The sequel to 2006's Gears of War and 2008's Gears of War 2 has certainly received its share of praise and criticism. Everything from the series' over-the-top chainsaw-equipped assault rifles to the rather hamfisted, faux-military dialogue has inspired a quiet, but notable, backlash against what has been referred to as the ultimate "dude bro" game. But no matter how you feel about the story and its characters, there's no arguing that it's one of the most influential franchises exclusive to the Xbox 360.
The Gears community played a large part in shaping the game that eventually released in September. From April 25 to May 15 of the same year, franchise creator Epic Games allowed players to participate in a Beta version of the game's popular competitive multiplayer. Players not too overwhelmed by the new ordnance and character skins available were able to contribute to eventually cementing the final version of the multiplayer that released later that year.
Gears of War began, for many, as a simple introduction to the war-torn world of Sera and the war-torn minds of her inhabitants. A story focused heavily on the brotherhood forged by the dire requisites of evading genocide, spruced up by a fun, difficult, but essentially unbalanced competitive multiplayer. Gears of War 3 closes the tale by introducing some of the most rewarding cover-based shooter gameplay on the market, and drawing a clear line between what it means to be monstrous, and what it means to be human.
This review is based off of hundreds of hours of combined campaign and multiplayer play. VideoGameInfo.com had access to all available DLC and Versus modes while writing the review. Note: While no writing contains explicit spoilers for plot details, some videos from the middle and later areas of the campaign may spoil non-essential elements of the plot for deductive players.
Gears of War 3 is a shooter, and plays as one. While there's plenty of scripted dialogue, cinematic cutscenes, and extra goodies thrown in, the majority of what you'll be doing is shooting. An awful lot of shooting.
2006's Gears of War was one of the first shooters to feature cover-based combat as such a primary element of the game, and of course, Gears of War 3 plays in much the same fashion. Every section of the campaign where combat takes place relies heavily on the use of strategically placed cover areas, to allow you and your teammates the opportunity to strategically position yourself against the onslaught of the Horde. And of course, multiplayer wouldn't be the same without the heavy use of cover and cover-based movement, i.e. wall bouncing (more on that later).
The Cover System
As important as shooting your enemy is knowing how to get into position to do so. No matter which mode you're playing--Campaign, Execution, Team Deathmatch, or Horde--your character of choice is equipped with a Tac-Com (tactical communications headset) that allows them to check the position of their squadmates.
Once you know where your team is, it's important to take a sensible position to maximize the chance for catching the enemy in multiple crossfire. Since you can see all of your teammates on the Tac-Com (activated by holding LB), you can determine areas of the battlefield (be it the streets of a city or the deck of a naval vessel) where enemies might approach unhindered.
But sometimes, you've just gotta move from cover to cover, and Gears' control scheme makes this very intuitive and easy to do. When you find yourself at the mercy of a few Boomshot-wielding Boomers, or a mortar team that's more accurate than usual, the best choice is often to relocate yourself--either by falling back, or by flanking around outside of the enemies' line of sight.
Pressing the A button will initiate a roll, if you are standing idly. You can roll in 8 directions (though cardinal direction only rolling can be toggled in the Options menu). Holding the A button will initiate a Roadie Run, which continues indefinitely until the button is released, or until you slide into cover. It's important to remember that you can't fire while roadie running, and it's very hard to make sharp turns.
If you're near a wall, be it a full-scale building wall, or one of the many (conveniently placed) chest-high walls found on all campaign and multiplayer maps, pressing towards it while pressing A will slide you into cover. You can then blind fire around corners, over the top, or sit up and manually aim; either way, it's a much better way to fire your weapon of choice at the enemy than if you were to stand right out in the open. You can detach from cover by moving away from the wall you're stuck to; you can also quickly move between adjacent points of cover, and even leap over the top of a chest high wall to deliver a stunning kick to the unsuspecting enemy who was hiding on the other side.
It's very important to learn the ins and outs of cover; not so much during the Campaign, where AI enemies are fairly predictable, but it's a must for any competitive multiplayer mode you play. The act of "wall bouncing," or moving rapidly and strategically between your opponent and the surrounding cover, is one of the most difficult acts of shooter expertise out of any FPS or OTS (over-the-shoulder) shooter on the market.
Gears of War 3 is a squad-based shooter. In a nutshell, that means if you try to go all John Rambo on your enemy, be they AI or a group of real players over Xbox Live, you're going to get yourself killed pretty quickly. The Gears games have always demanded working together--hence their insistence on co-op campaigns through all three games.
