I’ve followed Gears of War since our behind-closed-doors video of the original game at E3 hobbled a previous Webhost. I scored the first game a 90% begrudgingly, noting its outstanding technical merits but bemoaning its missed opportunity to capitalize on what could’ve been a great plot. Fast-forward to Gears of War 3, and not a whole heck of a lot has changed. The graphics and audio are second to none, the stop-and-pop gameplay is well executed, the gore drips from the TV screen, and the story still takes a backseat to the action. Frankly, I’d hoped for a bit more evolution.
Gears of War 3 is the last game in the franchise, so it sews up quite a few loose ends. Namely, what fate befell Marcus’ dad, what’s up with Imulsion, and whether humanity survives these final dark days. As in the first game, there’s all sorts of plot-development potential, but as in the original, Gears of War 3 fails to deliver a knockout blow. That’s not to say Epic doesn’t deliver the end result, but the character development falls flat, something that wouldn’t be a disappointment in an action game with less plot potential.
The exception to all this, the one point where Epic drills “character development,” is an early sequence in which Cole Train reminisces about his life as an All-Star ball player. While the gamer controls Cole through a dream-like flashback world, the Cole character rushes through multiple non-dream enemies dishing out the pain. It’s a perfect representation of a man staring his life and mortality in the face, and it’s executed flawlessly. Unfortunately, it’s one of a very small handful of moments in Gears of War 3 that actually resonate beyond “take cover now!”
To be fair, Gears of War 3 doesn’t do anything wrong compared to the previous two games, but it doesn’t evolve much either. Yeah, I understand the whole “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” thing, and in the risk-averse world of game publishing, it was probably a bit overzealous to hope Epic and Microsoft would deviate from their all-action course. But I can’t help but get the feeling — as I did with Halo 3 — that this is the same basic experience with a new digit after the title.
Gears of War 3 does make great use of cover-dependent gunplay. Its weapon diversity does affect how you attack an obstacle or multiplayer map. Yet the missions and levels somehow feel more linear than in any previous outing, and in several cases they seem to include more backtracking. It’s nowhere near the Halo Library level, but — dare I say it? — I actually got bored a few times. Active reloading, taking cover and weapon-swapping is entertaining, but you can only do so much of that in the same basic “hallways” before your mind wanders. When I found my mind wandering to Sega’s Captain America, I knew something was amiss.
Gears of War 3 does spice up the gameplay at times, predominantly through the use of some clever on-rails combat. You can sort of make your own spice, too, by changing-up battle tactics and weapons, but creating your own challenge seems a bit weak for a franchise of this caliber. On more than one occasion, I actually thought Gears of War 3 had been succeeding and selling based on its name rather than its actual merits.
Before fanboys start sending hate mail based on that comment, I want to reiterate that I have nothing against Gears of War 3. As stated above, the gameplay’s polished, the graphics are sharper and have better lighting than ever before, and the multiplayer modes are both numerous and enjoyable. It’s just that it all feels a bit repetitive at times, a fate that’s not befallen a Gears game in the past, which makes me wonder whether it’s due to some fault of the game or just franchise fatigue. Had there been more focus on the narrative, on finally delivering the plot points I craved in the first game, I might have been able to overlook the linearity and lack of evolution. But it doesn’t, so I can’t and won’t. Gears of War 3 is a solid game and likely worthy of the praise it’s received. I just happen to think it falls a bit flat.
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360 (platform exclusive)