The arrival of Gears of War 3 is an event. More than a mere new game, the release of the concluding episode in the trilogy is the climax at the end of years of publicity foreplay and fan anticipation. Not that the excitement generated has anything to do with big, new features because – truth be told – there aren’t many.
Once again the series’ hulking heroes are battling the fiendish Locusts and Lambent on the planet of Sera in a snaking showdown spread across five acts. And the action remains wonderfully overblown and exhilarating.
Much of the appeal of Gears of War comes from the sense of weight and power you get from controlling the game’s bulked-out characters. From the solidity of their walking to the way they run like charging rhinoceroses or the thud they make when they slam into cover. AndGears of War 3 does nothing to change it. Marcus Fenix and co still feel immense and the series’ trademark third-person, cover-based action is compelling as ever.
The main story mode, which now allows up to four people to play together, is once again packed with epic encounters. There are desperate attempts to protect human outposts from marauding enemies, clashes with beasts the size of office blocks, and daring raids on Locust settlements to hijack barges that are carried through the air by pig-ugly part-Zeppelin, part-whale monsters. The story itself is as disposable as ever, but it still manages to deliver a few tender moments amid the usual supply of ‘80s action movie wisecracks (and very good wisecracks they are too).
There are some new additions to the mix. We get some new monsters to fight as well as some new weapons, including incendiary grenades and the devious Digger – a gun that fires missiles through the ground and under cover. But all the old favourites are still there, including the iconic chainsaw-enhanced Lancer assault rifle.
The biggest changes are in the multiplayer mode. The ever-fabulous Horde mode, where players fend off wave after wave of foes, now boasts a layer of strategy: every kill earns cash that can be spent on defenses to protect your team’s chosen command post, such as barbed wire and gun turrets. There’s also a brand new multiplayer mode, Beast, which flips the Horde mode on its head by casting up to five players as Locust troops trying to wipe out COG soldiers. And, as you gain experience, more types of Locust to play are unlocked. Gears of War 3 is a game that won’t run out of steam anytime soon.
Gears of War 3 can’t match the wow factor of the very first Gears of War. In that sense it’s a disappointment: a play-it-safe production that only adds a few bells and whistles to its proven formula. But actually Gears of War 3’s creators have given fans exactly what they want: first-rate meathead action with extra cheese and more explosions than Bonfire Night. And they do it so well. So well that it just rams home the reality that if you’re looking for a dose of explosive action these days you’d be better off with an Xbox 360 and a copy of Gears of War 3 than sitting in your local multiplex with a bucket of overpriced popcorn.