This is especially important if you're playing with other real players, either within the game's 4-player co-op campaign, in Horde mode, the new Beast mode, or any multiplayer mode. It's a very good idea to start an Xbox Live party and talk with your teammates; in our experience, letting someone know when an enemy is charging their backside with a fully-loaded shotgun is a good thing. You can plan weapon pick-ups to defend, tactical choke points, strategic grenade traps--the list goes on.
But even if you don't have an Xbox headset, or are playing by yourself, there are still ways to contribute to overall battlefield cohesion. Your AI squadmates in campaign can be directed to attack a specific enemy if you "mark" them. Marking is a new feature for Gears of War 3 that consists of clicking the left analog stick to highlight an enemy. It can also be used to mark specific weapon or ammo drops, to direct the team's awareness, or maybe just call dibs.
Unlike a lot of shooters out there, the Gears series allows players a second chance when they get shot too much. If you're mantling a wall and get shot by a nearby Locust Drone full on in the face, you'll likely enter a state called "down but not out" (DBNO). While DBNO, you'll slowly bleed out, while having the ability to crawl away from opponents and into cover. You're susceptible to gunfire, but any teammate with the good manners to do so can restore you to full health by simply standing near you and pressing the X button. Want to be a good team player? Revive your squadmates! That's an order, soldier.
Gears of War 3 has added some very helpful features to the squad formula. Namely, weapon swapping and ammo trading. Players can now opt to swap weapons with another player on their team; if you're just not hitting your targets with the Torque Bow, trade it to a friend for her shotgun and go get up close and personal. Players can also give ammunition to other players; if you've both got a Lancer, and one of you is a little too trigger happy, fear not! The other can pump a few rounds your way.
Mostly, being a good team player involves working together, watching your Tac-Com, marking enemies, and reviving your buddies. But one tip we'd also like to offer is this: don't steal kills. When one of your teammates "downs" an enemy (assuming they aren't AI teammates), let them have their kill. This is a good way to make friends in an online match. You can probably deduce a good way to make enemies.
The Reload System
Another staple element of the Gears of War series is its timed reloading system. Called an "Active Reload," the reload system rewards players for timing their weapon reloads around a timing unique to the weapon in question. This system is still in full force in Gears of War 3, with a few changes.
After you've fired a few bullets from your Lancer, you can reload a new clip by clicking RB. This will also happen automatically if you fire off a full clip without reloading first. When you click RB, a bar will start to slide over a black area with a smaller white area located at some point along the line. Clicking RB again anywhere in the white area will give you an Active reload, which reloads faster than letting the weapon reload manually. Within this small white area is an even tinier white line which, if caught during an active reload, will initiate a "Perfect" reload, which not only reloads the gun faster, it gives most weapons a boost in damage for a short time.
It's vital to learn this technique to maximize your damage output; not so much for Campaign mode (unless you're playing on Insane), but definitely for competitive, 5-on-5 multiplayer games. Gears of War 3 has made the technique a little more challenging than the previous two titles, however. Now, each weapon has its own unique "perfect" sweet spot, and learning the perfect reload for each weapon takes time and practice, practice, practice.
Oh, and did we mention that missing an active reload attempt will jam your gun? Because it will. And you don't want to do that, no sir.
While most of the weapons in Gears of War 3 have been carried over from Gears of War 2, there are a number of additional pieces of ordnance at your disposal, and each weapon has been tweaked in subtle ways to bring out its unique qualities while keeping the selection more or less balanced.
First off, the rifles. Each player has three starter rifles to choose from this time around. The Lancer, The Hammerburst, and the Retro Lancer. Each has pros and cons, and works a little differently. Second, instead of defaulting to the Gnasher Shotgun, players can now opt to use the Sawed-Off Shotgun (a weapon which has purportedly been put in the game to make it easier for newbies to get kills). There are numerous styles of pistols, various bolo grenades, the Longshot sniper, the Boomshot RPG, the Torque Bow... suffice to say, Gears of War 3 has lots of weaponry that's entirely unique to the series. We aren't going to detail all of them here, however.
Long story short, before you fire a weapon you haven't used before, do yourself a favor and read the tutorial pop-up. To maximize your performance, be it during Campaign mode, or any of the game's various other modes, it's important to learn not only how to use a particular weapon, but when it is best. You don't want to try to score a sniper headshot on someone who's five feet from you, for example. Each weapon has certain distances that maximize its effectiveness; likewise, most have particular melee attributes as well. Finally, as we said, every weapon has a unique "sweet spot" for its perfect reload, and the only way to learn is to keep using it.
