An Epic tale comes to an end. Epic Games’ Gears of War 3 brings you the story of Marcus Fenix and the Delta Squad in their battle to save humanity on planet Sera. Additionally I am trying out the Official Gears of War Throat Communicator by Mad Catz. Oil up the chainsaw on your Lancer, we are going to do a little Lambent hunting.
Gears of War 3 picks up after the events of Gears of War 2 with the remnants of the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COGs) having moved to the island of Vectes in search of peace and the hope of rebuilding after the war with the Locust. Eighteen months later that peace is shattered when the Imulsion infected Lambent start to emerge from the ground. The Lambent are mutated, feral, and somewhat mindless form of the Locust. After COG Head of State, Chairman Prescott, abandons them, the remaining COG force decide to split up into two factions. Colonel Victor Hoffman takes half of the survivors to the Anvil Gate, while the rest stay with Marcus Fenix on the Raven’s Nest, an old naval ship.
After sometime at sea Chairman Prescott makes a sudden return bearing news that Marcus’ father, Professor Adam Fenix, is still alive. He may even have a way of saving humanity from the Lambent. Before Prescott can say more the ship comes under attack by Lambent creatures, including a giant Leviathan. Prescott again flees leaving Delta squad to deal with the Lambent. After a large battle the Leviathan is defeated using Locust Tickers. In the process though, the Raven’s Nest is destroyed. Scattered by the surf and washing up on shore half of Delta Squad fights it way across land to reunite with the other half of Delta who have found Chairman Prescott’s downed chopper. Upon reuniting they find Prescott dying from his wounds. He gives Marcus a digital key to unlock files from a disc that contains a message from Adam Fenix and reveals where Adam is being held.
And to stay spoiler free I will stop there. The story takes some twists I can not reveal, one is a total surprise, the other is telegraphed early on.
Controls and Gameplay
Gears of War 3 is an action based third person shooter game. One of the strategies that Gears of War has emphasized over the series is the use of cover to avoid taking damage. Epic Games has really perfected the cover mechanic, moving in and out of cover is very fluid and never “sticky” or clumsy.
Gears of War 3 introduces a few new things to the series. First is four player co-op that allows you and three friends to play through the campaign storyline. Computer AI controls the other characters if you are playing solo or with less than four players. The AI is pretty good too. It takes cover, flanks the enemy and will seek you out and revive you if you are downed in battle. It also makes the game a bit easier to play. There was a few instances where either I got turned the wrong way or just plain distracted when investigating an area on my own and could hear the AI in battle, but by the time I had made my way back to them, they had either defeated all the enemies or whittled them down to a small portion.
The second thing the game introduces are playable female characters. For the first two games it centers mostly on the overly muscled men. Anya Stroud and Samantha “Sam” Byrne are two strong female characters who can give as good as they get in combat, taunts, and retorts. These two are playable only in multiplayer co-op, Versus mode, Horde mode, or Beast mode.
The other multiplayer modes, Arcade, Versus, Horde, and Beast, offer a more competitive play experience. Arcade is the same as the campaign, but gives out point based on how well each person did. Versus offers the usual rounds of “deathmatch” and “capture the flag.”
Horde mode has been improved over the Gears of War 2 version. Now instead of just defending a spot from wave after wave of increasingly harder enemies you have more strategy choices. First you assign a spot to be your Command Post. The game gives you time to find a good spot to place it. Once found you defend it again from wave after wave, but now you earn money as defeat enemies. Between rounds you can take this money and invest in defenses such as fences, traps, and spikes, giving what has been dubbed Horde 2.0 a bit of a tower defense game feel.
Beast mode is also new to the series. It is like Horde mode, but instead of players being COG solders defending against Locust and Lambent they are the Locust and Lambent. Again you earn money, but instead of buying defenses you can buy upgrades to more powerful Locust and Lambent creatures.
Graphics and Sound
The graphics for the Gears of War series have been all about gritty realism. Gears of War 3 continues this theme. The island settings allow for a few more colors, like green, instead of many shades of brown. I did have one strange graphic “flash” thing throughout the game. Items that can be picked up or interacted with have a “flash” to make them stand out and be noticeable. Unfortunately this flash would also occasionally happen towards the sides of my screen, I would move to investigate and find nothing.
The voice acting was well done with the cast returning from previous games in the series. The one that stood out to me, and is my favorite, is Lester Speight as Augustus “Cole Train” Cole. Lester is pretty much playing the same part he played as Terry Tate Office Linebacker in his Reebok commercials.
Earlier this year in an interview Epic Games’ lead designer, Cliff Bleszinski, said, “There are many great games that I personally didn’t get into until the third game in the series, Burnout 3 and GTA 3 come to mind, and I’d hope that if there are gamers out there that haven’t given Gears a go will try it and hopefully fall in love.” Well while I own the other two games I was distracted by other games at the time and never got very deep into them. That said, Cliff does have point. Gears of War 3 is easy to get into, they even optionally provide a short prologue told from the perspective of Anya Stroud to help players who have never played any other games in the series. While it doesn’t cover everything, like why Marcus and Dom are so tight as friends, it does provide enough information to understand why Delta Squad are in their situation and why most of humanity dislike the COG.
While the story is good, it is not the focal point of the game, the gameplay is. Epic Games really placed the bar high on not only the player having fun, but having fun with friends online. Whether it’s solo or in co-op or Horde mode, as a shooter fan, this game was very entertaining. It put a “big ol’ grin” on my face as I plowed through Lambents with a chainsaw on the Lancer weapon or snipping Locust with a Longshot.
I did run into a few problems with Gears of War 3. Along with the aforementioned “flash” problem I did have the game briefly freeze on me twice. I would like to say that both instances were because of too many enemies onscreen, but I can’t. Both times there were just a couple enemies, so I am a little perplexed why it happened. Thank fully the game unfroze itself after a few seconds so it wasn’t too bad.
Another was connecting to friends for online play. I had one invite drop me before I even got into the game. Whether it was the game or my internet connection is unknown, though I am thinking the latter since I was able to connect to other games just fine.
Speaking of online.
Gears of War Throat Communicator
Gaming hardware maker Mad Catz have made many items for the release of Gears of War 3. The Gears of War Throat Communicator is a wired headset for the Xbox 360. It wraps around your neck with an ear bud for listening to your friends. The microphones are in the neck piece and sit near your voice box. It replicated the “hands free” communicators that SWAT or Special Forces use. It picks up your voice clearly. I personally have always had problems with ear buds popping out of my ear and initially I did have that same problem with this ear bud. After turning it around so the wire goes over my ear, I got it to stay and I was able to hear just fine.
The Throat Communicator plugs into the same audio port as your Xbox Live headset, so no adapters are needed. It also has an inline mic mute and volume control. One immediate advantage I found with the Throat Communicator was that there was no microphone in my way for quick drinking and snacking.
Gears of War 3 is lots of fun with a good story and minor graphical problems I give it a 4.5 out of 5.
The Gears of War 3 Throat Communicator works well, is lightweight and doesn’t get in the way I recommend it if you are looking for a good headset.
Gears of War 3 is rated M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language by the Entertainment Software Review Board. It is available now exclusively for the Xbox 360. For more information see the Gears of War 3 web site.
The Gears of War 3 Throat Communicator is also available now exclusively for the Xbox 360. For more information see Mad Catz’s Gears of War 3 section of their web site.