Wednesday, 19 October 2011

"Never thought it would end like this, huh?" - Dominic Santiago (Gears Of War 3)

Gears Of War 3 - Review

The Game:

Gears Of War is the marmite of video games. You either love it, hate it or you tried it once and thought it was alright but didn’t bother to pick it up at the supermarket for yourself. I’m don’t think there’s a definitive reason as to why it divides people though. Perhaps it’s because it’s not quite a first person shooter and not quite a third person action game. Perhaps it’s because the lead characters make the World’s Strongest Man competitors look like a bunch of little girls. Who knows? What I do know is that I hate marmite but I love Gears Of War and Gears Of War 3 is the best of the bunch.

Gears Of War 3 rounds off the Gears Of War trilogy that follows Marcus Fenix and his fellow soldiers Dom, Cole, Baird and friends as they fight off the never-ending threat of the Locust. It focuses on Marcus and his guilt over his Dad’s apparent death. Shock and surprise! His Dad isn’t dead! He’s being held by the Locust who are forcing him to create a cure for the Lambent a new kind of ugly that’s been created by the world’s fuel, imulsion, infecting living things and turning them into an all-destroying super race. It’s up to Marcus and friends to save his Dad, spread the cure, stop the Lambent, defeat the Locust once and for all. Poor Marcus, he’s got it tough.

The Campaign:

The Gears Of War plot has always been fairly simple, using colourful characters, creatures, weapons and locations to make up for the lack of story. However, as with most trilogies in films and video games, the story has been cranked up in the third volume. You start of playing as Marcus and start on a ship that many of the Gears have been living on. Soon you come under attack from the Lambent. In a nice twist, when you come to the end of this section, the game takes you back an hour and you get to play as Cole as he visits his home town. It’s not something that continues throughout the rest of the game but it’s really nice seeing the game’s world from a different character’s perspective. 
One of the problems with the Gears games has been the linear gameplay. Essentially all you’re doing is walking through a section then fighting some guys. Then you walk through another section and fight some more guys. Then you fight a really big guy. Then you get some plot progression. You’d think that the gameplay would get stale pretty quickly. However, they’ve really mixed things up and increased the pace. One minute you’re fighting off a giant sea monster on a boat, the next you’re zip-lining out of a stadium. Before you know it you’re flying a barge and then shooting from a submarine. It’s incredibly exciting and is fall of those shock and awe moments. One of my favourite sequences was trying to keep one of the last human bases safe from a massive Locust attack. They’re trying to breach the main door and you have to fight them from the wall. I was really into it, using a turret to tear into the incoming forces then trying to pick some off with a Longshot. But soon we were getting overwhelmed and they breached the wall so we had to fallback to the next area and try to stop them from getting any further. Again, I gave it everything I had but still they got passed. By then I realised this was meant to happen but I was so focused on the objective that I felt like I had failed. It really gets you engrossed in the story and the atmosphere.

The characters have previously been fairly two dimensional. Marcus is the leader (anyone else noticed that he sounds like Eeyore?). Dom is the one with the wife who has a lot to lose. Baird is the sarcastic one and Cole is the comic relief. But in Gears 3 they’ve got a bit more going on. Marcus is dealing with trying to get his Dad back. Dom is dealing with life knowing that his wife is dead and he’ll never see her again. Baird is still sarcastic but gets to be sarcastic with a girl and Cole visits home and deals with all the memories that brings. There are two particular scenes that stand out in Gears Of War 3 and the following is riddled with spoilers. You’ve been warned.

The first deals with the Cole Train. As I mentioned, you get to go to Cole’s home town where he was a hero as the thrashball superstar. You end up at the stadium where he used to play. As you’re fighting off Lambent you end up in his old locker room. In the cut-scene Cole opens up his locker. There’s a flash and Cole is in his old thrashball gear and is taking his helmet out of his locker and is heading out to the field. His movements are slowed down and it’s like he’s soaking up everything around him. The friendly taunts from his teammates, the plaque with the team’s mascot on, his name being shouted by the announcer and the cheers from the crowd. It’s like he’s living the memory. This then cuts to a sequence in which, as Cole in his thrashball gear, you have to run across the field grab a bomb like it’s a ball and tag a Lambent stalk with it. As soon as it blows reality snaps back in and game continues. It’s such a simple and short sequence but it real shows more about Cole’s character than the previous games did combined. It shows what he lost because of this war and how much he misses it.