Gears is known for the above average difficulty offered by its combat mechanics, and learning mechanics that dictate the best time/way to take aim and fire is just as important as the aiming (and the firing).
Gears of War 3 has a very customizable, flexible control scheme, but the basics are (thankfully) fairly simple.
On the standard Xbox 360 controller, the left analog stick will move your character. Tilting a little will initiate an ambling walk, and pressing with full force will send your character into a slow jog. Clicking the left analog stick while aiming at an enemy/weapon will mark/tag it for your team.
The right analog stick determines where you're looking, and is essentially controlling the cursor at the center of the screen (just above your character's right shoulder). Clicking the right stick while in cover will cause you to stand/sit, as long as its contextually possible.
The A button is used to roll, roadie run, and enter cover. During Campaign mode, it also serves to sometimes operate certain context-sensitive plot elements.
The X button is used to pick up weapons, ammunition, operate most doors/buttons, and will also allow the player to pick up a downed enemy player as a "meat shield," meant for blocking incoming ordnance. Unlike previous titles, weapon/ammo pick-ups require holding the X button for a brief time rather than simply clicking it.
The B button is used to melee, rev the Lancer's chainsaw, charge with the Retro Lancer bayonet, or tag a grenade onto a surface/enemy.
The Y button doesn't really do anything full time. During the Campaign, it will focus your character on a "point of interest." During combat, Y is used to initiate weapon-specific executions if held, and the series' signature "curb stomp" execution if tapped.
LT aims, and RT fires. LB triggers Tac-Com, and RB reloads.
The directional pad selects one of your four weapons: primary (right), secondary (left), pistol (down), or grenade (up).
Some of the controls will change depending on context, such as when you [spoiler] the [spoiler] and [spoiler]. Aw yeah.
Gears of War 3 features very user-friendly controls. Your character's turn speed, turn speed while aiming, and turn speed while aiming and scoped (such as with the Longshot or Boltok pistol) can all be adjusted on a slider from 0-30. Essentially, you want to be quick enough to keep up with your enemies close range, but not so quick that you can't sight up on them when they're at a longer distance. This setting is really up to the individual, as everyone's estimation of "too quick" or "just right" is different.
Players can also access some alternate control schemes, such as mapping evade (A) and cover (also A) to different buttons; naturally, the X-axis and Y-axis can be inverted.
We feel that Gears of War 3 gives players enough options in control mechanics to entertain gamers who are very comfortable with shooters, as well as not being so difficult that newer players can't figure them out after a few rounds. They map well to the Xbox 360 controller (and they ought to).
Gears of War 3 features a huge slew of unlockables (player skins, weapon skins), campaign collectibles, ribbons, medals, and currently over 80 different achievements.
Ribbons are usually very basic to unlock, and can be awarded for any number of things: scoring three headshots in a row, being the player to die the most, or being the guy who sat in cover the longest. They award small amounts of XP, and multiple versions of the same ribbon can be earned per match.
Medals are a little more important. Medals are awarded based on what are usually very steep requirements. Each medal has four versions of itself to unlock: Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Onyx. For example, scoring 250 kills with a weapon will net you the silver medal for said weapon. Scoring 6,000 kills will usually get you to Onyx rank. Medals can be used to set your temporary player title (such as "Sharpshooter" or "COG Tease,") and will become the emblem beside your name during matchmaking content.
Throughout the Campaign (either the standard campaign or RAAM's Shadow, DLC), players will have the option to find and collect particular lore-based items, as well as the COG tags of their fallen soldiers. The Stats & Awards menu contains all of your unlocked skins, collectibles, ribbons, medals, and achievements. It will show you what you've unlocked, and what you need to do to unlock the rest.
Gears of War 3 gives players incentive to play through the Campaign numerous times, as some Medals are only awarded for multiple playthroughs or specific amounts of actions taken. Combined with the huge array of co-op/competitive multiplayer modes, we feel that the game's replay value is immensely high.
Gears of War 3 has, since September 2011, received a decent amount of paid/free extra content, mostly in the form of weapon skins and map packs. The Season Pass, announced in late August of 2011, is a feature that allows players, for about $30, to receive all DLC instantaneously upon release.
The first DLC to be released was the "Horde Command Pack," released shortly after the game on November 1st. It provided new character and weapon skins, as well as three new maps for Versus and Horde modes. It also added new "fortifications" to Horde mode.
The second DLC to be released was the "Versus Booster Map Pack," released on November 24th. It was free DLC that contained the map packs released in the Horde Command pack, as well as two new free maps.
