The word ‘Blockbuster’ gets thrown around an awful lot in this industry. Games with big budgets and massive expectations all too often get showered with this accolade by pundits, only to fall short of the mark when the public gets to lay hands on it. Gears of War 3, however, truly deserves the title.
Epic Games has managed to capture a lot of cinematic magic and sprinkle it evenly within the last hurrah of Delta Squad. This is a game that comes as close to being a ‘Hollywood action blockbuster’ as you could possibly get, and it’s thanks to the quality of the writing and presentation that allows the studio to pull this off.
This is particularly true when you compare the quality of the storyline to past games in the series; there really is no contest. Gears of War 3
is in a league of its own, and it’s evident that a novelist (and a military one at that) has written the plot. Karen Traviss’ attempt at finishing the story arc accomplishes this with magnificent set pieces, fantastic dialogue and some emotional scenes that highlight the desperation of almost every lifeform on the planet.
Marcus Fenix is the leader of Delta Squad - just about the last group of soldiers alive to fight for the Coalition of Ordered Governments (i.e. the humans) in a war against snarling underground-dwellers, the Locust. The planet they share, Sera, is dying and a new enemy in the Lambent is threatening to infect the Locust and destroy the human race for good.
That is, unless Fenix can find his scientist father, presumed to be killed during a key battle in the COG wars. In the opening scenes of Gears of War 3
, Fenix gets a distress signal from his dad suggesting that there may be one last hope for the survival of mankind. So, with Dom Santiago and a new rag-tag team of soldiers in tow, the pressure is on to find him and put an end to the Locust and Lambent once and for all.
We all saw the Lambent towards the end of Gears of War 2
, but their impact was limited to the endgame. Here, Epic has really gone to town with the enemy design. Many Lambent enemies still assume the appearance of past Locust bad guys but there have been a few tweaks and changes to the bigger ones that require a whole new strategy to defeat.
Similarly, the Lambent has allowed for some new creatures to appear. The crab-like Polyps will scurry around quickly and attack at close range, while Drudges will mutate and spit fire from various appendages if enough bullets are pumped into them. This range of enemies keeps the action fresh throughout - many chapters will see you fighting standard Locust, Lambent variants or different forms of enemies altogether.
Each requires a certain approach in order to defeat it. This is particularly the case with the boss encounters, which are events that Epic has become exceptionally good at designing. Playing through the bosses in Gears of War 3
is an exercise in boss design 101: shoot creatures in the weak point for massive damage; avoid a series of environmental hazards and strike a weak spot; put yourself in danger to find an opening for attack - even though I’m playing on an Xbox 360, something feels delightfully retro about the way these stages are created.
The set pieces in the game are simply fantastic too. From the very first Act you’re fending off a huge kraken-sized Leviathan attempting to munch on the good ship Sovereign. From there the action doesn’t let up - while you won’t face anything as large as that beast, you do find some interesting new methods to kill the Locust and Lambent horde, as well as new environments to do them in.
From beaches to underground caverns and Thrashball stadiums, the presentation of the scenery and the graphical fidelity of the gameplay is a sight to behold. Thankfully, we’re starting to see a whole new colour palette come out of the guys at Epic - things look a lot less grey, grim and dank. It’s almost like a visual breath of fresh air on the franchise. Look, the water is blue! The sun casts a yellow haze! Swaying wheat is... brown... but a colourful brown!
Interestingly, Gears of War 3
also takes advantage of 3DTVs. I was only able to try this for a short time in multiplayer, and while it’s not ‘true 3D’ output from the console - you need to faff about with the TV settings to get the duplicated pictures to overlay each other - it does look really nice. It seemed to have a negative, laggy effect in menus though, and if you get any Xbox Live notifications whilst playing, you can expect your eyes to get screwed up.