Review of Gears of War 3

Gears of War 3 is: "a stark reminder that you should not be playing campaign mode if you want something fun and different."

Gears of War is fun. When we say that, we are not talking about any particular iteration of Gears of War, but rather the idea Gears of War is fun. Gears of War, not as a game, but as a concept, is intriguing. In an introduction to one of the Gears of War games, one of the makers of the game explored his recollections of wondering how a game about taking cover could be made into something engaging. We may be a minority, but we never really liked games where hiding and taking cover was the way to get to the end of a game.

Gears of War changed our minds about these types of games. It's not that we think that hiding from the enemy is A Good Thing, but rather doing it the way that Gears of War suggests is an aspect that makes a game more interesting. Unfortunately, though, as revolutionary and iconic as Gears of War games had become, there is only so much that you can sit through and still claim to be having fun. Gears of War 3 takes the concept of more-of-the-same to such an extent that the only reason to play the game is to see the end of "the story". Harcore fans of the series may disagree with us here, but the story is nothing more than a thin layer of polish to give players something to think about. It gives players a sense that murdering hordes of things that the game suggests is trying to kill you has a meaning. The story, no matter how inconsequential, is only there to keep the player from wondering, "why am I doing this?".

We didn't really care about the story. We found the story quite lame, but that may be partially due to the fact that we had long forgotten the pieces of the story that comprise the previous two Gears of War games. Perhaps we really didn't grasp the entirety of the implications of the previous games. Perhaps we just wanted to shoot things and failed to give a fuck about the story. We don't know. But the story in this game is supposedly a wrap-up of the Gears of War saga. Some gamers are really in to this saga. We're sure this game was highly anticipated, not because is wrests cold, hard cash from the pockets of players that Already Played This Damn Game, but because it brings closure to the pieces of the saga that the game presented to us. Hardcore fans of this series will praise the story as if it is something that contributes to some of the greatest literary achievements. Those of us that have a clue know that this story is niether literary, nor much of an achievement.

In this third iteration, it was for very specific reasons that we chose not to give a fuck about the story. The story, presented to us over the shoulder of a gun toting, steroid infused maniac over the course of four years isn't easily followable. Unless you are a gamer that cares more about Marcus Fenix than you do playing a good game, the story isn't the point. The story really does not matter. When we first got our XBox 360, the first game we got was Gears of War 2. We systematically murdered scary looking monsters with various weapons until we finished Gears of War 2. We enjoyed the game. We talked about the game to other people that had played the game. Soon enough, we were questioned about whether or not we had played the first Gears of War. That inquiry soon stemmed into converstations about how it was Simply Wrong to play Gears of War 2 without playing the original Gears of War. This is when we first realized that the story that fans of the series held in such high esteem was nothing more than something to prevent the question of "why am I doing this?". At this time, we knew that the story was not the point. These gamers that we had talked to were completely missing the point of the $60 that they spent on entertainment. They did not seem to understand that the HGH-addicted characters with machine guns killing innumerable hordes were the point; that was the entertainment value that they purchased. It wasn't the the story that they were engaged in, for the story isn't engaging at all.

Playing Gears of War 2 was not problematic as far as following the story goes. But our friend insisted that we should play the original Gears of War in order to get a full grasp of what was going on with the story. As it turns out, one does not need to play Gears of War in order to understand and enjoy Gears of War 2. Outside of being More Gears of War, playing the original game was largely a waste of time. We found no deeper understanding of what was going on from the first game. We did not come to any higher understanding of why we had to shoot so many things until we got to the end of the game from the first Gears of War than we did just playing Gears of War 2. In came Gears of War 3, and we were quite confident that we could play the game and safely forget the background story. We were comfortable with the fact that not giving a shit about what the entire saga was about was okay.

