Number Five: Gears of War 3
Platform: Xbox 360
Reviews: Giant Bomb, Joystiq, Destructoid, IGN
Gears of War was always a very divisive series for me in that it perpetuated the grand machismo and testosterone of modern gaming stereotypes. I didn’t care for the characters looking like walking redwoods and talking like every football player I went to high school with. I largely ignored most of the series until this summer when I had a little bit of cash to burn, and purchased the first two games in the series. When I finished the second game, I ‘got’ it.
Gears of War 3, the last in the current iteration of the Gears universe, set some pretty lofty goals, especially after the bombast and spectacle that was the GoW2 campaign. Epic had found a way to make the game look better than any of their previous titles, adding flashes of color and life to a brown-grey-black color pallet, and gave you more of that gritty, visceral gameplay that made the first two so great to traverse, especially with a friend. And being able to have three friends tackle the whole campaign just upped how much fun it was to crush Locust skulls and brofist via XBL. While it was more of the same from a campaign standpoint, it was pushed to a grander stage with more of everything, which sits pretty well with the consistency Epic Games has established with their flagship. Excess is in excess here, and it was greatly appreciated.
But where Gears of War 3 was unparalleled this year was multiplayer, being not only expanded, but having the real focus shift from competitive to cooperative. While the tropes of Gears of War past were still available in spades, with a sawed-off looming around every corner, it didn’t lose anything in translation from second to third, and added more game types and modified weapons. Horde and Beast mode, however, defined the reason I’ll be playing Gears of War 3 this time next year, and will likely continue to dust it off until Epic can find a way to publish a new entry in the series without smelling like Activision and the Call of Duty franchise. Horde’s frantic kill-em-all attitude mixed with tower defense elements turned what was a fun inclusion in Gears of War 2 into an essential way to enjoy the game. As an avid Twitterer, reading the recollections of last night’s Horde games from across the country was almost as fun as playing those scenarios yourself, being pinned behind barriers, and making every costly bullet count. The randomized boss fights also made it completely unpredictable, giving ample reason to return again and again to stave off the Locus invasion even after besting the final round.
Beast was taken straight from Left 4 Dead, trading Lancers and grenades for Tickers and the Horde. While it certainly won’t beg for your attention like Horde, it pushed Gears of War 3 to be the best cooperative experience available this year, and for a population of aging gamers who don’t have the time of teenagers to become elite players in a competitive landscape, this is wonderful news. I will submit that of all the games I played this year, new and old, Gears 3 is the most fun I had with friends. Tackling the campaign for the first time on Hardcore with a friend always offered great surprises and just enough challenge, and Horde proved that we were never as prepared as we thought. When I’m in the mood to virtually bust heads with by buddies, this buddy-soldier series offers up exactly what the campaign does; Marcus, Dom, Baird, and Coletrain are just placeholders in a game that Epic wanted you to flesh out with your own companions. And not a single game this year succeeded at that as much as Gears of War 3.