Thursday, 22 September 2011

Gaming Reviews - Gears of War 3

Gears of War 3
Epic Games/Microsoft Games Studios
Available now on Xbox 360 only
Review by Rob Wade

Editor’s Note: Due to a lack of Home broadband, this review does not contain any experiences of Internet play. The review contains write-ups of online-only modes, but no impressions. However, single-player games of Beast Mode and Horde mode were played. It’s also important to know that due to being a complete bad-ass, I was able to finish Beast Mode by myself. Here’s the victory screen. I’m literally telling as many people as I can.

It has been two years since the fall of Jacinto. The COG is in complete disarray. Deep beneath the surface of planet Sera, a fearsome new threat, the Lambent, is infecting the planet from within. With survivors scattered and civilization in ruins, time is running out for Marcus Fenix and the soldiers of Delta Squad, as they seek a way to win the war and decide the future of humanity.

If you ask an Xbox 360 gamer about Gears of War, you’ll doubtless receive a response that falls into a small number of categories. Those who have played it and didn’t like it are fair enough, as tastes tend to be different from gamer to gamer. However, there’ll be a decent number who write the game off without even having given it a fair shake. Dismissing it as a “bro” shooter, mainly (I suspect) due to shooters of a similar look like Army of Two, a lot of people seem to think that Gears of War is cut from the same cloth. The irony, of course, is that those same people undoubtedly contain a large number of Call of Duty players, one of the richest sources of gung-ho pro-US bollocks in the gaming catalogues of all the systems. (To clarify, I’m not against pro-US sentiment in games, but found it to have been done significantly better in Homefront).

Anyway, for those who enjoy the series, Gears of War does many things. One of the things it hasn’t been so good at doing is balancing its storytelling. Often in the previous 2 games, players would ramp up with some serious action sequences and then be shoehorned into an emotional scene which didn’t fit quite right. Those with knowledge of the previous games will probably be able to pinpoint some of the exact scenes to which I refer without any real problem. However, rest assured: Although the balance still isn’t always 100%, the game does a much better job of giving some real emotion to the scene. Funnily enough, the methods don’t seem to have changed, as you still see some of the most poignant scenes after some intense firefights. What seems to have changed is the intensity of the scenes, which carries on the frantic pace of the firefights and hits the emotions of the player in just the right way to tug at the heartstrings a little. It’s not quite enough to bring a tear to one’s eye, if you ask me, but considering the tone of the game it’s pretty damn well done.

The story, overall, is really well told, and the good news for players either unfamiliar with the franchise or who haven’t caught up with the storyline recently, there’s a recap video which also encompasses events from other media such as the accompanying books. What made this one the strongest for me was that there was a lot more effort going towards development of some of the fringe characters. The personal favourite of mine was Cole reliving his glory days as a Thrashball player during the first act, which came about as close to making me well up as any of the cut scenes in this game.

The story is of a pretty decent length as well, it has to be said. Considering that its main competitors (some of the other shooter games with the 3 attached, for instance) are of the more multiplayer-heavy balance, and as such contain less in the way of storyline length, Gears of War 3 retains the level of balance of its predecessors and contains a storyline of around 12-15 hours. Also of note is the Arcade scoring mode, which gives the player a Horde-like HUD and displays the scores gained for kills and assists. Adding even more value to the mix for the online-wary player are four difficulty levels, as well as the ability to play two-player in split-screen, a mode which is rapidly becoming less and less prevalent as online numbers increase. Of course, let’s not forget Horde and Beast mode (the latter of which I conquered by myself – did I mention that already?)

However, if you find yourself with Xbox Live Gold and a bunch of friends, then Gears of War 3 justifies its value all over again. Ignoring the competitive modes (Which I sort of had to, but am happy to talk about again once home broadband returns to my flat), there’s absolutely tons of content here. The Campaign mode can be played with up to four players co-operatively, adding a fair bit of length to it (with achievements, naturally). The Arcade scoring mode comes into its own at this point, as players can make use of humanity’s natural desire for one-upping each other and be complete dicks about scoring higher than their friends. Players can also earn “mutations” which add additional conditions to the game much like skulls in Halo. These can either provide additional challenge, such as removing ammo drops from the levels, forcing players to scavenge from corpses, or they can just be for fun (like the intriguingly named “Laugh track”). These, too, can be added to a number of different modes, such as Arcade and Horde.

