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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
hey say that all good things must come to an end, but even with the long-awaited release of “Gears of War 3,” the latest installment in the popular sci-fi action series, it’s hard to imagine that Cliff Bleszinski and the rest of the Epic crew have said goodbye to the “Gears” universe forever. As the final piece in the purported trilogy, however, “Gears of War 3” delivers one helluva farewell for Marcus Fenix and his COG buddies with more of the same white-knuckle intensity that made the first two games such an absolute blast to play. And while it may not be as addictive as its predecessors (though that may have more to do with my sudden lack of free time than the game itself), “Gears of War 3” is without a doubt the most wildly creative and cinematic installment to date.
The story picks up 18 months after the fall of Jacinto, with the COGs still fighting the war for survival on two fronts. A new threat has emerged in the form of the infected Lambent, who are becoming even more mutated by the day, while the down-but-not-out Locust have risen from the ashes of their recently destroyed undercover civilization to rebuild on the surface. But just when it looks like the fate of humanity is doomed, Marcus receives word that his father might not be dead after all, and is even working on a cure that could return Sera to its former glory. A lot of lingering questions are answered along the way, and as a result, the game's campaign is noticeably longer and more dedicated to developing its characters than it’s ever been.
Don't get me wrong, Marcus still has the emotional range of a peanut, but “Gears of War 3” is a lot more engaging from a story standpoint thanks to the injection of new faces and some crucial exposition that helps fill in holes from the past. You even get to play as Cole Train in a fun flashback sequence that shows what he and Baird were up to during the game’s opening battle. But while Campaign Mode certainly benefits from the richer storyline, the “Gears” series has always been first and foremost about the action, and the third installment is packed with epic encounters and lots of cool new weapons.
In addition to a Retro Lancer that's equipped with a bayonet instead of a chainsaw, there's also the Digger, which shoots a projectile into the ground that travels a short distance before popping back out and firing shrapnel; a long-range behemoth called the One-Shot that vaporizes its victims with a red laser; mech suits called Silverbacks that are only available in Campaign Mode; and a Sawed-Off Shotgun that’s even more effective than the Gnasher. If there’s any complaint about the new weapons, it’s that they're perhaps a little too strong for multiplayer. The Sawed-Off Shotgun, in particular, may only have one shot per reload, but it doles out a lot of damage in close quarters.
This is likely going to frustrate a lot of people who were perfectly happy with the way that multiplayer operated before, but while some of the changes – namely, the addition of the aforementioned weapons and the fact that the Matchmaking system doesn’t work as intended – have affected Versus Mode for the worse, Epic has included several other multiplayer options that are worth checking out. For starters, Horde Mode is back and better than ever, employing a tower defense-like system that makes you buy weapons and build barriers using money that you earn with every kill and assist. There are also specific challenges presented to the team at the beginning of certain waves that reward you and your teammates with extra cash, skill bonuses or weapons when completed.
The brand new Beast Mode, meanwhile, lets you play on the other side of the battle as part of a five-man team of Locusts. And although that may just sound like an inverted version of Horde, it's actually an entirely different game. In Beast Mode, you're racing against a clock (earning additional time and money for every kill, assist and barrier destroyed) to defeat the humans as quickly as possible, but you also get unlimited lives as long as you have the resources. Each Locust class varies in cost depending on their strength (Tickers, for instance, are the cheapest), but they all have their pros and cons.
Online co-op has also received a bit of a facelift, with four players now capable of making their way through the campaign side-by-side. Additionally, there’s a new Arcade Mode that offers a unique twist on the typical campaign experience by including a scoring system that adds a competitive edge. It definitely makes playing through the campaign more of a team-based effort, because when you're on your own, the AI has a tendency to let you do most of the heavy lifting, allowing enemies to walk straight past them or let you bleed out without trying to revive you. And it’s this portion of multiplayer that really makes “Gears of War 3” soar, because while diehard fans will probably stick to the cutthroat Versus matches, casual gamers will find more pleasure elsewhere.