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

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It’s in this way that Gears of War 3 walks the risky tightrope of trying to grow up in public. Sly references to Watchmen and Aliens let you know that Gears 3 wants to think of itself as another pop-cultural watershed in the same vein as those entertainments. The subjects touched upon in the game’s story include war profiteering, mankind enduring a slow mutually assured destruction of its own making, the viral insanity that prolonged armed conflict engenders and ends-justifying-means decisions. There’s also distrust of government, anti-military sentiment, a sour populism that resonates with present-day political climate and a fumbly eco-metaphor in the Imulsion fuel that started the series’ central conflict.

Any attempts at storytelling texture flash by very quickly, giving way to the relentless shooting that fans show up for. Still, the ambition on display does show signs of maturity. Epic didn’t have to try and up their aspirations for this title’s narrative. Yet, in Gears of War 3, the series that often gets derided as the prototypical bro-shooter gestures at something bigger than the sum of its very successful parts. The idea of loss always lingered in the background of the game’s universe but the developers at Epic walk players through the actual process of bereavement. And any affect to be had from those scenes comes not from their dialogue or direction, but from the sheer number of aggregated hours spent playing Gears of War games. How many Campaign battles and Horde waves have Marcus, Dom and the rest lived through via the thumbs of millions of gamers everywhere?

Because Gears’ unique formula works the way it does–panic + resolve + skill-building x teamwork = fun–all that familiarity doesn’t numb us to them; it has the opposite effect of endearing those characters to us. Gears of War 3 conveys a bittersweet victory despite the rough edges of its plot and characterization. The emotional punch rides on the strength of its gameplay. In the end, all the shooting in the world can’t make the world change. And when you step away from cover and drop your gun, the world that’s survived is forever different. It’s a rare game that can make you actually feel that notion and, surprisingly, Gears of War 3 does.

Official Techland Score: 9.3 out of 10

(MORE: Breaking News: Gears of War 2 Is Pretty Good)

Evan Narcisse is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @EvNarc or on Facebook at Facebook/Evan.Narcisse. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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