Returning, too, is Horde mode, with some significant adjustments. Players now choose themselves a base location, and can upgrade the surrounding area with things like spiked barriers and turrets. The cash for these upgrades can be obtained by getting kills and assists during the individual rounds, and the upgrades add a layer to the previous game which almost takes it into the realm of a tower defence game. There are also new challenges which reward the player for performing a certain number of kills or a certain type of execution. From what I played of it, the new mechanics work really well, rewarding the player with improved versions of each defensive countermeasure the more they’re used. I can only assume (and hope) that it’s a little easier with multiple players.

Beast Mode is a brand new mode, making its debut in Gears of War 3. Teams of up to five players take on the role of Locust soldiers, taking on waves of soldiers with a time limit in which to wipe out the entire squad. Time and cash is added for each successful kill or destroyed countermeasure, and the team can purchase more powerful units as they progress through the waves in order to deal with the defending COG soldiers’ increasingly powerful weaponry.

All this and we’ve not even talked about the technical side of things yet. Graphically, the game is unsurprisingly superb. I say ‘unsurprisingly’ because Epic Games make the Unreal Engine, which is used to power the game, so it’s hardly surprising that they can use it to make the game look great, and the game looks really fluid in motion. It doesn’t get said enough when a game retains its visual fidelity despite having a lot of fast-paced action going on at once, but Gears of War 3 does it. Having said that, this game suffers from a peculiar problem I’ve noticed many times on games using this engine, one of texture pop-in, where the main shapes come in but the detail is missing. It’s a strange issue, and it doesn’t come in too often, but when it does it can be a little jarring.

Another thing which doesn’t get mentioned often enough is the strength of the sound in this game. From the music, expertly penned and used really well, to the strong voice acting across the board, all the way to the sound effects, the game is incredibly strong in this department. What’s also good is that the voice acting doesn’t feel overblown, even during the particularly dramatic parts.

If I can precise one downside to this game, and I suppose I should for the sake of objectivity, it’s that for me the ending just didn’t sit 100% right. The frustrating thing for me is that I cannot tell you for the life of me why it doesn’t. I couldn’t tell Cliffy B, the Design Director himself. I would look him in the eye and say “Cliff, you glorious bastard, I cannot tell you why, but it just doesn’t feel right.” Without going into too much detail, maybe it’s just that the story feels conclusive, and I know that this story arc is done with. Ultimately, it’s been a considerably awesome ride.

Overall, I’d say that this is an absolutely essential purchase for fans of the series, and I would suggest that you almost certainly own it already, and certainly should if you don’t. If you’re not traditionally a fan of the series, and it’s for any other reason than being a fanboy of something else, then I’d urge you to check it out, particularly if you’ve never been into the other games at all. There is an absolute fuckton of content here, and it’s all good. It’s all really good.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics: Some stunning detail, but still suffers from some pop-in.
Sound/Music: One of the more underrated elements of the game, and it’s used to great effect here, as is the always-strong voice acting.
Gameplay: The best third-person cover shooter franchise, almost predictably, delivers a really strong third-person cover shooter.
Lasting Appeal: This game can literally last you as long as you want it to. One of the most densely-packed games I’ve seen since Halo: Reach.
Summary: A fitting end to what has been one of the true blockbusters of gaming this generation. Utterly unmissable. 10/10


Based on the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon and directed by Michael Mann (Heat), Manhunter is a gripping psycho-thriller, and the on screen debut of the infamous character Hannibal Lecktor.

Will Graham (William Petersen) retired from the FBI after capturing the murderous Dr. Lecktor (Brian cox). He is persuaded to return from retirement by his colleague Jack Crawford, who convinces him his ability to understand the thoughts of a murderer can help them to capture elusive serial killer, 'The Tooth-Fairy'.

Facing the desperate and grisly task, Graham employs the help of Hannibal Lecktor and thus puts himself at the mercy of a ruthless and sinister genius. Soon, with the caressing help of the murderous doctor, Graham finds himself courting danger as he opens himself up to the mind of a killer.

Thanks to our friends at Studio Canal, we've got three copies of Manhunter on Blu-ray to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to before midday on Thursday 6th October, making sure to put "Manhunter" as the subject. The first three entries out of the electronic hat after the competition closes will receive a copy of this awesome movie!

Don't forget to put "Manhunter" in the subject line. Incorrectly labelled or blank entries will be discarded.

Manhunter is available from Monday 26th September, courtesy of Studio Canal.

Entries limited to one per household. Offer open only to postal addresses in the UK and Ireland.

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