Review by neonreaper

"Match-making is a disaster, campaign is stretched thin, Horde 2.0 is top notch"

When I think of many shooter series of the current generation, I think most of them had honest and simple starts. Sure, they typically offer a variety of cool modes to play, and some big "wow!" moments in their campaigns, but the focus was about nailing the gameplay. That's typically the best way to start - make a game addictive and compelling through the controls and design. And then when you've got your hooks into people, that's when the focus on details can get fuzzy in favor of adding new modes and trying to out-do yourself. That's a problem, and it rears its ugly head in Gears of War 3.

Developers and publishers live in a review driven world, and reviewers have a specific set of requirements for really praising sequels. To make Gears 3 land high reviews, Epic needed to toss in piles of gameplay modes and little tweaks to the gameplay. During a season with a dozen major releases, Gears 3 couldn't just be an awesome game, it had to be a well-reviewed game. It had to tickle reviewers' fancies with extra menu options and extra button presses. They want to make reviewers say "wow there is so much to this game, it is definitely a 9.5/10". They also want to hook in a casual player, a person new to Gears, who might have had to wait another 2 months for the latest Call of Duty game, so they had to work in elements for that person. The game offers so much and it can be so amazing, but there are plenty of things that drag it down. At the game's heart, it's 10/10, a terrific and unique experience with ridiculous amounts of replay value and content, and even if the campaign isn't as good as Gears 2, it's still a terrific game with some major moments and battles.

Gears 1 focused heavily on the squad-based combat and cover system that it does better than any other series. Gears 2 really kicked the campaign up a notch to a whole new level, and added Horde mode, but failed mightily with the shared host system in PvP. Gears 3 seems like they've taken every idea they could come up with and stuck it into a Gears game, which is great for landing good reviews, but loses focus on the soul of the game.

The campaign is advertised as a BROTHERS TO THE END experience but you really only play Delta Squad proper for a third of it. The game starts off as humans split up and go separate ways, and it's simply a plot that becomes stretched too thin with too many characters, and too many unanswered questions. Fun to play but it doesn't really deliver what it advertised. You can have the four player co-op mode, but if you missed the boat on the first time around, you're probably not going to find anyone that really wants to play through it again, aside from Insane achievement seekers.

Horde 2.0. Horde mode in Gears 2 was a game-changer for shooters and inspired many games to adopt that type of mode, or even games that were basically entirely Horde modes. Horde 2.0 adds in tower defense elements and bosses, which again has upped the stakes, and there are already a couple XBLA games ripped right off the Horde 2.0 concept. It's tremendous, though the one major flaw is that people will drop out and you can't replace them except for finding people on your friend list. So you'll be 90 minutes in a Horde game, someone has to go, and you're short-handed and probably not going to get much further. With no casual drop-in, you can see a fun time end as a frustrating mess with no real way to recover. Everything else about it is great, though. You earn money by defeating enemies, you buy and upgrade defenses with that money, and you have your own specific levels for each type of defensive barrier/artillery. You can establish a base in different parts of maps, which means you can set up the best position, or set up weak positions for variety. If you have capable players with mics, especially friends, it's fun and can be hilarious and rewarding. I feel like Epic stepped up their game without over-doing it, though like I said, a drop-in mode for people who get 30-40 waves in and lose a person would be nice.

Another new mode is Beast mode, allowing the player to take control of Locust monsters. You don't get to use enough of the bigger monsters and the mode is a bit too easy. Fun but lacks a bit of depth. Everyone wants to be a Brumak, they should have found a way to balance such a thing into the mode. Beast mode is more of a distraction, but a welcome one.

PvP, well... Epic spared no expense in making sure there are plenty of modes for everyone. There are plenty of game modes, from classic Warzone to TDM to Wingman to King of the Hill, etc. You'll find any mode you really could want. The maps are mostly decent, though some leave a bit to be desired. Overpass has entirely centralized gameplay, which can be a nice change of pace, except it's kinda crappy to be stuck on the bottom for 2-3 rounds. Sandbar is too big and open and there are 1-2 locations everyone goes to. No real point in that map size as a result, especially in KOTH playlists. My god, is it terrible to spawn a minute away from the ring in KOTH. Other maps are pretty good, and Epic has tweaked weapon spawns for the better. Spawns could use a little work, as most maps just have 2, and even with spawn protection, you can get spawn camped in a few places. Some maps just need extra spawn points, especially in TDM. I think the mentality was still Warzone when they came up with spawns.

Two problems. One, there is a quick match mode, which is what everyone uses now. It starts games no matter what, and fills extra player slots with bots. Bots in this game are beyond terrible. If you follow one, most of the time they will just randomly switch weapons, shoot wildly across the map, and you can usually kill them while they run into a wall with a smoke grenade in hand. Even spotting enemies for them doesn't increase their usefulness. People drop out of matches all the time, and a bot takes their place, and it's free kills for the other team when that happens. People hate playing with/against bots, so they drop out, and you get weird lobbies full of bots. Match-making in between rounds will then switch out the best players onto one team, and maybe one mediocre player on a team full of bots. It's easier to get into a better game if you just drop out and quick join a different match, than it is to stick out a lobby with bots. That's a major problem and can make it difficult to routinely find good matches, and with other shooters out, it's very difficult to find a match that goes 2-3 full rounds without any bots. The solution could theoretically be Ranked matches, which wait until the lobby is full, but no one wants to wait so you're stuck waiting too long, even for an otherwise patient person.

This game was delayed so Microsoft could have an exclusive late in the year, and it's too bad. It could have been a great summer of Gears 3 matches, instead I think they've run into some stiff competition, which seems to exacerbate the problems with the match-making system. And yeah it's too hard to find good games, enough that I dock the game a full point (easily) because of it.

On a smaller level, there's the Sawed-off Shotgun. It's a fun little weapon to use, I've used it a lot, but it's really aimed at the solo casual type, who just wants to camp or charge around and pull a trigger without aiming. I know Gears is a bit Gnasher heavy, but the SOS just doesn't bring enough to the table. You have people switch to the SOS and run around with it, and because the reload is crazy, they can't participate in anything else. The typical user won't switch to a different weapon and the SOS doesn't really lend itself to good team mechanics. The users that go Snub/Retro/SOS for different ranges are fine, for what it's worth. I just think they should say good-bye to the CoD crowd because it doesn't mix well with Gears. Also no one seems to use their mics anymore, and the people that do are just the annoying dregs of XBL. Gears 1, this wasn't really the case (it wasn't perfect, don't get me wrong).

So overall, Gears of War 3 is a terrific game but I think it's been dragged down by a horrible implementation of the match-making system and they've probably added too many little modes that people don't really care about, and the campaign doesn't seem to have the proper focus. Hopefully they can fix the match-making system because I'm sick of frag-tagging Classic Marcus*.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/11/11

Game Release: Gears of War 3 (US, 09/20/11)


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