The third DLC was "RAAM's Shadow," released on December 13th. It contained a new 4-player campaign, RAAM's Shadow, which takes a look at Zeta Squad and the actions of General RAAM, the Locust boss from Gears of War. It's about 4-6 hours of extra content, and added new collectibles and achievements.
The fourth DLC was "Fenix Rising," released on January 17th, 2012. It added five new maps, numerous new characters skins, and more importantly, a prestige system that allows players to "re-up" after Level 100 is reached.
The fifth and most recent DLC is "Forces of Nature," released on March 27. It added five new maps, as well as extra character and weapon skins.
Epic Games has stated that fan reception will determine if additional DLC is made available in the future. But with Gears of War: Judgment now in production, it's hard to say if there will be more DLC for Gears of War 3. In our opinion, there's ample content available, as some of the unlockable achievements, weapon skins, and character skins are extremely difficult to obtain.
The AI behavior in Gears of War 3 is definitely not its major selling point. While squad mates will act in a generally helpful manner, their actions are entirely context-based. Enemies are the same way; they will attempt to flank, but are usually fairly dull. During the campaign, Locust even seem to go out of their way to step on grenades or walk into mortar fire. Adjusting the difficulty (Casual, Normal, Hardcore, Insane) only determines how much damage you give and they receive, and will not "amp up" the AI of either squad mates or enemies.
While their in-game behavior certainly doesn't break the immersion, it's very easy to make repeat mistakes and not be punished for it.
The story in Gears of War 3 picks up two years after the sinking of Jacinto in Gears of War 2, with the interim being detailed within the third and fourth Gears novels. With the last bastion of human civilization sunk into the Locust hollows, Jacinto's remnant are forced to seek a new home.
The Locust are presumed defeated, and since the close of Gears 2, humanity has relocated to the remote island of Vectes in hope of rebuilding a new human civilization, one free of monsters; the first conflict arises when the humans who have already been living there decide they want their civilization free of government as well.
In many ways, the story in Gears of War 3 details the difficulties involved in a military-based society attempting to adjust to times of peace after over 80 years of war. But that little honeymoon is rather brief; the Coalition of Ordered Governments' concentrated efforts to get civilization running smoothly is derailed by the return of the remaining Locust, and an even bigger threat: the Lambent, mutated Locust infected by Sera's natural imulsion deposits.
The plot, dialogue, and narration in Gears of War 3 were all written by author Karen Traviss, who wrote four Gears of War novels prior to the release of Gears of War 3. For the most part, character interaction is fairly rudimentary from a squad-based, military point of view.
In general, the four core members of Delta Squad (Marcus Fenix, Dom Santiago, Augustus Cole, and Damon Baird) have always had a fairly comfortable back and forth, and fit into niche roles previously defined by a slew of movie and video game cliches: Marcus is brooding and serious, Dom is loyal and fiery, Baird is snarky and sarcastic, and Cole is optimistic and energetic. This was the formula found in Gears of War and cemented in Gears of War 2.
Gears of War 3 differentiates from this formula in a number of key ways. The most notable difference in tone comes about from the game's atmosphere and weather. In the first two games, locales were usually either a savannah of cracked asphalt and crumbling buildings, or hollowed-out tunnel networks replete with alien plant life. However, Gears of War 3 takes place during what art director Chris Perna has called "Sera's Summer." Delta Squad finds themselves on sunny, peace-promising islands with trees, plants, and for once, other human beings.
But probably the largest underlying theme in Gears 3 (and the third and fourth novels) comes about from Dom coping with the death of his wife, Maria. Without going into too many spoilers, Dom has been looking for his wife since Gears of War, but finds that he has lost her for good in Gears of War 2. Gears 3 hints at psychological dysfunction from the opening scene, and needless to say, Dom's state of mind plays an important role in the events that lead up to this mad world's conclusion.
On the surface, the writing and plot narration are not much improved upon from the first two games. While the plot is interesting if you know the lore (and even if you don't), there are periods where even experienced Gears vets might find themselves wondering what they're doing and why. Yet the interaction between the staple members of Delta Squad, and new characters such as Anya Stroud and Samantha Byrne, begins to break through the game's hyper-masculine surface to hint at the shattered minds and wounded souls hidden beneath the visage of ruthless soldiers.
Gears of War 3 is a video game, and is forced to strike a mutual balance between breathtaking cinematics, meaningful character interaction, and fresh gameplay. Sometimes, the writing can only garner so much of the attention.
We can say from personal experience that Karen Traviss has done an excellent job crafting and threshing out each character, and giving weight to bits of dialogue throughout the story that mean one thing on the surface of the game, but say much more with an invested knowledge of the characters' backgrounds (as told through her novels).
