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Review: Gears of War 3 [Game On]

While Xbox Live might’ve termed it ‘The Most Anticipated Game of 2011′, that might be a bit of a stretch, I’d certainly been looking forward to it.  I very much enjoyed the first Gears of War and the follow up with the introduction of ‘Horde Mode’. The insistence on not straying too far from what worked kept the series close to my heart.  So how does the 3rd and ‘final’ entry in the series fair?  Read on.

*Warning: Skip this paragraph if you don’t want spoilers for Gears of War 1, 2, and 3*

Tons of trilogies in history have been a crap shoot. You’ve usually got a solid first entry and the 2nd and 3rd are anyone’s guess. So where does Gears 3 fall?  Is it Matrix Revolutions or Return of the Jedi? Honestly, it’s somewhere in between. Gears 1 was all about eradicating the locust horde in their home after detonating a light mass bomb and the sequel continued that competently with the locust retaliation through the sinking of human cities.  Gears 3 begins with a throwback dream sequence wherein Marcus is once again trying to save his father. While it certainly bridges the gap with its nostalgia, it also felt a bit tacked on somehow.  It’s one thing to tastefully reference a past battle for the fans to connect with and another to ask them to play through the same thing AGAIN. Thankfully it’s a brief sequence and the rest of the story progresses at a solid pace, as Marcus and Dom (noticeably more grizzled than their last outing) begin the battle once more, trying to unify the remaining and disparate colonies humanity has left.

While the story might dip in a few spots, the action is still as solid as ever.  Inclusion of the Retro Lancer is a fun new addition as well, even if it’s just a rename for a bayonet.  Enemies will flank you just as before and strategize with impressive tactics to take you out.  As usual, the 3rd person pop-and-stop action is intact, requiring you to use cover judiciously.  It’s a fairly lengthy endeavor, but one that’s worth the investment.  The action rarely lets up and when it does you still feel involved in the story.

Multiplayer has been dramatically improved. It wasn’t bad before, but it’s definitely been given the Call of Duty treatment with an improved leveling system and a crack-like progression system that keeps you running and gunning, racking up XP for nearly every conceivable violent action.  This can put some people off I realize, but personally I love it.  An IV drip of steady achievement is far more enticing than asking me to play 100 matches for an arbitrary payoff and unlocking new character models, weapon skins, and mutators remains enjoyable.

In addition to your standard death match and horde mode, a new Beast mode is made available that allows you to more truly step into the boots (er, slimy appendages?) of the locust.  It doesn’t hide its Left 4 Dead influence but hey, if you can replicate that experience flawlessly (and shamelessly) you can depend on me to enjoy it as such.  It’s not totally unique but it sure is fun and the experience of being rewarded for racking up more human kills is a blast.

Technically the game continues to impress as well, keeping its characteristic look intact while also bringing a fresh coat of paint.  Historically, the Gears series had often been used as an example of bland environments not because of the architecture but the consistent brown, gray, and black color schemes. Gears 3 rectifies this by offering up some lush island locales that also carry over to the multiplayer maps.  There are still occasional graphics hiccups but it’s nothing too jarring.

In the end, Gears is still as solid as ever.  The characters aren’t always memorable and the plot can get a bit ho-hum, but if you’re looking for fast, frenetic action with blood by the gallons, Gears 3 is still one of the best games in town.

Final score: 8 out of 10.

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