The leap in overall scale from the first Gears of War game to the second was pretty substantial, and a jump of a similar distance has been made from the second game to the third. This was pretty much to be expected (given the stratospherically high budget) but the predictability of the third game’s awe-inspiring scope has been matched by a bevy of astute new additions that do a great job of differentiating it from its predecessors; both in the campaign and the multiplayer.
The plot couldn’t possibly be more straightforward. After constructing an airborne metropolis in the wake of a planet-wide assault by an infected leviathan (shades of Epic’s Bulletstorm here) Marcus Fenix and company embark upon a dangerous rescue mission in the immediate aftermath – to rescue Marcus’ kidnapped father. It’s sure to be about as emotionally engaging as Dom’s search for his wife was last time (e.g. not very) but as an engine to drive the incessant carnage, it’s pretty hard to fault.
One minor narrative problem that has plagued the series since day one has been cunningly resolved. Rather than constantly following the story of Marcus and Dom, Gears of War 3 also gives some significant game time to Baird and the effervescent Cole train. Previously, when the two pairs parted company you’d always follow Marcus and Dom, but this time a Pulp Fiction-style flashback structure has been employed, which gives the rambunctious secondary duo some much-deserved time under the spotlight.
During a gigantic boss battle that takes place on the surface of a collapsing freeway, Marcus and Dom’s attempts to pacify a colossal slithering bug appear as if they’re about to take a sharp turn towards failure; until a vat of kamikaze tickers is tipped over an overhanging bridge and the slimy hellion is finished off in customarily spectacular fashion. This sequence is then superseded by a title card that reads “Five minutes before” and you’re thrust straight into the boots of Baird and Cole, who are tasked with actioning the very incident that you’ve just witnessed taking place.
This expands the sense that the Gears are actually a team – rather than a renegade army of two who tackle all of the biggest problems themselves – and it gives the narrative a refreshingly unorthodox kick. Epic also promised that some of Gears 3’s most bombastic (and important) set-pieces are going to actually be led by Baird and Cole, and that the new, much more playful narrative structure is going to form the backbone of the entire experience.
Silverbacks are the new pilot-able mech droids that may seem like a bit of a me-too inclusion – similar contraptions have recently appeared in everything from Lost Planet 2 to Vanquish to Red Faction: Armageddon, after all – but they can also be used as (sometimes very valuable) pieces of moveable cover. A Vulcan chain-gun was also unveiled, and hopefully it isn’t restricted to an appearance in the campaign; a co-op weapon through and through, it’ll keep pumping lead for as long as your teammate continues to keep loading ammo into it.
We also got a look at the new Beast co-op mode, which has already been described as a mirror image of Horde. It’s actually much more complex than that description makes it sound, and it appeals primarily to the score-attack compulsion of most shooter fans; but co-operation is every bit as imperative as it was in Horde. Choosing the right creature at the right time is very important; some are better at melee combat and some are more effective from a distance, but the former will be rendered useless if fortifications haven’t already been broken down by other teammates. Just about every cretinous being that has ever appeared in a Gears game is playable in Beast, including Tickers and Corpsers, and before battle commences you’re shown enemy weapon loadouts, and are able to coordinate your attack accordingly.
Because it’s as huge as it is, it’s daft to assume that this third instalment will mark the end of the Gears saga, but as a cap to this particular story arc it’s looking every bit as comprehensive as expected. A bigger and immeasurably more inventive campaign mode, coupled with an innovative and gripping multiplayer component. What else do you need?
Gears of War 3 is currently due for release on Xbox 360 on Tuesday September 20th, 2011.
Watch the Gears of War 3 trailer here: