective here is to take out the COG party. Each monster gives allows you to experience the fight from interesting new angles if your looking to mix things up.
There is also a Death Match type that pits you head to head with other players as Locust or COG. Each team will attempt to eliminate the other. Each team begins a round with a limited number of re-spawns and when one teams' spawns are depleted the match ends, points are awarded and a new one begins. You can play this one casually for a more relaxed game or you can play a ranked match for more of a challenge.
There are others that add even more twists to gameplay and I urge you to check them out. All of the modes will inevitably offer more of a challenge because you are playing against another human. As such the they Gears 3 will force you to become a better player and help to improve your game.
In and out of the multiplayer arenas, the level of graphical polish is high and the extra time Microsoft put in to development was well spent. This game boasts some of the most impressive visual experiences on the XBOX 360. The use of light is breathtaking. I found myself stopping often to stare at the sunlight as it glimmered through forgotten clothes on a line or fragmented off the surface pool of a fountain. For a game with such destruction and despair the color and light is an unusual but most welcome design choice. When the artistic models and animations of a game's hideous monstrosities can remind you of fire flies on a warm summer evening there is something really special going on.
Let us also not forget the odyssey of Marcus Fenix and his crew. This is a tale that will grip you hard and fast and not let go until its hopeful? end. You will truly feel you are living the life of war with these soldiers and watch each of them react to each other and the threat to the planet in some extraordinary ways. .
As the credits rolled I realized that the Cole-Trains' words didn't just get me to pay attention but also encapsulate an ideology that successfully defines the narrative of Gears of War: Sometimes it really is over long before it began.
When the day is done and I am logged into Xbox LIVE enjoying all of Gears of War 3's many offerings, I have very little to complain about. You have here a solid shooter that will keep you busy for months and multiplayer connectivity that will ensure you are not alone in your journey. Weather you're a die hard fan or just a casual Gaymer, Gears of War 3 will not disappoint. You might just find here a game that you can not live without.
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