Wednesday, 21 September 2011

First impressions: Gears of War 3

Just like every other Xbox 360 owner on the planet, I picked up Gears of War 3 yesterday and started playing it.  I'm roughly 1/3 through the game now, based on estimated length according to different websites and the number of acts/chapters, but I have some thoughts, seeing as how I tend not to do first impressions.  And first impressions matter, they really do.

So, Gears 3 has finally arrived.  Is it any good though?  Well, if you found Gears 1 and 2 enjoyable, then there's no question you'll immediately get sucked into part three.  It's great fun, there's no denying it, both in terms of gameplay and the entire feel and atmosphere of the game.  It really does feel like a great (albeit slightly over-the-top and occasionally cheesy) 80s action movie, only with the shine and polish of a modern film with all its glamourous CGI special effects.  In truth, Hollywood could really do worse than to use Gears of War as a template for how to make a proper action movie these days.  All the special effects, explosions and dynamic lighting in the world means little when your movie lacks heart.  And for all of its faults, that's something Gears never lacks.
Do my eyes deceive me?  Is that...another Carmine?  Rejoice fans; yes it is!

In terms of gameplay, it's business as usual.  You'll stop and pop, blow up and chainsaw to death literally hundreds of baddies in all manner of ridiculously gruesome and laugh-inducing, jaw-dropping ways.  Epic seems to enjoy upping the ante on every Gears game in terms of sheer violence, and Gears 3 is no exception.  Remember how a regular, vanilla gory kill was in the first game?  Remember how they decided there needed to be more creative ways to plant your revving chainsaw into some Locust's back in the sequel, and then added in bloody executions?  Well, both of those have been expanded to hilarious lengths.  One of the coolest new weapon additions is the Retro Lancer, basically like the standard Lancer, only instead of a chainsaw, it has a massive bayonet.  Not as cool?  Arguably true, but try not smiling when you perform a bayonet charge into the back of an unsuspecting Locust or Lambent, lifting them off the ground in a completely unnecessary and totally awesome way, before smashing them into the ground.  Better yet, nothing can prepare you for the sheer savagery and hilarity of a chainsaw-to-the-face style of execution.  You do not know gory until you know this game.

When we come round to the sound department, again, things are looking very Gears-like.  As with the previous games, Gears sounds absolutely incredible.  The soundtrack is like an explosion of audible ecstasy inside your brain, the various horrible monsters all roar and bellow in equally horrifying manners, and never before has there been a sound effect more satisfying in the game that the combination of a revving, screaming chainsaw meeting squishy, explosive flesh.  And say what you will about the cheesy dialogue, but these voice actors pull it off;  goofy as they may sound, they sound and feel exactly as you'd expect and hope from the best of the 80s action flicks, witty one-liners and all.  Damn near perfection.

So what about story, presentation, and whatnot?  I feel this has always been an underrated point of Gears of War.  The story is, as with the voice acting and dialogue, exactly what you want in this sort of game.  I mean, come now, do you really want some Shakespearean drama in a game that is exclusively about killing subterranean aliens in the most grotesque ways imaginable?  No, no you do not.  Or if you do, seek mental attention.  Gears strikes gold on simplistic, yet effective storytelling.  Innumerable action games get it so very wrong (looking at you Ninja Gaiden) that it makes you wish they'd just left the story out completely.  This particular Gears game focuses on the theme of a sort of 'Band of Brothers' style last stand.  And while I'm not that far through it, I really like it, and I do buy it.
Delta Squad returns, with a few new faces.  One-liners and bromantic dialogue commence!

Times have never been tougher for the people of Sera, and the game's darker tone reflects that.  Sure, sometimes Epic uses cheap conveniences to strike a chord with emotion, such as Dom's dead wife, Marcus' daddy issues or Cole's silly-yet-sobering midlife crisis.  And yet...somehow it works.  Somehow...I just buy these big, meatheaded buffoons, because as cliche and they can sometimes be, Epic just manages to pull it off.  Much in the same way that the normally extremely cliche and two-dimensional mercenary team from Predator manages to work.  It just does.

In regards to the meathead remark, well, attention female gamers:  Epic has forgotten you not.  Well, truth be told, that's about as patronizing a comment as one can make.  Yes, there are several new additions to Delta Squad, two of which are women, and one of which (Anya) you're already familiar with.  The other addition is Sam, a mouthy, prickly, yet witty sort of gal who is basically the female version of Baird...which frankly makes for some pretty great exchanges.  Strangely enough, this all works as well.  Patronizing though my comment may be, there's none of it thus far in the game.  The female characters feel like they belong, and thankfully are never held by the hand in some ridiculous "what the hell are you doing here" sort of way.  They never break a nail or twist an ankle or need help firing their oversized rifles.  And I like that.  All they do is bring some diversity to the already-colourful group of pals known as Delta Squad.

So...all around pretty remarkable praise.  Am I saying the game is perfect thus far?  Well, no.  There's not a whole lot to pick at (unless of course you're not a fan of Gears or games like it), but if I had to make a few comments, I would say that it's starting to look dated (although this is true for all console games of this generation), the AI, while generally good, still has some bugs in it, and the pacing just doesn't feel quite as smooth as it did in the past two games.

But overall...I'm really enjoying Gears of War 3.  It proves that there's still a few exclusives to the Xbox 360 that are worth a damn, and that Epic hasn't lost its touch after all these years.

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