Gears of War 3 cements the idea that The Story Doesn't Matter into our heads. If you are going to have a major character in the saga die, why have that character replaced with a nondescript character that wasn't a major player in the saga? Even though the characters utilize the same controls and use the same weapons (further solidifying the idea that player characters really have no meaning regardless of the story; they are just interchangeable avatars), the new character that replaces the late major character is unacceptable. Gears of War 3 takes a page straight out of Saint's Row and inserts an African-American character with corn rolls that quips about how "shit is getting 'real'". This was borderline embarrassing, especially since we were player 2. Getting stuck with this character as player 1 got to be The Main Character for the last six hours while guzzling a Red Bull for each time that Marcus Fenix said "shoot it in the face" was a letdown. Subjected to an abrupt change in the story with a major character dying and being replaced with a nobody-character, I wished that the player characters in the television would level thier weapons at my face and pull the trigger.

If you have ever played any Gears of War game, you will know how to play Gears of War 3 being that nothing has changed as far as the controls are concerned. If you have never played a Gears of War game, then you will either pick up the conrols quickly, or you will cower back into the recesses of non-video-games like Wii Sports and Wii Fit where knowing how to play real video games does not apply. Taking cover is largely the same, but there are slight changes to what is safe and what isn't safe to hide behind. Some objects that characters can hide behind are destructible, thereby no longer providing cover. It's not as prolific as the cover in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 where pretty much any object will wear away and no longer provide cover. And it's not like Dead Space where anything you can duck behind is indestructible by default. It's a happy medium between Battefield 3 where some cover works and some doesn't and Resident Evil, where you don't have to take cover being that enemies are not only slow, but also don't have guns.

Gears of War 3, breaking from it's tradition of branching out from it's cousin games like Resident Evil and Dead Space, involves zompeople in it's host of enemies. You still have your familiar enemies from the first couple of games, and there are still the enemies that acted as "mini bosses" in the prior two games (they now appear about as often as regular enemies in this game, though). However, the yellow shit that started infecting some of the enemies in the second game has now spread to humans. We didn't find this as a particularly compelling turn of events, for when they show up, you just indiscriminately mow them down without thinking about it, like you did thousands of other enemies already. No one important to the story is infected; it's just the game lets you know what's going on, and that your job is to murder the infected humans that attack you and keep moving. The zombies are unarmed, they are very easy to kill, and they don't contribute much to the overall feel of the game. In a departure from the traditional zombies in other games, they don't move in slow, deliberate steps, moaning as they diligently stagger toward your character. Instead, they dart toward the player character running and making a cackling sound. They move much faster than the average enemy, and the way they are depicted as yellow-accented, charred shells of human beings turns out to be quite comical. Unlike the tougher enemies that almost demand that you have a Boom Cannon or Hammer of Dawn to kill it, these zombie-like enemies can't be taken seriously.

The boss fights are largely the same as in the other games, and they do nothing notable worth talking at length about since they do nothing to add or subtract from the overall game experience. We fought a spider that we thought we already killed in a previous game, and we fought some sea creature that was strikingly similar to another sea creature that we killed in a previous game. We killed the very familiar sea creature in a strikingly similar manner; by shooting it in the eyes, then shooting it about it's neck and face. We killed the spider by shooting it in the eyes as well. As for the enemies that we had never seen before, they involved using the exact same concepts from the other two games to defeat them, which is shooting them in the face. The game even goes as far as to give players clues that this is what you have to do; first, there will be something glowing yellow somewhere about where the monsters' face is. Secondly, Marcus Fenix will exclaim, "Shoot it in the face!" whenever a boss battle starts. From there, players empty 420-round-clip after 420-round-clip into the creature's face until it dies. That's it; moving on.

The overall flow of the game was kind of a step backwards. In the first two games, you get right into the meat of what you would be doing almost for the entirety of the rest of the game. In the first Gears of War, you are broken out of jail, given some armor and a weapon, and you embark on the beginning of a saga. In Gears of War 2, you enter a hospital and all of a sudden it's being stormed by enemies wanting to kill you. The problem with Gears of War 3 is that it started the game with too heavy-handedly with the epicness. You start the game, shoot a few enemies, then you are in a mech, kill a few more enemies, then, all too abruptly, you are Cole and Baird, who soon embark on an uninteresting and tedious mission of delivering food, in which one character mans the mech while the other provides covering fire. In the previous two games, things like this didn't happen until middle to late game. Ignoring the story that this game would have liked to presented to us, it would have been an improvement if the first part of the game took place later on in the game. As is, the game seems to start out slower than what we are used to. From the previous two games, we see that it's okay to have slower parts of a game such as this; the first two contained slower parts that some even condemned to being boring. Other games in this genre, too, like Resident Evil and Silent Hill are pretty slow all the way through the game. For Gears of War, though, this isn't what's expected right at the beginning. It casts a somewhat harmful shadow on the game at the very start of it.

