You begin Gears 3 with the sense that things have gone very wrong. The welcome victory over the Locust Horde has allowed a newer threat, the Lambent, to take hold. The Lambent include mutated Locust along with completely new enemies that require you to shoot their ‘glowy’ body parts in order to kill them. They also spew yellow liquid when they die, causing damage if they are close. While the Locust arrive out of holes in the ground, the Lambent spawn from pods on the side of giant stalks. Signs of their invasion are everywhere and the sense of loss immense as the last of The Stranded (humans still living on land) just try to survive. The mighty COGs have retreated to the sea where they live on large rusted warships away from the stalks. You can end this once and for all… if you have what it takes.
One of the first things you notice when starting the campaign is just how graphically impressive it is. Character models have again seen upgrades and the backgrounds are detailed and evocative. They show the full devastation of Sera, where once magnificent cities have been reduced to haphazard rubble strewn with abandoned vehicles and assorted detritus. Humanity has learned to hang on with what is left, using any building material available to make forts and block off streets. Everywhere you go, you get the sense that this is humanity’s last stand. The voice acting rams this home, even if the dialogue is cheesy.
Campaign gameplay has been tweaked in two main areas. First of all, co-op has been extended to four players. There are always four soldiers in your squad, so if you play alone, you’re accompanied by three AI controlled helpers, while if you play with one other person, you’re teamed up with two helpers, and so on. You fill a number of different roles throughout the game, but there are no conversation trees to define your take on the characters, so in reality, swapping between them only lets you use different weapon sets. That said, you should jump at the chance to play Augustus “Cole Train” Cole as he fires off hilariously bad lines and revisits his glory days as a Thrashball champ in the tackiest segment of the game.
The new Arcade mode allows you to go through the single player story while being scored on your kills. You can level up your character and unlock content such as additional multiplayer skins. Ribbons are awarded for gameplay events (sniper kills, least ammo used, most points scored) and this lends a fun competitive angle to the cooperative play.
Unfortunately your computer controlled allies are so good at reviving you and killing enemies that Gears 3 is much easier than its predecessors. This is counterbalanced by the fact that the game boasts a longer campaign with some exciting boss battles and a greater variety of adversaries than its predecessors.
As good as the story mode is, it pales next to the online Horde and Beast modes. Horde mode has been completely revised to include tower defence elements. It allows you and up to four allies to take on 50 waves of enemies of ever increasing strength, from the diminutive Tickers to gargantuan Brumaks. Killing your adversaries earns you experience, but more importantly cash to spend on defences. You can buy razor wire and electric fences, automatic gun turrets, decoys and, eventually, imposing Silverback exoskeletons. Horde mode will test all of your skills gained from the main campaign but is a much better co-op experience because the quality and level of your team mates are vital to progress. You won’t get far alone. The only weakness with Horde is players dropping out as later levels are reached, probably because the level of difficulty increases astronomically from level 40 onwards.
Beast mode acts as a role reversal, where you get to be the Horde and destroy The Stranded along with COG personnel and their defences. Beast comprises 12 waves of ever increasing difficulty with the humans upgrading their defences and weapons in the higher levels. You start with a small amount of money to spend on a low level Locust with more money being earned for every enemy or structure you destroy. The more kills you make, the more powerful a Locust you can become, with the rampaging Berserker and the creepy Serapede among the most interesting to play. Beast mode is a great way to learn the weaknesses and abilities of the Locust characters as you actually play as them. It’s also a good way to prepare for the intensity of Horde.
Other multiplayer modes include the typical scenarios of Deathmatch, King of the Hill, etc. These are done very well, however there is not as much variety on offer as you get with a series like Halo. There are no vehicles or gun turrets to use, rather just the intense, bloody cover-based mechanic that you already know. New weapons such as the sawed-off shotgun are especially handy in close quarters as it will quickly make mince-meat on an enemy next to you. Multiplayer modes run quite smoothly and you’ll have no trouble finding a match, although some of the less popular modes will have bots to make up for a lack of players. Online theme days run regularly and have so far included games featuring extra enemies (Tickers), specific weapons (Boomshots, Diggers, Boltoks) and double experience points to encourage you to level up your character. Horde has seen new maps and characters as well as upgrades to the available defences. The next DLC package will bring extra campaign levels involving General RAAM from the first Gears of War.
Overall, Gears of War 3 is the kind of game that will last because it offers so much online gameplay. Even if you haven’t been a fan of the series so far, it’s still worth another look. See you online.