Gears of War 3 is the first real ending to a videogame trilogy that I’ve ever seen. So many videogame series call themselves trilogies, but when it comes time to actually say goodbye, most refuse to go. They start to pack up their things, begin to tie up their storylines, but then they smile and nod at you and whisper, “Wait, I can still suck more money out of you! Let’s not tie up everything, okay?” Gears doesn’t do this, either with its story or its gameplay. This is the end of the Gears of War trilogy, and it feels like an ending, and that is the highest praise that I can bestow on it.
The gameplay is tighter than it’s ever been. I played through the game solo, on hardcore difficulty, and it never felt unfair. Every time I died, I earned that death, by doing something really really stupid. Gears of War has always forged a constant push and pull between taking cover and running directly into battle, and sometimes taking cover for too long will let a Locust get the drop on you, and sometimes running into battle will get you blown to bits before you can chainsaw your foe in the face. Gears 3 does a better job than any shooter before it of making you feel responsible for your death, not by punishing you, but by never cheating you. In Gears 3, you earn your success, and you earn your failure, every time.
Each area is expertly crafted, each fallen pillar or burned out car another possible route to destroy your enemy. Since the first Gears, Cliff Blezinski has been talking about how he sees the combat as a top-down platformer told from the third person, and although that’s some pretty hefty game designer talk, you could see what he meant in the earlier Gears games. You could see the inner-workings of his design process. In Gears of War 3, the inner workings are so refined, so confident, and layered beneath so deep a level of polish that what I saw was an adventure. I was led on an action-packed journey to save the last remnants of humanity, with all the explosive action of a Call of Duty game, but with none of the rails or the handholding, and none of the cheap deaths.
Videogames have a nasty habit of throwing super awesome plot-twists and emotionally exciting narrative sequences at their characters, only to make those characters quickly forget everything after the next loading screen. Gears 3 never forgets its moments, and the characters live within the emotional story, instead of just having the story happen to them. It’s something we’re used to seeing in movies, but a refreshing change to videogame writing.
The pacing of the gameplay is so refined, that I never felt like I wanted to stop playing, I never felt like I needed a break. Just when I would be bored with the cover based mechanics of Gears, they’d introduce a new Lambent type that forced me to change my entire approach to battle, and when I became comfortable with that, they’d throw me into a mech. Every time I took a break from the campaign, I was forcing myself to take a break so that I could do something silly like eat sustenance to stay alive. And while I was eating, all I could think about was how I could still be playing Gears.
Gears of War 3 is not going to convert the Gears of War wary. If you’ve never liked Gears of War, then you’re not going to like this. These characters are still douchebags with chainsaws fighting aliens (that aren’t really aliens). But if you’re a fan of these douchebags–or even a casual player–then this is the Gears ending you deserve, with an engaging storyline playable solo or in four-player co-op, a multitude of multiplayer options, and a medal unlock system that will have completionists toiling away until well into 2012.
Speaking of, this has been an okay talk, you guys, I guess, but I really should get back to playing more Gears.