Another, somewhat lesser, aspect of the flow of Gears of War 3 is the length of the game. Of course, we know that this is the final chapter of this saga, and far be it from the producers of the game to leave players wanting yet more Gears of War once the story came to a close. With this understanding, Gears of War 3 boasted the longest campaign of the series. On the surface, this seems like a very good thing. Especially when most complaints about games stem from the length of the campaign (I hear this most about Modern Warfare games), thereby relegating players to completely ignoring the campaign and just playing online multiplayer. We thought Gears of War 3 would oppose this stigma, but it turned out to be just the opposite. Gears of War 3 isn't repetitive, like what has been said about Dead Space. The the problem is that instead of repetitiveness plaguing the campaign, it's the utterly predictable misfortune that is clearly used to increase the length of the game. Of course, being a tale to be told, the protaganists going through bouts of misfortune is a necessary component. But as the story unfolds, the misfortunes move from "oh, no", to "not again", to "of course I knew Something Bad was about to happen". More clearly, as players think they are accomplishing some goal, something always goes wrong. Always. Instead of the story just moving along, something happens to protagonists that prolongs what they were trying to accomplish.

The problem with that is that these misfortunes do nothing to contribute to the overarching ideas that the game is trying to convey, but rather they give players shrewd and valueless reasons to simply play more Gears of War. They go without adding much meaning or reasoning to continuing on other than it's something that you have to do to move on. Mishaps and unforeseen circumstances aren't cleverly woven into the fabric of the story, but rather sloppily strewn about. It sucks some of the drive for players to see things through. Soon enough, players can predict that as they get close to accomplishing an initial goal, something will inevitably go wrong, and moving on the the next major goal of the game will be prolonged. The length of the game in and of itself isn't the problem, but the obvious dragging out of the game through something always going wrong can prove tiresome after a while. Imagine a Mario game where you started in the final castle that contained the princess, but the only things keeping you from killing Bowser and saving her was a very long series of unfortunate events. Players would actually prefer to play through levels knowing that the princess isn't in the castle at the end of the world. Finding that the princess isn't in the castle isn't a setback that draws out the game in this situation because even in the face of not saving Peach, we know that we are moving on to something else; another world. Additionally, players had already been conditioned within a few hours of playing the first Mario to already know that the Princess ins't in a single castle until the very last world. With Gears of War 3, these predictable misfortunes become such in the course of a few hours, and instead of being presented with a new world, we are made to retrace steps, find alternate routes, and other tedious things that the game makers should have just had us do in the first place instead of having to go back and do them.

With all of this going on, players are introduced to a host of playable characters; the characters from the previous games, the two chicks, and the guy with corn rows that replaces the important character that had died earlier. With all of the dragging out of the game through highly predictable problems arising, we came to the realization that even with the longer campaign, even with the additional playable characters in the campaign, the best use of this interactive piece of software inside the XBox 360 is online multiplayer. The combination of all the new faces, all the weapons new and old, and the customizations, downloadable content, and other variations suggested that Gears of War 3 is a stark reminder that you should not be playing campaign mode if you want something fun and different. Playing through the campain mode wasn't fun enough, challenging enough, or different enough to warrant the notariety of the previous games. Perhaps a beefed up Horde mode and the combinations of new characters, enemies, and downloadable content will make this game worth it's purchase price and its namesake. Being that these thoughts of multiplayer online mode is what the main draw of this game is supposed to be occured to us while playing the offline campain mode says a lot.

Though I don't know what.

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