If you were simply playing through the game with no knowledge of the story prior nor of the characters involved, the story presented would seem just average, and you'd probably be more entertained by the array of weaponry at your disposal than the back and forth between characters.
We can promise casual fans will at least find entertainment. Those of you more invested in the canonized lore will find your thirst for answers quenched.
Plot & Player Choices
Gears of War 3 does not offer many campaign-based choices to the player. For the most part, your only options are which weapons to use, and where to take cover. While the game occasionally offers a choice of "this way" or "that way," it has absolutely no effect on the plot. There's just one ending; fortunately, it's a very satisfying one.
The Gears games are well-known for their cutting edge graphical design, and this definitely carries over to a sense of realism when dealing with characters. Sure, Marcus might look like a giant meathead, but his expressions are surprisingly well-detailed. Everything from bursts of anger furrowing a do-rag capped brow, to the vacant stare of eyes reflecting an inner loss too poignant for tears, is well translated for every character. That's cinematics, however.
In-game character behavior is not much different than it was in Gears of War 2. Your AI controlled squad mates will take cover, fire their weapons, and call out pre-scripted, action-based dialogue such as "Frag out!" when they throw a fragmentation bolo. Characters speak to one another between battles, with John DiMaggio, a.k.a. Bender from Futurama, doing an excellent job with Marcus' voice overs.
For the most part, the writing and dialogue are smooth, but the signature bulky Gears soldiers don't lend much credence to elegance of speech. Even still, they fit the world they inhabit.
The Gears of War games have always had excellent cinematics, and Gears of War 3 continues that tradition with some very breathtaking, poignant scenes that convey a sense of world scale while also communicating the exciting, blockbuster feel we've come to expect from the games. Every Act, and most chapters within an Act, will contain at least some kind of cinematic; the game is, of course, endcapped by long, impressive opening and closing cinematics. But rather than try to tell you about it, we thought it would be easier to just show you in the video above.
Graphics & Atmosphere Overview
The Gears of War games owe some of their fame, as a franchise, to their absolutely stunning graphical presentation. Gears of War 3's overly sized characters inhabit overly sized worlds that are chock full of goodies: lore-related collectibles, highly detailed character models, and stunning landscapes combine with an epic musical score and the visceral violence of the game's uniquely destructive weapons to lend a sense of weight and importance to every action you take.
Imagine: Shadows move realistically as you run through the stone-structured island town of Mercy, fleeing from Imulsion-infected human beings who flail and screech beneath the thundering orchestral score that wraps every squalling scene in a blanket of drama and urgency. The booming bass of the Gnasher Shotgun pops the zombie-like creature's head with the sound of an exploding melon, and the bodies fall with listless grace against the weathered stone of the courtyard you're hiding in.
When the dust of chaos has settled, the sun is still gently flowing over the fountains and plants that dot the ancient town. The breeze lazily moves the leaves of trees and your comrades' loose strands of hair. The pounding music has since fizzled down into silence, and a small whisp of smoke escapes the barrel of your shotgun as you reload--just in case.
While this kind of scene certainly isn't unique to Gears of War 3, the combination of its graphical prowess and start-again, stop-again battle music lends to it a sense of immersion and intensity that are, without a doubt, major selling points for the series.
The only real difference between the artistic direction presented by Gears of War 2 and the one found within Gears of War 3 is the locations that the story and multiplayer modes take you to, but it makes a big difference. In the past, the Gears games have always focused heavily on a sense of destitution. The cities and towns you battle through are usually dilapidated and falling apart, covered in snow or ash, and the sun never seems to shine. Gears of War 3 changes that feeling dramatically, by throwing the player into epic-scale battles and intense skirmishes that take place in mostly unique and visually appealing locations, such as the aforementioned sunlit island towns, or crystal blue underwater vistas navigated via submarine. The world seems to shine with a hope that is just barely out of reach for humanity, giving rise to nostalgia for the peaceful times of the past. You're no longer just fighting for survival, you're fighting for a new tomorrow. The planet of Sera is sick with imulsion, but the locations in Gears of War 3 present a healthy, vibrant feeling that foreshadows the end of war.
The graphics in Gears of War 3 are quite a bit improved from those in Gears of War 2. On a whole, it's one of the best looking games on the Xbox 360 console. While the shooter-based, point A to point B structure of the campaign and multiplayer maps doesn't have the same sprawling, exploratory nature as many open world titles, this also means the developers are free to perfectly craft and smooth out each location, making everything look its very best. Large-scale structures like the VNB (Vectes Naval Base) that you start the campaign on are grand in their size and realistic layout. But walking around a little and looking closely at things will reveal the care that went into designing vending machines stocked with expired food, resting Gears reading novels that are detailed down to the words on the page, and even the hairs that make up Marcus' less-than-stylish soul patch.
