Gears of War 3 Review: An Epic and Enjoyably Violent Conclusion

Awesome. That’s all you need to know about Gears of War 3, the final chapter of the groundbreaking, chainsaw-loving trilogy. This is not to say Epic Games won’t make more – after all, they’ve sold over three million copies in the first week, so it’s pretty much a no-brainer that the franchise will continue. Rather, it is only Marcus Fenix’s story that has come to a close – and wow, what an epic, thrilling, and enjoyably violent conclusion it is.

Platforms: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Epic Games
Genre: Third-Person Shooter… With Cover… And Chainsaws
Release Date: September 20, 2011
ESRB Rating: Mature

Before I continue, you should know that there aren’t any big, wholesale changes to the gameplay, style or storytelling. Load up a random level and even diehard fans might have trouble figuring out if they’re playing Gears 1, 2 or 3. Like most franchises, the modus operandi is evolution, not revolution, with subtle tweaks and adjustments to improve upon an already solid foundation. But a few small changes – a slightly faster pace, a little smarter AI, and a tad nastier enemies – all add up to more than the sum of its parts, resulting in the most fun and complete Gears experience ever.

The action has been ramped up to 11, thanks in part to Epic tossing almost all of the vehicle missions. You will still have moments in vehicles (including a brief but exciting rail shooter sequence), but gone are the deadly boring tank missions of Gears 2. Epic wisely realized that gamers prefer the thrill of in-your-face, boots-on-the-ground close quarters combat that the franchise was built upon, and boy, do we get it. With newer, deadlier enemies (the explosive “glowie” Lambent) and weapons, battles are more intense and fun than ever.

The story picks up a few years after the conclusion of Gears 2. The Coalition of Governments is in complete disarray, with the surviving humans scattered in Stranded camps on the mainland, while Marcus Fenix and his fellow Gears take their chances in a ship out in open water. They are low on supplies and even lower in morale, when a surprise visitor returns to the ship, bringing shocking news and, coincidentally, a new attack by the Imulsion-infected Lambent Locust.

The story is a little predictable and has none of the emotionally gut-wrenching shockers of Gears 2, but it is adequately entertaining and ties up most of the series’ loose ends. There is a strong sense of desperation, as this is pretty much the last stand for humanity thanks to the growing Lambent infection. But really, this isn’t Shakespeare and most gamers just want an excuse to chainsaw lots of ugly “Grubs” into meaty chunks, and Gears 3 absolutely delivers.

Enemies will aggressively flank you and have no qualms about jumping over cover to mantle kick you in the face. Even the big lumbering baddies like Boomers now have the ability to climb over cover, which I found out the hard way in an absolutely stunned and horrified “holy crap!” moment. Some new enemies like the Gunker and the Lambent Beserker are just brutal to take down, but not so much as to be cheap. Defeating these nasties takes a coordinated team effort, made easier by the new and incredibly fun four-player cooperative mode.

But even if you’re playing solo, your AI teammates are more than adequate to hold their own. Their grenade throws are pretty darn accurate and they generally know not to run out into the open when the bullets are flying. They sometimes ignore you when you are down but it’s not as frustratingly bad as before, and they are usually pretty good at reviving you quickly.

Of course, you should try your best not to get downed in the first place, which is what the famed cover system is for. Initially known for its frustrating “sticky butt” syndrome that sucked you into walls and glued you there, the cover system is much improved, letting you get into and out of cover quickly and relatively easily. But be aware that some cover is now destructible, which is not a good thing if you are being pelted by a turret. Of course, this can also work to your advantage as you can blast apart enemy cover as well.

Killing the Locust and Lambent horde is made more enjoyable by a variety of new weapons, including the deadly Retro Lancer, which is more powerful than the beloved chainsaw Lancer, but its nasty kick makes it only good for close to medium range combat. However, you can use its fixed bayonet to charge and spear enemies in an extremely satisfying execution move.

The new Sawed-Off Shotgun is absolutely devastating, wiping out anything in front of you, but only if you are at point blank range. This weapon is awesome in the campaign or Horde mode, but is controversial in multiplayer since it is so overpowered. Yes, it can be frustrating to get killed in one shot over and over again, but really, you shouldn’t be letting opponents get that close to you in the first place.

Each weapon has its own gory execution move, which you can unlock by racking up kills with said weapon. Speaking of unlockables, everything you do earns experience points that can unlock dozens of ribbons, medals, weapon skins and characters, all guaranteed to keep you playing for a very long time.

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