Gears of War pleasantly surprised me when I first purchased it. Like with all things that pleasantly surprise me, I didn’t go in with a lot of expectations. I had just purchased my (first) Xbox 360, and I needed a game to go with it. It looked pretty impressive on the shelf, so I figured I’d give it a go.
Despite helping to influence an influx of cover-based shooters for the next few years after its release, it still holds a special place in my heart. The game felt fresh, was generally fun to play, and it looked amazing. Where early 360 titles looked like they were struggling to shake off the shackles of the previous generation, Gears of War was unafraid to rip into the meat of the hardware in all its texture-popping, screen-tearing, console-killing glory.
Cue the recent release of Gears of War 3, and I can’t help but feel that I’m biting into a really bland, tasteless sandwich.
The story apparently continues from the events of the previous game, which is a shame because it has been a few couple of years since I’ve played Gears of War 2, and the introduction left me with more questions than answers. Who the hell are the Lambent? Are they meant to be mutated by-products of Imulsion? Since when did Carmine become such a bad-ass? And why are there chicks with awful, awful Australian accents? (I want to reassure our international readers that not all Australians sound like this – only the ones that don’t matter.)
The story is forgettable and stock standard – Fenix’s father was previously thought dead, but he’s actually alive (dun dun duuuun), and he’s being held prisoner by the Locust Queen (who, coincidentally, appears to be human, which makes it even more confusing when you hear her declare war against humanity). Therefore it’s up to Fenix to find his father, as well as silence the Locust hordes once and for blah blah blah. This doesn’t help the game’s main tagline promising to conclude the “epic story”. I certainly wasn’t biting my clenched fists, screaming at retailers demanding to know when this cliffhanger can finally resolve itself.
Despite the paper-thin plot, Gears 3 still retains its classic formula of cover, suppress, and flank – playing the campaign with co-op is especially rewarding in a way that only becomes apparent when you chainsaw a Locust grunt together in a totally non-homo-erotic-way-unless-that’s-what-you’re-into-in-which-case-more-power-to-you, or when you stun an enemy so that your partner can impale him with a Retro Lancer bayonet (previous statement also applies here). If the formula hasn’t worn out on you already, then you’ll be pleased to know that very little has changed.
And it certainly feels that way. There doesn’t seem to be much of a new experience here. Most of the characters are still the same. Practically no weapons have been changed, and only a couple of new weapons have been introduced. Some new multiplayer levels are present, as well as the introduction of Horde 2.0 (which is rather similar to CoD‘s zombie modes), but it doesn’t pique my interest as it should. Admittedly, Beast mode is pretty fresh, although it struggles to maintain one’s attention.
I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m not enjoying Gears 3 as much as I should, and I think I’ve figured out why. Gears 3 has become so enamoured with its own identity that it has failed to care anymore. Like a dance that a performing bear is forced to rote learn, Gears 3 goes through its motions automatically, without feeling or awareness of its own existence. The pages of achievements, the heavily “inspired” game modes, the sheer lack of newness to it all – it exists only as a means to placate those who care.
If you do care, then all is well for you – Gears of War 3 is a well-delivered polished shooter that will provide you many hours of gameplay. For someone such as myself who was expecting significant incremental improvements as demonstrated in Gears of War 2, I’ll have to be content with a couple of hours of Horde mode with my mates before we all get bored and decide to mow down zombies in Left 4 Dead 2.