It's not Crysis 2 on a high-end gaming rig, but it's easily one of the best graphical experiences available on the Xbox 360 right now.
Like Gears of War 2, Gears of War 3 features music composed primarily by Steve Jablonsky. It's not much changed from the Gears 2 music; it's appropriate, but not terribly memorable. Many battle themes center around the original Gears of War series "germ," and the thematic finale against the Locust Queen features a revamped, epic concluding orchestral swell that's quite awesome, for lack of a better word. Perhaps the most notable music not composed for the game is the use of the song "Mad World," covered by Gary Jules. It's an easter egg that plays within one of the multiplayer maps, and is also used instrumentally during what is perhaps the most moving scene out of any game in the series.
Overall, the music is appropriate to the game, but is really only employed in times of crisis, and is lost beneath the squalor of battle.
The sound effects in Gears of War 3 are appropriate and leave a lasting impact. For the most part, you'll be hearing a lot of weapon sound effects. From the classic revving up of the Lancer's chainsaw bayonet, to the burrowing shuffling rattle of the new Digger gun sending its explosive projectile through the ground, the sound effects for guns are very well implemented, and very satisfying. Characters tend to yell, grunt, and exert the sounds of effort when running, being shot, or vaulting over/between various places of cover; overall, there is no lack of sound effects for any aspect of the game.
Multiplayer modes are a huge part of Gears of War 3. The entire Campaign (and the DLC campaign RAAM's Shadow) can be played in 2-player split-screen or 4-player Xbox Live co-op. On top of that, all Versus modes, Horde mode, and the new Beast mode allow for 5 players to play together co-operatively.
The competitive, ranked multiplayer modes are difficult to master, to put it mildly. Learning to navigate, take cover, watch the backs of your teammates, and reload properly are good places to start. But it's just as important to memorize maps and weapon spawns, and learn the "habits" of your live enemy players. Players are rewarded with an experience system, able to level from 1-100 and then to prestige and level again. Once you've prestiged, your numbered level color will change; it's first white, then green, then red, then blue.
Ribbons, medals, and all game modes (Campaign, Versus, Horde, Beast) will contribute to your overall experience gained. Numerous achievements, ribbons, and medals can only be unlocked by competing in some form of online, competitive multiplayer, but all modes can be played privately as well (and offline).
The draw of the cutting edge competitive multiplayer in Gears of War 3 is one reason it's become so popular; the game's unique reloading system, insistence on cover and squad mechanics, and entertainingly brutal weapons and execution finishers are just some of its claims to fame.
Veterans of Gears of War 2 will be glad to know that at least some headway has been made in making dedicated servers available to all players. While ranked matches take priority, plenty of standard matches are also hosted on dedicated servers. Dedicated server hosting gives equal latency to all players; when another player hosts a match, you can bet that 9 times out of 10, they're going to get a ton of kills and be very hard to kill.
Overall, the multiplayer experience in Gears of War 3--no matter the mode you play--is a huge improvement upon what was offered in Gears of War and Gears of War 2.
Horde mode and Beast mode can only be played cooperatively. Every other mode--even Campaign--is competitive to some degree.
In Gears of War 3, Versus players are allocated to teams of 5. 5 COG soldiers, and 5 Locust. The way the match plays out depends on which mode you're playing, but in general the idea is to kill the other team while staying alive. This isn't really anything new to the world of video games. All competitive modes (except for Campaign) feature standard and ranked versions.
Epic Games has added an "Arcade" option to the standard campaign experience. In this mode, players will play through the campaign, but will be scored for kills, ribbons, and medals. Players must work together to achieve the highest possible multiplier by continually killing enemies within a certain time limit. At the end of each chapter, players are ranked by score.
Versus mode is where most of the action is. Currently, there are two lists of Versus game types: Standard (available to all players) and Forces of Nature, which is only available of you've downloaded the Forces of Nature DLC (duh).
Co-op modes in Gears of War 3 include Campaign, Horde, and Beast. While players should be cooperating during competitive, team-based play, it is not a strictly live player versus computer mode.
