I came across Gear of War 3 (Epic Games) quite by accident (and almost a year after its release) – the whole series was completely off my radar up until now … that’s quite a shame, because – even if this 3rd-person-shooter doesn’t actually reinvent the “kill mean mutants”-genre, it’s really fun!
But let’s start at the beginning: You are Marcus Fenix, a guy, who obviously eats steroids for breakfast – or how else would you explain these ridiculously gigantic upper arms? Oh, and you’re a COG, too, which means, you get to carry a bunch of really big weaponry and be the always cool hero, who competes with his four team-mates over who utters the most hard-boiled comment on the usually hopeless situation. Sometimes this is so stereotypical, that it’s just hilarious, especially, when you get to play one sequence, where you assume the role of the former football star Cole Train – with all his faithful, mostly female fans, who show their worship with sufficiently devoted attitude. Don’t get me wrong, this actually is really funny and in a way matches the situation these heroes are facing quite well – who wouldn’t resolve to darkest humor when big, ugly things start shooting (or throw slimy icky stuff) at you?
So, what are we doing as these guys? We’re shooting mutants called “Locusts”. Why exactly we’re doing this, where these Locusts, who are trying to outbid themselves in size and ugliness, come from and what the hell this is all about, is obviously something that’s been explained to us in an earlier part of the series – and it’s really not that important at all – because they’re trying to kill us and we really can’t have this, now can we? Let’s try to put together the pieces of the story we can extrapolate from the little info in this part anyway: A substance known as “Emulsion”, probably the result of misdirected or over-ambitious research was evaporated and turned people everywhere into different kinds of mutants, called “glowies” by our heroes. Then there’s the usual power-hungry government-guy and the also very typical scientist with the assumed solution, who happens to be Marcus’ father. Got it? As said before, this is really not that important, because after the first two minutes of the game (the obligatory tutorial), we have to defend ourselves against one skyscraper-big, mean specimen – one of many “Leviathans” – using a mobile turret (“Silverback”) and a rocket launcher. So, it’s on, ugly mutants!
During the next 10 – 12 hours the four of us (Marcus, the cool hero, a woman with genre-typical … armor, a scientist and some kind of mechanic) make our way through a post-apocalyptic world in search for food, supplies, and Marcus’ father. The game always tries to give us a reason, why we do that, but these are – as mentioned – not really that important, because all we want to do is shoot these absurdly ugly creatures, which turn up everywhere we go. Luckily we get to do this with an arsenal of weapons that are lying around everywhere (or are dropped by the enemy) – from a simple pistol-like sidearm to the high-tech sniper rifle we carry around everything we can find. Sometimes we stumble across some special weapons that we can’t take with us permanently, but at least can use – my personal favorite is the “Mulcher”, which does exactly what it sounds like, or we can use the enemies’ catapults the make some big holes in creatures the size of a mountain. Obviously weapon-balancing was a big issue in the game development, so the really powerful ones like the OneShot sniper rifle come with huge disadvantages in recoil, capacity or recharge-time – which is quite fair in my opinion and lessens the impression of the all-powerful, invincible hero.
As for the plot: Sometimes the story-authors use very popular means to extend game-time – like this one: Find a submarine in hangar 1. Oh, there is no submarine in hangar 1 (but lots and lots of Locusts), but if you go to hangar 2 (and fight more Locusts on the way), you’ll definitely find a sub. All you need to use it is some fuel and a rotor, go find those in the nearby facilities – along with … more Locusts! The main story on the other hand is pretty linear: We’re searching for Marcus‘ father, who allegedly found a solution for the Locust-problem and is held captive in a secret research facility. On our way there we meet – besides a bunch of different enemies of course (though “meet” isn’t exactly, what we do to them) – survivors, whose settlements are being attacked the minute we show up (right…!), get to fly around in enemy aircrafts (and defend against other enemy aircrafts), shoot our way out of insanely fast-moving vehicles and use the mentioned above sub to defend against weird sea-creatures and very persistent defense-systems. In between, there are mini-bosses, who can – genre-typical – only be hurt by specific actions: hit the eyes of the giant-spider-thing, deal with the hordes of smaller spiders that then appear, repeat this, until all of the eyes are gone … and live with what happens next. These mini-bosses are sometimes a bit annoying, I mean, challenging, but never that hard, that it gets frustrating – and hey, we are a sturdy musclehead, who can take a lot of damage and all of our teammates can provide first aid in combat, which makes dying really hard. In comparison to these smaller battles, the final showdown against Myrrah, Queen of the Locusts on her flying … thing (who accuses us of genocide, if we proceed with our plan to kill her subjects) is rather weak and over fast. Here we, who we drew the comparison to “Serious Sam” more than once during game-time, had hoped for a lot more.
And in between, again and again, the game finds quiet, subtle undertones or creates stunning, epic drama in front of our eyes to illustrate the incredible extend of the catastrophe that happened + the most impressive one (for me) is the ash-city Char, that we obviously had turned to this state in one of the previous games: people, solidified to ashes, stand around on the streets, which they were going to pass, ash-couples holding each other eternally … and for the first time Marcus Fenix is actually silent …
Well, no review without technical stuff: The game was released on Xbox360 only, graphics are atmospherically, sometimes the textures look a bit rough, but that’s really very high-level complaining and the really detailed and imaginative enemies and the carefully designed environment make more than up for it. Game-controls are mostly intuitive, though some features are positioned quite inconveniently on the controller (Zoom for the sniper rifle for instance on the right stick is a bit less than optimal). The only thing, that was really annoying, are the abrupt cut scenes, that sometimes start, before we had a chance to collect the much-needed ammo from the recent field of battle – but: nevermind.
Conclusion: With its straightforward story, its endearing characters, the impressively hideous enemies and its multiple different kinds of mission Gears of War 3 is an entertaining way to spend some time for those of us, who appreciate classic 3rd-person-shooters and are into gigantic explosions, more gigantic monsters, big guns and bigger upper arms. The game comes – beside the campaign-mode that is the object of the review – with an arcade-mode, a highly praised multiplayer-mode and a coop-mode (which remain to be tested should I find a willing accomplice). It’s fun – and doesn’t take itself too serious – which we should do, too.