Gears of War 3
Epic have really outdone themselves this time. They have always managed to produce great games but there were little niggles in the first and second Gears titles that detracted from the overall experience. With the first game it was the sluggish response of the cover system. In Gears 2 they experimented with the multiplayer modes unsuccessfully with hordes up unsatisfied gamers returning to the multiplayer of the first game.
Gears of War 3 promised to be the best entry in the series and a fitting climax to the saga of Delta Squad as they fight to save the humans of Sera. Epic sought to fix the problems with the multiplayer by carrying out a very successful beta test while they brought every ounce performance from the Unreal Engine 3 to the overall experience.
The result does not disappoint. Gears of War 3 is breathtakingly beautiful. The desperate last stand has never looked so good. The finest details from hair to the ridges on the armour and the teeth on the Lancer's chainsaw bayonet are sharper and clearer than ever. The animation is smooth and the volume of enemies that can appear on screen at any one time is terrifyingly overwhelming at times.
At times the series has could be criticised for the controls feeling a bit sluggish especially in transitioning in and out of cover. The is was exceptionally apparent in the first game and while they improved this in Gears 2 it still wasn't quite what we'd want especially in a world which has the seamless cover systems in Deus Ex: Human Revolution and the still unmatched Rainbow Six Vegas cover system.
Epic has finally fixed this for Gears 3 allowing you to finally get in and out of cover with the speed required when taking on waves and waves of Locust and Lambent. The rest of the control system has also bee refined giving the best response of the whole series and really combining well with the visuals to make the game a joy to play.
Another thing that Epic has really stepped up on is in the narrative. The storylines in the first two, while being quite enjoyable are fairly flat and predictable in terms of what they offer. The kind of engagement you get with Marcus and his crew was always fairly minimal and the introduction of Carmine in Gears 2 even began to grate a little bit with his clumsy rookie behaviour.
In Gears 3 the narrative has come of age with some real emotional moments. Epic has managed to finally flesh out the major characters with some proper personality and you do feel much more invested in how their lives progress, for better of for worse. They've also managed to throw in a neat sprinkling of surprises to keep the cynics happy. It also rounds off the story neatly, tying up all the loose ends of the overall story arc in a natural way while leaving it open for a return to Sera in the future if Epic feel they want to come back. There are no complaints about the length of the single player either with a comfortable 15-20 hours of play in the single player depending on which difficulty mode you choose.
Gears 3 offers the additional option of playing through the campaign levels in arcade mode, either solo or co-operatively, getting scored for your performance and entered to the online leaderboards. This brings a bit of welcome re-play value to the campaign mode.
What people really want to know though is, have they fixed the multiplayer? Yes, they have. They have reverted to the comfort of the multiplayer of the first game with smooth matchmaking and a clever and fast brand of action. Multiplayer can also be played offline with bots to allow you to get in plenty of practice, with the added option of two-player local split-screen co-op and up to ten-player system link for some LAN party action. This is also available for Horde and Beast multiplayer modes as well.
Horde is fun, especially when you have a group of friends that gels well together. Taking on wave after wave of Locust and Lambent in a variety of different tactical locations is every bit as fun as chaining together a kill streak of headshots in Team Deathmatch. Beast is a little bit different but just as fun. Take on the role of your choice of Lambent or Locust creature in a timed and fatal game of hide and seek. To win the round simply kill all the humans on the level before the time runs out and you get thumped by the Hammer of Dawn.
It's hard to find fault with Gears of War 3. It is by far the best-looking game out on the Xbox 360, just pipping Crysis 2 to the post due to the fact that there are far less little glitches in the experience. The Unreal Engine 3 performs so well that it may even give Uncharted 3 more than a run for its money for best-looking game of the year. Epic has rounded out the game really nicely by fixing the multiplayer with their beta-test really paying off in terms of returning Gears to the forefront of online multiplayer experiences on Xbox Live.
Gears of War 3 is as close to perfection as we may see on the Xbox 360 with the single and multiplayer complementing each other effortlessly and a ridiculous amount of options for playing in single, co-op and competitive multiplayer modes. The other big releases this year will have to do something seriously special to beat Gears of War 3 to game of the year.