The Campaign (discussed in more detail in the Storytelling section of the review) follows Marcus Fenix and the rest of Delta Squad. It can be played entirely in two-player split screen, or over Xbox live with 4 players filling the roles of the 4 squad mates. It's about 6-8 hours long, depending on how many collectibles you go for. The DLC campaign RAAM's Shadow follows the same formula, but is closer to 4-6 hours.
Horde mode made its first appearance in Gears of War 2, but it's been almost entirely revamped. The basic formula is still the same: you and four teammates hold your own against 50 waves of the Locust Horde. Every 10 waves, the Locust get a little more difficult; either with more health, better accuracy, or higher damage output. But new to the series is the "Boss Wave." Every 10 waves, a boss creature is sent out into the field (alongside regular grubs) to reign down chaos on your squad. Sometimes it's a Brumak. Sometimes, it's a couple of Gunkers. What are Gunkers, you ask? We'd rather not elaborate...
Horde players can swap weapons and ammo, which must now be paid for when picked up from standard map locations. Players start with $1000, and gain money based on their points and kills. Smart teams can also obtain extra cash by completing certain objectives, such as getting 7 headshots in one wave. Money is very useful; not only does it allow you to by more ammo for your favorite guns, it's used to buy fortification upgrades. The Horde map features a series of "command posts," which (once activated) allow the players to use their funds to buy razor wire fences, decoy dummies, automatic and manual turrets, and even the Silverback Mech. Each "category" of base defense is leveled with the player. Caltrops become razor wire, then lazer gates, etc. There are 8 levels per category, and (as of the FoN DLC) 6 categories. Horde mode is a huge, involved game mode now, and it'll take your best effort and most stringent teamwork to topple all 50 waves.
New for Gears of War 3 is the Locust-focused Beast mode. In Beast, up to 5 players take on roles as Locust creatures to defeat AI COG opponents. The main challenge here is to destroy as many people and things as possible, as quickly as possible. There are 12 waves total, but each must be completed in a very brief time limit. Players can finally find out what it's like to scurry around as the explosive Ticker, or hide smug behind a Boomshield as the grenade-flail swinging Mauler. Destroying enemy fortifications and enemies themselves will add points, which slowly unlocks higher tiers of stronger Locust. Once you've gained enough spending cash to jump into the oversized shoes of the Berzerker, it's lights out for any COG who stand in your way.
The co-op modes in Gears of War 3 are now a viable option, and just as involved and threshed out, as the competitive versus modes. Horde is better than ever, and Beast is a great way to enjoy the game in shorter periods of time.
There are 4 categories of game mode in Gears of War 3: Campaign, Versus, Horde, and Beast. We've gone over Campaign, Horde, and Beast. The available Versus modes are a little more involved, but the basic idea behind them all is generally the same: two teams of 5, competing to win.
Standard Versus modes include:
Team Deathmatch [Quick or Ranked]: Each team of 5 has 15 lives; players respawn until all lives are depleted. The first team to win 2 rounds wins the match.
Warzone [Quick or Ranked]: Players have 1 life each. The first team to win 5 rounds wins the match.
Execution [Quick or Ranked]: Players have 1 life each. Enemy players must be executed (not shot from a distance). The first team to win 5 rounds wins the match.
Capture the Leader [Quick or Ranked]: Players must capture (meatshield) the enemy leader for a set time while protecting their own leader. The first team to win 3 rounds wins the match.
King of the Hill [Quick or Ranked]: Players must capture and hold key areas of the map for a long enough period of time. The first team to win 2 rounds wins the match.
Wingman [Quick or Ranked]: 4 teams of 2 players each fight to eliminate the other teams. The first 2-person team to 15 points win the match.
TDM No DLC [Quick or Ranked]: Team Deathmatch without Fenix Rising maps.
Player's Choice [Quick or Ranked]: All Standard game modes in one playlist. No Fenix Rising maps.
Forces of Nature modes (require Forces of Nature DLC) include:
Guardian [Quick or Ranked]: Execute the enemy team leader to prevent respawns, then eliminate the other 4 enemy players. The first team to win 3 rounds wins the match.
We're All Stranded Now [Quick or Ranked]: Team Deathmatch with no pre-formed parties allowed.
Stranded KOTH [Quick or Ranked]: King of the Hill with no pre-formed parties allowed.
Brothers to the End [Quick or Ranked]: Team Deathmatch with two teams of two. The first team to win 1 round wins the match.
Alpha Exe [Quick or Ranked]: Execution with Alpha rules.
Alpha KOTH [Quick or Ranked}: King of the Hill with Alpha rules.
Zeta [Quick or Ranked]: Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill with customized weapon damage for balancing purposes.