The second standout scene of the game and probably the most important part takes place about halfway through. The gang needs fuel to get a submarine going so they can get to Marcus’s Dad. One of the places they think of looking is Mercy, Dom’s late wife’s hometown. As they explore the town they come across Maria’s parents grave. Earlier, Dom told the crew that this is where he would have liked to have buried Maria and their kids. In a rather touching cutscene, he then takes some time to say a few words to Maria, telling her that he misses her but Marcus needs him to help save the world. He then puts his cog tags on the grave. The game continues for a bit until Marcus, Dom and the rest are fighting Locust and Lambent at the same time with their backs against the wall. Dom can see there’s only one way out. The fuel they managed to scavenge lays in canisters in the middle of the fight. He jumps down to their truck, screams at Marcus and the others to get out of the fight and drives off. He turns around, pauses, then drives full speed shouting to Maria “Who would have thought it would end like this?” He crashes into the canisters causing a massive explosion that kills all the Lambent and Locust but sacrificing himself at the same time. As he does, the music from the song “Mad World” by Michael Andrews Gary Jules plays. Fans of the original game will remember this was the song used in the trailer that got everyone’s attention. It is such a perfectly handled scene. You know as soon as he hangs his Cog Tags on the grave that he isn’t expecting to come back alive. What’s incredible is not only does it round off Dom’s story arc perfectly but it gives Marcus more substance. Dom was Marcus’ brother in all but blood. The grief and the emotion make Marcus seem so much more human and in turn easier to relate to. One of the best handled deaths in a video I’ve ever seen.

Brothers to the end...

I only have a few problems with the campaign. First of all; the Lambent. It may be because I haven’t read any of the Gears Of War books or maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention but I don’t get the Lambent. I get that the fuel is infecting living things and mutating them but I don’t understand what the Lambent’s goal is. It’s not like a zombie virus, it’s seems intelligent but just has no purpose. It also seems a little bit too much like the Flood from Halo. Especially since in Halo 3, the Flood could mutate into different forms, a trick that some of the Lambent use. If I had to guess I’d say  it’s just Epic trying to add a bit more variety to the game.
My other major problem is that several plot points aren’t explained enough. Why does the Queen look like a human? What were the Sires in Gears Of War 2? I know I could type these questions into google and find the answer from some guy who has read every piece of Gears fiction ever written but shouldn’t playing the games be enough?

The Multiplayer:

The versus modes in Gears Of War have been a subject of controversy throughout the series. It’s been riddled with glitches, the matches always seemed to work in favour of the host and it’s basically been a shotgun game. Epic have taken on board the feedback from their previous outings and took things really seriously for their third outing. They even delayed the release of the game to make time for a public beta. A cynical person may say that they only held a public beta to drum up interest, to sell more copies of Bulletstorm or to jump on the beta bandwagon. But I think it was a necessity. And it’s worked. The multiplayer is now fantastic. 

The weapons are much more balanced. Of course, you can still run around with a shotgun but chances are you’ll get taken out by a rifle before you get a chance to fire. Shotguns are now reserved for the close-up fights and the choice of the traditional Gnasher and new sawed-off is brilliant. The sawed-off is insanely powerful and can take out multiple opponents at once but has limited range, takes time to reload and has very little ammo. Whereas the Gnasher has a lot of ammo, reloads quickly but isn’t as powerful. There’s a broader choice of weapons for every type of player this time round. You like to hold back and pick off targets from a distance? Use the Hammerburst. You like to keep a distance but close enough to run out and do some damage close up? It’s the Lancer for you! Or are you the kind of person who likes to be right in the middle of the battle? Soldier, pick up the Retro Lancer. There’s a good mix of maps and gametypes to keep the game from going stale. Traditional FPS players will have a hard time with it (COD players, I’m looking at you) but with enough patience you can become a force to be reckoned with and start racking up the kills.

I think he got the point...

 Horde makes a welcome return. Horde was always my favourite mode in Gears Of War 2. Being able to team up with some buddies and fighting wave after wave of Locust was just incredible. For me, it’s the definitive survival mode. Epic learnt from the players and noticed how people would pick one spot and hold it, placing boomshields down to stop enemies from getting too close. So in Gears 3 they’ve introduced fortifications to the game. Every player has some money. Every map has several Command Posts you can buy. When you buy a command posts you can buy defenses, like spikes to slow enemies down, decoys to distract them, and turrets (which are pretty self explanatory). These can all be upgraded over time. But everything costs money, so how do you earn more? By killing and surviving. These defenses are key to getting to and completing wave 50. Without them, you’ll find yourself getting overrun in the later waves. But best thing about Horde in Gears 3 is the boss waves. Waves 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 are boss waves and the boss is always random. The wave starts and the normal Locust enemies like Drones and Boomers start coming but you get something special turn up like Reavers or a couple of Berserkers or say a Brumak. Yep, I said Brumak.

