Worn out places, worn out faces.
When Gears of War debuted, it used Mad World as marketing. Monsters and rubble and darkness, that was the backdrop used to invoke hopelessness, desertion, war, and sadness in the time of the Coalition of Ordered Governments. Of course, what gamers got was a series about blood, guts, and chainsawing your enemies in half. Massive men impale even more massive monsters on rusty bayonets and spike the left-behind corpses as if they'd just scored a touchdown.
So when Epic Games attempted to make good on Mad World and their marketing in Gears of War 2 by drumming up some hackneyed, piss-poor excuse for a love drama, I laughed it off. Corrupting Dominic Santiago's wife and forcing him to put a teary-eyed bullet in her head was too much, too far. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, Dominic couldn't drive the Gears plot forward.
Fortunately for everyone involved, Gears of War 3 arrives on the scene to make good on every single wrong turn the series has taken. Marcus Fenix and company are back and they've brought with them a campaign filled with weight, emotion, momentum, and even more death and destruction.
Marcus is searching for his father, the scientist Adam Fenix. Dominic, Baird, and Cole are joined by the latest Carmine brother, Anya Stroud, and two new characters, Jace and Samantha. You'd think that such a huge cast would become unruly, especially since the sheer number of players in this production act as a simple vehicle for the four-player cooperative campaign mode. Instead, each is treated respectfully and gracefully, with the exception of Jace who fills the air with fourth-wall-breaking bullshit.
Augustus Cole, in particular, overcomes the enthusiastic black stereotyping he's suffered in the previous games to be one of the more sympathetic characters throughout the campaign. Whether he's reassuring others, revisiting his hometown, or literally scoring a touchdown, Cole remains the more lively of faces.
The previous Gears exploits felt like they were fighting you every step of the way, sprouting enemies in your path at every possible junction to artificially lengthen what should have been a brief, torrid affair. Gears 3 does away with this. There are still more than enough enemies to shoot and stomp, but firefights in battlefields are more fluid than they've ever been.
This is partly due to the game's remarkable movement speed and the cover-to-cover magnetism your character has. Gears 2 will feel like a slog compared to the way this latest outing handles. Simple touches, like the ability to knock back an opponent on the other side of your cover, further encourages the player to progress continuously from one space to the next.
These mechanics carry over to the game's fantastic multiplayer modes. New modes like Team Deathmatch give players a more fast-paced mode, while King of the Hill and other series stalwarts continue to please. Tactical, frenetic, and fraggy all at once, this is the series' best competitive multiplayer. Still, Horde mode takes the cake as the best way to interact with friends online or split-screen.
Gears of War 3 turns the Horde Mode dial to 11 by introducing new mechanics, like the ability to build and repair armaments, gates, and turrets. What's more, as you progress through each wave of enemies, you'll earn more cash to spend on power-weapons. You could blow all of your dough on the mortar or you could upgrade your road spikes to barbed wire to slow down even more enemies. Players can also buy their way back to life, if they have the cash for it.
Epic even turns the now classic wave-based mode on its head by putting players in the bodies of the terrifying cadre of Gears monsters. Beast Mode allows players to take control of the Locust horde, bent on the destruction of man. You'll start out with Wretches and Tickers, weak but effective under the right control, and progress to Savage Corpsers and Berserkers, unwieldy and wickedly delightful to control.
Beast Mode takes the fun of Halo: Reach's Rocketfight Firefight mode and mixes in the savagely sweet brutality of Left 4 Dead's Special Infected. Players won't put as many hours into it as they will Horde or competitive multiplayer, but it's a welcome distraction from the human side of things.
As a package, Gears of War 3 is simply the best. Small nags you may have—like less than stellar dialogue or some overpowered attackers in Beast Mode—fall by the wayside as balanced competitive multiplayer, deep Horde Mode mechanics, and a driving campaign win out. Epic Games have trimmed the fat and churned out one lean, purposeful Gear, ready to stomp some Locusts back into the ground.