Cranking it up a notch.
The wheel keeps turning
It’s been a long three years for Gears fans. With the previous games releasing two years apart – almost to the day – there was a palpable sense of trigger-fingers across the world beginning to twitch as November 2010 came and went. Originally slated for release in April 2011, that too slid back to the current September 20th 2011 date, leaving only the justification of a public beta (accessible through pre-orders and the Bulletstorm Epic Edition) between Epic Games and a full-blown fan riot.
Hyperbole aside – there were, after all, a couple of other popular shooters released in the inter-War period – the amount of excitement for the third instalment in Microsoft’s flagship series should not be underestimated. It may have been three years, but that doesn’t mean those chainsaw bayonets have been left long enough to go cool. For the most part, they’re still revved and ready for the third and final game in the current trilogy.
Mixing it up
The public beta may have left the changes to multiplayer an open secret in the gaming community, but the new single player campaign is still largely under-wraps. The branching storylines of previous games are a bigger part this time, with a single scenario playing out from a variety angles and can be experienced alone, or as part of a co-op team of up to four-players.
“Gears isn’t Shakespeare,” Cliff ‘Cliffy B’ Bleszinski acknowledges to Joystiq, “- we know that. But we can play with a Pulp Fiction-type story. So we split it up, let characters do their own thing, have flashbacks at certain parts, then ultimately tie it all up.”
He demonstrates this in relation to the co-op gameplay demo on show at E3. It takes place on a flotilla under attack from a Leviathan (of the Lambent variety). Returning COGs Marcus Fenix and Dominic Santiago commandeer two of Gears 3’s newest toys – Silverbacks, single-man mechs resembling the gorillas of their namesake – and subdue the giant sea-creature with the vehicles’ double chain guns and rocket launchers while Damon Baird and Augustus ‘Cole Train’ Cole empty a crate of explosive Tickers on its head.
From Baird and Cole’s perspective, this scene is from an aerial view, as they plough through swathes of Drones between them and the crucial crate. ‘Plough’ being the operative word given the introduction of another new weapon, the Vulcan Cannon, which requires one Gear to aim it, another to load it, but will reward you with 900 bangs for your buck.
Watching these two weapons in action, it’s already clear that tactics in Gears’ fire-fights are continuing to evolve. The Silverback offers a satisfying stomp attack to crush smaller enemies underfoot, but can also be deployed as a transportable piece of cover for yourself and companions –three of which can now join you in a co-op campaign. More players obviously allows for more effective enemy flanking, and weapons and ammo can now also be exchanged between your team to allow for greater co-operation.
Other key evolutions include the Mantle Kick, a cover-breaking leap over obstacles, which can be used as a melee attack to stun enemies on the other side. In the demo this is seen being used to devastating effect when combined with the ‘Bag and Tag’, the new manoeuvre where a grenade is stuffed in to a hostage’s pocket before being shoved in to the arms of a cohort. Added to this arsenal is the Digger Launcher, a subterranean torpedo, formidable when combined with careful judging of distance; the Sawed-Off Shotgun, packing four punches close-range but a tortuous reload; the One-Shot, a self-explanatory rifle also fondly referred to as the ‘elephant gun’; and the Incendiary Grenade, which can prove a fiery threat to friend or foe.
COGs in the machine
The new weaponry may be familiar at this point, but what purpose they will be serving remains to be seen. The first campaign trailer began with a distress call from Marcus’s father, who may or may not still be alive. It’s now been revealed that the game will be set 18 months after Gear 2, beginning on Raven’s Nest, the current de facto home of the surviving human race and several members of COG. The fallout of Adam Fenix’s message to his son will apparently lead to Anya Stroud becoming a playable COG for the first time in the series and Cliffy B has promised Gears 3 will tie up the current plot with a satisfying finale, not to mention the longest story mode yet.
Which brings us to the multiplayer. For the first time including a straight-forward, five-a-side team death match, limited to 15 spawns a-piece and bots to even up the sides. Next to this bare-bones slugathon, the new ‘Horde 2.0’ is positively laden with bells and whistles. Players now amass currency which can be spent on any weapons and ammo not prised from the cold dead hands of Locust grunts, as well as all manner of tower-defence staples such as barriers, decoys, sentries, command posts and the very welcome new Silverback mech-suit. This may do away with the all-or-nothing ever-increasing stakes of Horde modes of yore, but with a boss enemy appearing every 10 waves and a variety of challenges that pop-up offering cash bonuses and some much-needed novelty it’s a far from ill-advised alteration to the usual bloody recipe.
Included in the mix is also a typical King of the Hill mode, an anti-Horde ‘Beast’ mode, putting you in the scuttling boots of a Ticker and allowing you to work your way up through the various Locust classes by killing waves of unwary COGs, and a ‘Capture the Leader’ mode, where Richard Prescott and the Locust Queen must be taken hostage by the opposing faction for a total of 30 seconds to win.
New finishing moves add vindictively brutal signatures to your kill, including burning them from the inside out and bludgeoning them with their own limbs. These ultimately pointless posthumous flourishes offer increased XP and a welcome alternative to the traditional tea-bagging. The final number and variety of these degrading moves is still a tightly-kept secret and should be great fun to explore on release.
There’s a good number of new multiplayer maps, from the supermarket ‘Checkout’ to the sprawling Jacinto-styled ‘Mercy’s Courtyard’. An early favourite, however, has to be the promisingly interactive Thrash Ball stadium where opponents can be lured in to the centre of the arena only to have the bulky scoreboard brought crashing down on their head.
Gear of War 3 is apparently a game neither unaware of its fans’ high expectations nor one that plans on disappointing them. Epic Games have already set a high bar no doubt, and perhaps for some they can only hope to live up to the precedent of the previous games. However, for those interested in watching this world evolve one last time before its current arc finally comes full circle there’s plenty of reason to anticipate its release with high hopes. After all, it could well be the Gears sequel we’ve all been waiting for.