Gears of War 3 - Xbox 360 Review

I've been posting about Gears quite a bit this week, and it has been a really pleasant trip down memory lane for me. The Gears of War titles were both excellent, though the first holds a slightly more nostalgic place for me since it really did usher in this generation of game consoles for me, introducing me to the high definition graphics, excellent use of surround sounds, fun gameplay and also experiencing what online gaming could be like on consoles now.

I am not going to lie - I have been spending a lot of time on this game. I already have two friends asking to borrow it. My son and I logged quite a bit of time one weekend doing the campaign mode together. I'm going to come out and say that this was my favorite Gears game yet, and if you have been following along with my other reviews over the last week, you'll see I looked at the first two pretty favorably as well. Here's the details:

Graphics - 9:

There is this really oppressive atmosphere that just bleeds into the entire game. The colors are still varied (unlike the reports that Resistance 3 for the PS3 was very brown and muddied at times), but the world of Sera is a dark, gritty place. Buildings are falling into decay. The Stranded (survivors) are a ragtag group of people with tattered clothing and scars. There's virtually no slowdown in any of my gameplay, and that goes for online and offline. The engine does not show pop in, tearing, things like that. Is it perfect? No. But it's still really impressive.

Sound & Music - 10:

The voice acting is really solid, and it's everywhere. Obviously some is better than others, but the principle actors do a good job though, and some of the banter and dialog is not only believable but just add a sense of 'life' to the entire game, which is impressive given the dismal surroundings of the storyline. Beyond that though, this is a game where the gunfire and explosions just sound great from top to bottom. I cranked this game up in my living room with the surround sound, and it felt like my system was getting a great workout from it, where the bass would cause my floor and sofa to shake with explosions and gunfire could be heard coming accurately from different directions.

On top of all of that, the musical score was quite good, helping to set and maintain the tone of the game throughout many of its major scenes. A footnote on the music front was when I was playing online and "Mad World" began to play as a piano instrumental. Kind of a cool nod to those of us who have been fans of the game since the beginning. Why? Because of this trailer for the original Gears of War that was very well-received, featuring this song playing over it in the background.

Gameplay - 9:

This is a third-person shooter, where taking cover is a major part of how you advance. It is a very different mechanic than those found in most first-person shooters like Call of Duty. I have one co-worker who is a huge fan of Call of Duty and Battlefield and has played through all of the Gears of War games, and did not enjoy them nearly as much. He could not really give a reason beyond saying that he just did not care for the style as much. I actually enjoy it quite a bit more, so there is definitely some preference at play here.

There are not a ton of innovations here, to be honest. If you played either of the first two Gears of War games, you know what to expect here. But there are some cool new weapons, the close-range combat feels a bit tighter than prior versions (maybe I'm just doing something different, but it seems like 'in close' my gun play handled a lot better in this version than the prior ones) and the way you to run in and 'stick' to cover is a bit smoother as well.

I still prefer the firefights to some of the mounted or vehicle sessions, but they did not annoy me nearly as much as in Gears of War 2. A couple of the sections were definitely tough, sometimes a bit unfairly so where you had an object that maybe was not 100% clear and you had to dodge some unkillable creature, for example, but these were far and few between and using the Left Button on the shoulder does a nice job of showing you your objective and teammate locations on the fly.

Intangibles - 9:

There's replay value to be had here. It is not a long game - you can beat it in a weekend but I think it takes longer to navigate than the Call of Duty games. There are several difficulty levels you can choose from. The campaign mode supports up to 4 player co-op, and you can have local or online players. My son and I did 2-player co-op and had an absolute blast with it. There are plenty of medals, achievements, online modes and campaign-mode collectibles to find as well, giving you reasons to go back in and play again.

The game modes range from story (including an 'arcade' variant), horde mode (a somewhat tactical you-versus waves of bad guys mode you can do solo or with friends), a beast mode (where you are on the other side of the coin - you are the monsters trying to infiltrate the human forts and kill them working against a timer - I liked this one, but it feels like a mode that requires multiple people - the timer is pretty harsh for just 1 or 2 players to get through), a fair number of unlockable skins for use when you play and it all works against a 'level' system that reminds me a bit more of Halo: Reach than Call of Duty in that it unlocks cosmetic things and not actual gear (that I've noticed yet anyway).

So close to a 10, maybe it is. I would have liked a slightly longer story mode, or even maybe some choices along the way that have cosmetic effects on the world around you, but I realize that this is not an RPG game. Just the same, you are part of this epic battle with tremendous stakes throughout, and the storyline is excellent

Overall - 9.25:

This is a game that is not meant for kids, but there are options to turn off the swearing and decrease the blood - but in honesty you're shooting people in the head and tearing them apart with chainsaws. It's not little-kid friendly, but I did find the options useful for playing with my son. With lots of modes and a well-made game all of the way around, it is hard for me not to recommend this title - especially if you liked the first two. That said? It is a different kind of animal than most of the 'shooters' out there, and as in the case of my one co-worker, it does not appeal to everyone. Also, the story could be a bit longer, but the key here was I simply had a lot of fun, and had a lot of fun with my son, and given the various game modes offered, I suspect we will keep having fun with it for the foreseeable future.

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