Gears of War 3 (GOW3) does what's unthinkable for most Jap franchises - it concludes. Since a happy ending is in order, that means the humans eventually have to find a way to rid the planet Sera of its hostile indigenous lifeforms. Just think James Cameron's Avatar with an alternate ending. However, before we get to the foregone conclusion, it would be silly not to expect a perfunctory Humanity's Last Stand trope thrown in for good measure.
GOW3 features relatively more vibrant colours than the previous games.
The introduction of the new Lambent threat in GOW2 has led to a three-way between humans, Locusts and Lambent. Since the events of the last game, the COG (Coalition of Ordered Governments) has been reduced to disorganised factions of survivors driven to the verge of extinction. The game starts off with the news of protagonist Marcus Fenix's father being alive and close to finding a solution to the Lambent menace. That's just the excuse Epic needs to shoehorn all the cliches found in a typical Michael Bay film.
If It Isn't Broken, Why Fix It? You are in for a disappointment if you expect a radical change in gameplay or design. Then again, why fix something that isn't broken? GOW3 carries forward the same slow but heavy feel of the franchise and garnishes it with a sprinkling of excessive gore. The enemies fortunately exhibit a noticeably diminished appetite for bullets, which makes for a faster and more fun combat experience. The levels are tailored for cover-based combat and favour horizontal design, with a bit of verticality thrown in for interesting firefights.
Graphics-wise, GOW3 is easily the best-looking game on the platform. The shadow, lighting, and texturing detail is remarkably good for a game running on six-year-old hardware. This is further benefited by a healthy variation in levels, with no signs of regurgitated textures and game assets. The elaborate set pieces are impressive in terms of their diversity and gargantuan proportions. Overall, the graphics engine does a fine job of rendering GOW3's epic scale of bedlam. The sound department is equally good in the way it faithfully renders foley effects such as locust meat being savaged by a rifle-mounted chainsaw, or the satisfying thump of a sawed-off shotgun. The only downer is the overly loud voice acting. However, that is more an issue of GOW3's brand of machoism than any fault of the voice actors.
The lighting and shadow effects are impressive.
The final instalment includes a fair deal of new weapons and enemies. Expect running into Berserkers of both Locust and the explosive Lambent varieties, in addition to high-level Locust enemies such as Kantus Knights and Boomer variants brandishing subterranean weaponry. The juggernaut category sees the return of Brumaks and Locust Siege Beasts, as well as mammoth boss battles with the Leviathan and a big-ass mama Corpser. Iconic weapons such as the Lancer (chainsaw bayonet, baby!) and the Hammer of Dawn return, along with brand-new ones such as the brutal bayonet-bearing Retro Lancer, the subterranean Digger Launcher, the two-man operated Vulcan cannon, and the deadly One Shot sniper rifle that does exactly what the name suggests.
Pass Me Some Glycerine The original Gears of War was brilliant. It's one of the few games that I don't mind revisiting from time to time. How does GOW3 compare then? Not favourably, I'm afraid. The reason being the unique nature of console FPSs that makes an engaging narrative indispensable, as explained in detail here. The limited gameplay appeal of a console FPS needs to be offset with an engaging narrative, the lack of which happens to be GOW3's Achilles heel.
Allow me to explain. With fond memories of the original Gears of War's co-op campaign, the editor and I looked forward to pulling an all-nighter for the last instalment. We started off at 8 pm, but by 5 am, we were too bored to play out the last remaining hour of the campaign. This is all the more remarkable, considering that I like to finish most games in a single sitting.
The plot is too hackneyed and insincere for its own good, and packed with enough cliches to qualify as Michael Bay's wet dream. What's worse is its propensity to shove melodrama down your throat. This is especially ridiculous considering how the game tries to evoke empathy for one-dimensional jockeys spewing unfunny one-liners. GOW3's inability to anchor player interest is its most glaring weakness. A console FPS without a solid plot is pretty much like a Farrelly Brothers' movie without the crass humour.
Multiplayer Mayhem Fortunately, the shortcomings of the single-player campaign are compensated by the stellar multiplayer component. The GOW series is a pleasure mainly because of its online and offline co-op capability. There's nothing as satisfying as beating down baddies with a friend. It would have been perfect if the offline co-op mode included a vertical splitscreen as seen in the Halo games. The lack of headroom was quite disorienting for me on a 32" screen. However, that is subjective and your mileage may vary with a larger display. Even if your TV isn't large enough, the four-player online co-op mode is a better, albeit relatively impersonal, alternative.
The online multiplayer component sees the return of the Horde mode (GOW's take on survival mode), with a tower defence twist that infuses some strategy. The Beast mode is the exact opposite of the latter, wherein you have to storm the COG castle with Locust and Lambent critters. Disappointingly, the two modes cannot be combined in a PvP match, as exemplified by the Left 4 Dead games.
The deathmatch modes from the last game return and keep things interesting by mixing and matching features from King of the Hill (Annex) and Capture the Leader variants. These modes refresh the multiplayer experience with hybrid implementations of the Submission, Guardian, Warzone, and Execution mechanics that fans will remember from the previous games. Epic has added an additional strategic dimension by providing each team a pool of lives that the members must share. The first team to deplete its life pool loses. This way, every kill and death matters, thereby making kill ratio a very important parameter.
Misfire GOW3 boasts of a strong gameplay as far as consoles FPS are concerned. Having said that, the very limitation of the platform means that it lacks the depth that makes one want to revisit strong shooters such as Far Cry, Serious Sam, and Painkiller. Most of its successful console FPS brethren make up for it with a healthy seasoning of engaging narrative. Call of Duty: Black Ops, for example, masks its lack of gameplay depth with a stellar storyline that has one dying to know what happens next.
GOW3's story arc, on the other hand, peters out towards the end. You eventually become aware of the fact that the only thing you've been doing all along is braving wave after wave of cover-based combat and banal fetch quests, with no real motivation to see what's behind the next door. In the end, GOW3's forced emotional hooks and a jaded plot makes its 10-hour single player campaign seem longer than it really is. The franchise then ends with a whimper instead of a bang.
Gameplay And Design: 3.5/5 Graphics: 4/5 Sound: 3.5/5 Mojo: 2.5/5