Cruel Story, Bro: ‘Gears of War 3′ Review

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Gears 3 also doubles down on another hallmark of the series, which is the fact that these games blend awkward, sometimes even mawkish characterization with bloody, sphincter-clenching combat. The stories in this trilogy mean to explode with as much bathos as possible and, in some alchemical happenstance, that sloppy emotional splatter connects to the desperation you feel while playing and dying over and over again. While you’re spending hours mastering the twitch reflexes necessary to keep you alive, you’re also moving through a story with big, clunky metaphors and bigger and clunkier character dynamics. But those are almost forgivable for two reasons. One, Gears of War games really don’t do nuance. Everything, especially grief and gallows humor, in these titles is burly and lugubrious. Two, the plot beats in question, like the sad fate of Dom’s wife in Gears 2, don’t feel emotionally manipulative in a crass way.

Rather, they feel adolescent, pushed out into the world in a not-quite mature form yet asked to get their message across regardless. Some of the big plot turns get broadly telegraphed, especially by the marketing slogans attached to the game, but they do lend the notes of finality necessary to this threequel enough gravitas to feel important.

If Gears 3 doesn’t feel spectacularly well-written, it does feel well-paced. Epic’s latest effort nails its rock-solid shooting experience but also folds in good chase scenes and underwater sequences for variety, too. Gears 3 also presents that sweetest of shooter dilemmas: which gun do you hold on to? Many’s the time where I had to weigh the benefits of the Boomer grenade launcher against the Scorcher flamethrower, or that I held onto a Longshot sniper rile with no ammo, hoping that I’d find more bullets for it soon. Players will encounter these Sophie’s Choice moments over and over again, and they testify to how satisfying the weaponry feels in Gears 3, no small thing for a game based on gunplay. By the time you reach the end of the story-centric Campaign Mode, you’re playing in the throes of an exquisitely frantic crescendo filled with mortar shells, miniguns and melee weapons.

Speaking of frantic, Gears 3′s multiplayer feels strong in its current state. There’s a superb pressure generated in Team Deathmatch that happens when all your side’s respawns (extra lives) have been used up and every death counts. The resulting tension makes a mode that shows up in every game’s multiplayer feel fresh in Gears 3. Horde Mode gets an upgrade, too. The biggest new element in multiplayer is in-game money. You’ll earn points every time you play Gears 3, no matter what mode you’re playing and, in Horde 2.0, you’ll use those credits to purchase all-new fortifications. These will be either barriers, armaments or decoys that you can deploy at specific points in the environment. They add a strategic element to the mode, making it so you can create narrower paths for enemies to march through. You can also spend cash to acquire weapons and ammo, too, if you’re not able to grab them from the dead enemies’ weapons.

The new Horde Mode’s 50 waves will feature a boss battle every ten rounds, with randomly seeded Challenge Waves, which offer special rewards if you meet certain requirements. Do stuff like clearing a wave under a prescribed time limit or rack up a specific number of kills with a particular weapon and you’ll earn extra cash for resources. However, the biggest change to Horde Mode comes in the form of resurrections. In Gears 2, dead players could only come back at the beginning of a new wave. In Gears 3, you can buy your way back to life in the middle of a wave, if there’s enough money. The updated Horde Mode might be divergent from its previous incarnation, but the core elements still feel entertaining as ever.

MORE: Epic’s Rod Fergusson Talks ‘Gears of War 3′

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