In this week’s Breaking Down the Backlog, I reduced everything to “nothing but bits” with a gun, a chainsaw and even my own fists.
I have been fairly ambivalent about the Gears of War franchise. They are enjoyable games with interesting characters and a cool setting, but nothing too mind-blowing. My opinion hasn’t changed too much after playing Gears of War 3 apart from a greater appreciation for the overall design of the game.
After playing so many Third-person Shooters with mediocre game-play, Uncharted 1 and 2, Sniper Elite 2, The Last of Us and Red Dead Redemption, I was surprised just how fantastic the shooting was in Gears of War 3. All the guns right down to the starting pistol just feel excellent to fire. The sound design is top-notch, with each weapon letting out a satisfying sound when you fire them and the enemies emitting groans when you hit them. And they all look heavy and powerful, especially the weapons like the Mulcher that even Marcus Fenix struggles to fire. The aiming and shooting doesn’t necessarily have the finesse of Resident Evil 4, but the sheer force behind each bullet makes up for it.
Marcus Fenix, for all the chunky character design, is a surprisingly lithe person. You can ‘roadie run’ at high speeds, dive in any direction, vault over chest high walls and it all feels really snappy. Other third-person shooters put a bit of animation priority when it comes to dodging or getting into cover. Not Gears of War 3, no sir. If you want to do something, the game will let you do it within reason. I greatly appreciate designing a great feeling to play over designing a realistic animation system to show off. Something else I noticed was that, unlike other entries in the series, each combat arena has a couple or so different ways to approach it. Generally speaking the A.I controlled characters go the front way, which allows you to flank. It is something that one expects from the third in a serious; refinement and more choice in how to tackle encounters.
Another way Gears of War 3 improves over the previous games was the graphics. Not only does the game look a lot better, showcasing a maturation of the Unreal Engine, but there is a lot more variation in the locations you visit. I remember Gears of War 1 and 2 being grey area followed by grey area with occasion flashes of red and yellow. Well this game has so much colour that when it does take a lot of it way or increase it even further, you feel the impact. The deserts look desolate, the ending is filled with green and the bombed out husk of a city is a dark grey. It’s a little thing, but I liked it a whole lot. I have got to say, for a game that is on a last generation console, Gears of War 3 is no slouch when it comes to graphics. Plus it all runs at sixty frames-per-second, which is absolutely incredible.
Now the story is stupid meat-headed nonsense interlaced with some oddly mature and emotional moments. It begins in a typical fashion: Marcus’ Dad is actually alive and has been captured by the Locust Queen so it is up to the COGs to go free him. But then of the most bombastic characters, Cole, goes back to his home-town where he was a sports hero. You start to feel for the guy as you find out that he was an incredibly talented sportsman who joined the COGs to save his town and who still feels a great deal for its residents. Then, for reasons, you end up going to the stadium Cole used to play at but, whilst you are exploring it, the Lambert appear. The game then shows Cole reminiscing about his past by transforming the encounter, for a brief moment, into an American Football game which Cole takes part in. The opposing team is the Lambert and the ball is a bomb. I have never seen anything like it and it actually made feel emotionally invested in a character who had previously been a stupid joke (“CAN’T STOP THE COLE TRAIN BABY WOOO” is his catchphrase). Gears of War 3 does emotionally resonant moments like this a few times throughout the game, but none of them, with the exception of the very last scene of the game, really hits as hard.
Are their problems with Gears of War 3? Honestly, there are very few. Perhaps you could argue that the game is a bit too iterative over the previous games but it is a series with a strong identity and Epic added enough new things that keep it fresh. Funnily enough, I do feel like they should have shortened the game a tad. The amount of times you have to switch off three generators or find four of a certain thing as you play through the game happens a couple of times too many and just smells of padding.
So, providing that you have played the previous entries in the series, I completely recommend Gears of War 3. The game-play is near perfect, the graphics still impress and the story, albeit stupid, is bombastic and takes you to some interesting places. I wish there was a bit more closure to it all, but that is just me almost getting invested in the world.
See you in the new year for Breaking Down the Backlog: Mass Effect 3.