Taking on a Brumak in Horde is just incredible. Myself and some friends got to fight one during wave 50. Two of us took on the Brumak, my friend tearing into it with a turret while I shot at it with everything I had. The rest of the team held our position against the Locust that was working it’s way up the stairs. We managed to take down the Brumak (with a pistol I might add) and started to clean up the rest of the attacking force. Victory was in sight. Until another Brumak turned up.

Hope you're hungry. It's time to eat curb.

 For something similar and a bit less intense is Beast mode. Beast mode is like the reverse of Horde. You get to play as Locust attacking humans. You start of with basic beasts like Tickers, Drones, Wretches etc. If you manage to keep getting kills or break down their defenses you start to unlock bigger beasts like Maulers, Bloodmounts, Boomers and Berserkers. It can pretty tough but it’s not as punishing as Horde and ultimately it’s about having fun and getting to play as the baddies for a bit. Who doesn’t love being bad?

There’s also the addition of Arcade. Arcade is like Halo’s campaign scoring system. Instead of just playing the campaign and making your way through the level, you’re scored for what you do. You can also turn mutators on (just like the skulls from Halo) and make things easier with things like unlimited ammo or make things harder with things like friendly fire. There are also fun mutators like Headless Chicken. With Headless Chicken turned on when you shoot the head of an enemy off they will run around and attack anything that moves before dying a few seconds later. Very entertaining. The Arcade mode makes the campaign a little more interesting and adds a competitive edge to the experience.

One of the best things in Gears Of War is the ranking system. They’ve learnt from Reach with this one. You can earn in experience in any mode whether it be campaign, versus, horde or beast and you’ll gain experience and progress through the ranks. It even works if you play against bots by yourself in versus. (which by the way is the best way to get some practice in) I hate it when a game has achievements that are rank linked but you don’t like playing the game online because everyone seems to be better than you. Not a problem here. More games need to adhere to this. Not that rank is everything. But achievements are.

The Achievements:

Gears 3 is pretty standard when it comes to the achievements, which is a little disappointing. It seems that the developers have put more imagination into the in-game medals and awards. 

There’s the usual complete a level, complete the game on different difficulties achievements as well as the collect all the collectibles ones too. They’ve also assigned achievements for each game mode as well, just to make sure you play them all. There’s achievements for reaching certain ranks. 6 in total, which is way too many.
Then there’s the usual Seriously achievement. Each Gears game has had a Seriously achievement. The first game’s was to get 10,000 kills in ranked versus games. The second game’s was to get 100,000 kills throughout the game. The third’s is to reach level 100 and rank all your medals in game to Onyx. For example, to upgrade the Doorman medal to Onyx, you have to manipulate 2000 objects in the game. That basically means press 2000 buttons. I’ve played the game twice through already and I’ve only managed to manipulate 200 objects.  And that’s just one medal. There are more for kills with specific weapons, reviving so many people in the campaign, playing 4000 matches. The list goes on. This is a stupid achievement and is next to impossible. No one has that much time to dedicate to one game.  (Unless you’re one of those people who only plays Call Of Duty and deserve to have your fingers broken.) 
There’s a couple of moderately interesting ones like the Judge, Jury and Executioner one where you have to get a kill with every possible execution and Wreaking Locust Vengeance where you have to get a kill with every Locust monster in Beast Mode. 

 The best achievement of the whole game is a secret one. Just a quick note here; I bloody hate secret achievements. They should only be used for story related achievements which you are guaranteed to unlock just by playing the game. Anyway, this interesting and secret achievement is called Respect For The Dead. At the beginning of Act IV during the chapter Ashes To Ashes you walk through the ruined city Char which was destroyed by Hammer Strikes. The citizens of the city have been turned to ash statues, frozen in the position they were in when they tried to escape the strikes. If you manage not to destroy any of the ash people and then talk to the lady in the weapons room in Griffin’s tower she’ll notice how you respected the dead and let you have some heavy weapons. And give you a lovely achievement too. WHICH IS ONLY WORTH 5 BLOODY GEES. That’s my biggest problem with the achievements in this game. They are worthless! 10G for completing all 50 waves of Horde? Piss off! That should be worth at least 50.

The Verdict:

Despite the odd issue here and there, I loved Gears Of War 3. You get so much for your money. There’s so much variety with the different game modes and there’s loads to unlock and achieve. It’s one of those games that’s built around a single player experience but it’s best played with friends. I would pay £40 for Horde alone, it’s that good. The whole game feels like it’s been a labour of love from start to finish. This probably isn’t the last we’ve seen of Gears Of War and I can’t wait for the next installment, whatever that may be. But I’ll still be playing Gears Of War 3 until that arrives. I can see it’s going to be one of those games like Reach and Left 4 Dead that I’ll always fall back on.


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