The Gears of War 3 game is a brilliant addition to the Gears franchise that has been keeping us third-person shooter addicts entertained since 2006
Gears Of War 3 is the first post-summer release in the gaming industry that actually feels like a bona fide blockbuster. This isn't just because its franchise's swaggering, bloody reputation precedes it or even that it features hulking, seemingly steroid-amped space marines on the box-art. No, the reason Gears 3 feels so immediate is because Epic have crammed such a huge amount of content onto the disc.
Gears of War 3: Features
Most shooters split their wares between a story-based campaign and a multiplayer where unlockables, trophies and profile levelling come into play. With Gears 3, the profile levelling starts the moment you boot up the game. Newcomers have a whole host of content to unlock while anyone who took part in the multiplayer beta earlier this year will see all of the trophies, ribbons, weapons and character skins associated with their profile arrive in tact. There's even an achievement in store for those beta-testers, for graduating up a skill level in the multiplayer - and this is before they even jump into the game.
Gears of War 3: New match-making system
Gears Of War 3 is proof, if any were ever needed, that Epic's Design Director Cliff Bleszinski was serious when he claimed that the future of the shooter was the RPG. Everything players do in the game earns some reward for their profile - and this includes playing through the story campaign on the different difficulty settings, in co-op, and in Arcade mode.
The reason for this isn't just down to the fact Xbox 360 players have become geared towards collecting in-game baubles and unlocking Achievements over the years (although this probably helps a great deal). It's also because Epic want to ensure players aren't put off the multiplayer element by the prospect of being turned into paint by the online hardcore crowd.
To that end, the game's superb matchmaking system reads each player's profile, notes their skill level, and then proceeds to match them up with players against or with whom they stand a fighting chance. This will likely prove a boon to newcomers, because for probably the first time in a shooter, their first experience of online play won't be a baptism of fire.
Gears of War 3: Online
Online mode is split between competitive (Versus) and co-op (Horde and Beast) elements. Versus is your standard online shooter experience in which players and their mates blow the heck out of each other in different match-types across different maps. The maps are based on environments from the campaign, rejigged slightly to offer high-ground sniping nests and choke points on the ground that compliment visceral, close-quarters, shot-gunning action.
There are six match-types available: Team Deathmatch, Warzone (Team Deathmatch with no respawns in the same round), Capture The Leader (a hostage-taking version of Capture The Flag), Execution (in which kills are only earned up close and personal), King Of The Hill (where players defend a roving zone) and Wingman (an 8-man, 2-on-2 fragfest). In co-op, Horde and Beast are the same experience, offered from opposite ends of the spectrum.
In Horde, players take on the role of the humans, and they have to survive 50 waves of increasingly difficult opponents. Beast puts players in the shoes of the alien Locust Horde, and the object is to wipe out a team of humans before fifty waves is up. In both modes, players earn cash for battlefield activities, which allow them to upgrade fortifications and buy weapons and ammo, or upgrade to nastier and more destructive Locust troops, depending on which mode they're playing.
Gear of War 3: Single player mode
Oh, there's also a Campaign Mode, and it's easily the thickest, most robust campaign offered in a Gears Of War game to date. In an age where developers seem happy to skimp on story-length in order to bolster their online modes, it's gratifying to see Epic have constructed a campaign which will take players around 10 hours to complete - and that's if they breeze through it on the 'casual' level setting, and skip through a couple of cut-scenes as well.
The story is pure sci-fi hokum, but as with all of the other Gears Of War games, it's set in a brilliantly realised and believable world, populated with well-written characters who resonate long after the credits roll. (Newcomers to the series shouldn't worry about not following the plot because the Campaign Mode menu offers up a brief clip of the game's back-story to ground them in the plot).
Strange as it may be to say it of a game in which you can carve an opponent in half with a chainsaw bayonet, Gears Of War 3's biggest selling point is probably the loving care with which it was evidently assembled. The passion and joy Epic hold for their brutal cover-based shooter is evident in every frame and pixel.
Gears of War 3: Verdict
Epic and Microsoft aren't telling yet whether this is the end for the Gears Of War franchise, but if it proves to be its swansong, fans can rest easy knowing that the developers ended it all on the highest possible note. Gears Of War 3 may be a console exclusive, but that doesn't stop it being utterly essential, and easily one of the best games of 2011.
Gears of War 3 is available for the Xbox 360 now