Gnasher Guardian [Quick or Ranked]: Guardian with only Gnasher Shotguns allowed. (Event content, temporary)
As you can see from the video, a very wide selection of weapon skins and character skins are available. At first, players are only able to choose from a few characters (Marcus, Dom, Cole, etc.) and have no extra weapon skins. Skins for characters and weapons can be unlocked in a large number of ways: by getting achievements, getting certain ribbons or medals, completing certain pre-set actions, or by paying for them directly.
Overall, there are currently 39 unique weapon skin sets, 36 unique COG skins, and 24 unique Locust skins. This allows for a huge amount of customizability as to which COG, Locust, rifle type, and shotgun type you favor; chances are, you won't see many of the same character, using the same starting weapons, using the same skin. The total combination of single unique characters/rifle/shotgun combinations is a very, very big number.
We feel like Gears of War 3 already has plenty of characters and weapons to use; the addition of so many extra skins and unique characters (like Thrashball Cole, Theron Elite, or Big Rig Dizzy) is some tasty icing on that cake.
Matchmaking speed is determined first by your personal internet connection, and secondly by your match type. Each game mode contains a "quick" or "ranked" option. In Quick mode, players will jump immediately into the most stable match with an open slot. Open slots will be filled by bots, and players waiting to join will spectate until a bot dies and they can take its place. Quick matches continuously rotate through, and players even gain an experience boost for playing repeat matches without quitting. It's a great way to get the most out of your matchmaking, and in our experience is usually very, very quick. The downside? Often, you don't get a dedicated server.
Ranked matches must have full teams (no bots) before starting, and take longer between matches while full teams are assimilated. The upside of ranked matches is that they're always on dedicated servers, so you know your connection will be on par with everyone else's.
Gears of War 3 has a great matchmaking system; frankly, the only way it could be improved would be if more dedicated servers were available for quick match.
Every week or so, Epic hosts a new event. It's usually some kind of goofy weapon variation, such as "only snipers and boomshots," or modes where melee hits equal instant death. The Event Calendar lists upcoming modes, DLC release dates, and scheduled "holiday" events where temporary characters, skins, or XP boosts are available. While the events aren't always the most interesting, the continuous involvement by the developers and community keeps the game feeling fresh and current.
The Gears of War games have come an awful long way since the first game released for the Xbox 360 in 2006. Epic Games' first entry into the series received widespread critical acclaim, but it was also had the vibe of an over-eager freshman during their first year at school: firing on all the right cylinders, but also firing on all the wrong ones. The game introduced players to a planet, and a version of humanity, whose sole means of living was through warfare. Yet unlike many other shooters on the market at that time, the game took the space marine vibe seriously. Yes, you are fighting monsters. And yes, they are deplorable. But for whatever reason, they see it the other way around.
Rather than a blockbuster ride that follows a stainless, Duke Nukem-style hero through a series of challenging tasks (that are nonetheless completed with bravado and flair), Gears of War did not and does not glorify its characters. They are all flawed, struggling, and ultimately broken men and women who don't want to do what they are doing, but know they must. Despite its bulky, muscle-bound look and occasionally puerile dialogue, Gears of War was a game darkened by the clouds of regret, resolve, and--to everyone's surprise--a heart-breaking self awareness.
2011's Gears of War 3 finally rewards those same men and women with a chance to rest. As the lines have blurred along plot points, in-game and canon narration has revealed the complex nature of the battle that seemed so simple within the first game. For the third installment of the trilogy, Epic Games has hurled the sun into the sky and brought light to the dark tunnels that ran rampant through the first two games in the series. With just as much introspective caution, bronzed by the heady polish of experience, Gears of War 3 finishes what it started 5 years prior. And that's an exceedingly rare thing these days.
Where multiplayer and community support are concerned, Epic Games has done a remarkable job crafting the game around the community's expectations and wishes, without altering so much of their original design as to meld the game into a mix up of
compromises. Horde, Beast, and Versus modes all feel complete, cohesive, and crafted with the same love as the game's campaign. The addition of so many extra characters--some of whom come directly from the games' novels--and the re-vamped XP system, combined with the rewarding addition of ribbons, medals, and rapidly delivered DLC packs, is like tinsel and popcorn on a tree that already glowed with myriad light and color.
Gears of War 3 is a stellar example of the maturity, thought, and hard work that goes into many modern video games. It's possibly the most rewarding Xbox 360 exclusive franchise, and went above and beyond our expectations. If you're a fan of shooters or you own an Xbox 360, we highly recommend this game for its polish, style, depth, and replay value.
Meet the tester
Editor, Home Theater@Koanshark
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
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