Review: Gears of War 3

The long and the short of it, Gears of War 3 limps its way through the final installment. It accomplishes the tasks of finishing the story and completing the journey with those characters you started with but does without any flare or conviction. In remaining so close to the hew that was cut with the first game, it fails to present a compelling vision. For some, I suspect that the familiar is better than something new. For myself, I expected the final installment to have the same gusto as the original and deliver a playstyle that is a fresh, different, and tactical as the first was.

Let’s start with what went right. For what we are given, it was given with an extreme amount of polish. The game play is buttery smooth. Controls are tight and responsive, just as you would always want them to be. There is little question as how easily your intent is translated into the gameworld. You don’t have to hit the same button twice to get that twitch action neuron saturated with all of the dopamine it can handle. The gore is wholly visceral and the crunchy undertones bring an unrelenting satisfaction with ever trigger pulled.

What cuts deepest is the solution to every problem facing the characters in the game. Whereas in the first and second games there were moments when brain mattered over calibre, Gears 3 presents one and only one solution to every quandary besetting your avatar. Shoot it, stomp it, or just beat it with your weapon. As true to the nature of this game it might be, that nonetheless gives me with little else to dwell upon. Am I to be challenged only managing my ammo stockpiles?

Speaking of which, we do get new weapons to play with but so what? There isn’t any new tactics to use them with. And, no, flinging exploding boulders from giant beasts of burden does not a new tactic make. I am disappointed in the big new weapon being the “retro” Lancer. How is that remotely interesting? An older version of the main gun used throughout the game which doesn’t share a ammo pile with anything else. Gotcha. Cool story, bro. I’m gonna be over here using a chainsaw bayonet to cut someone in half. You can stab the wall.

The point being that it’s a DOWNgrade to an already all-around good weapon. Why do that? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

But that’s not the only thing that got a downgrade. You remember those monstrous beasts that you had to keep running away from in the first two games because they were so much bigger and required, you know, cannons or space lasers to get rid of? Yeah, those! Those were awesome because you had to figure out a way around them. It was cool to have to think through those sections of the game. You couldn’t just shoot your way through them like everything else.

Yeah, those days are gone. Apparently no one told Marcus that you could use regular weapons on them. He knows now of course, and so you get to use your Lancer on those pesky Brumaks and Corpsers that were the bane of the first two games.

Having bigger, badder enemies to kill is part of the Tao of sequels. Having gone through two games where certain enemies needed special, and I might add, fun weapons in order to bring them down I was expecting something new and exciting for the final installment. Instead we get an underwater section that was obviously phoned in. Shooting space squid hanging in a omnidirectional sphere off a submarine (how is this thing attached again?) is wasn’t exciting but regrettably pointless. Gears, as a series, was known for the visceral depiction of what the weapons do. Since most of the time you’re regulated to shooting torpedoes heading for your sub, you don’t get any feel for the weapon, let alone tear through countless hordes of foot soldiers the way you can with the Vulcan or other mounted weapons.

Enough of the weapons, what about the other half of the reason you play the game? What of the plot?

So stereotypical it hurts. I started to cringe more and more as the game went on. Faced with a dilemma of resolving the outstanding questions brought forth in the first two games, I feel the writers were tasked with coming up with new plot elements instead. It is otherwise hard to understand the option to jump fifteen years into the future, given that Gears 1 and 2 were set mere months apart.

It’s also hard to call this a resolution to the story we stared out with two games ago. What was going on in Gears 2 with all the experiments on humans that the Locus were doing? Did the sacrifice of Jacinto make any difference with the Locus or not? These are the very base of things which should have been addressed in the plot, but are missing and replaced with a brand new assortment of mysteries.

Like the Lambent. Seeds of that story are admittedly planted in Gears 2 but again that jump of years imposes a great burden for the plot which is not met. Going from moving, glowing blobs to fully formed burrowing stalks of exploding death is something else. How about explaining how that happened or why? There’s a great voice over to start the game, something to bring the player up to speed that events X, Y, and Z happened, but lacks an explanation of why the game is starting then and not at some of those pivotal moments that were glossed over a few seconds before?

Because of this, I find it hard to ascribe any importance to the events of the game. They have no context, no way to draw the player into caring about what happens. I am not suggesting that the game isn’t exciting, it is. You are thrust into battle, sent through lands exotic and strange. The familiar is made weird by change. And yet this is all window dressing, a hollow storefront that a play is staged in front of. Nothing more.

Also, suggesting that I needed to read the supplementary novels or comics is a non-starter. The game is the medium in which the story started. It should be where everything crucial to the story happens. In taking vital, necessary portions of the story out of the game, you have diminished the power the game has to tell stories. If games are to be held up and take their place with film and literature, then this short cut needs to be eliminated.

To summarize, if you liked the previous Gears you should give this one a chance. Rent it first and see if it can’t justify the purchase.