Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gears of War 3 impressions

I have a weird relationship with the Gears of War series.  I enjoyed the first two games.  At times even loved them.  Yet in hindsight or while revisiting the titles after a few  play-throughs, I find them particularly bland, restrictive, predictable and scripted.  I wasn’t too excited for part 3 despite enjoying the prior games.  Maybe because once the adrenaline rush and the chaos on screen subsides, I find the GoW formula pretty bland.  But this being the end of the trilogy I wasn’t going to pass it up.  So, I picked the game up upon release and finished the campaign.  Some single-player  impressions . . .


- Gears, like many other action titles (I’m looking at you Halo) has always done a pretty poor job of conveying the story to the player.  The developers tried to make this game more cinematic, since there are a ton of cut-scenes, but just adding cut-scenes is not the best way to tell a story.  Especially in an action game.  Much like Killzone 3, GoW 3 breaks up the action way too often for absolutely no reason.  50% of the cut-scenes could be removed and told through actual gameplay and the game would have been infinitely better for it.  C’mon developers, this is a game!  Whenever possible, keep the player in control and move the narrative forward that way.


Story-wise, for being the end of this trilogy, the game leaves several questions unanswered.  I’m guessing that was intentional to keep the series going, but I was hoping for a little more closure and answers.


- This game was built with co-op in mind, even more so than the other games.  And not just 2 player co-op, but 4.  This is fantastic when you are playing with your friends, but playing through the game solo I found it to be a bit of an annoyance at times.  Far more so than the previous games.  I was cursing at my team-mates for getting in the way of my crossfire or bumping me from cover, or most annoying of all, for blocking my path in narrow spaces and not letting me advance.  This happens enough to be an issue.


Your teammate A.I. is also hit and miss.  They actually do a great job at taking down enemies and are not just there to look pretty.  They will take guys out by themselves and toss plenty of grenades, making your job easier.  So much so that on a few occasions they began to engage a wave of enemies up ahead while I stayed back to collect ammo and look for collectibles and while I was making my way to them I received the objective complete/checkpoint message because they killed all the enemies themselves.  Way to go guys!


The downside to the A.I. is that they are a bit too gun-ho for my liking.  They charge into the heat of battle, often going toe-to-toe with a wave of enemies without taking cover.  Luckily there is no friendly fire because I would have killed many a teammate while firing from cover 20 feet away and them standing right next to the enemies.


- One if my biggest complaints about Gears is just how formulaic is comes off.  Especially after three games.  The gameplay is basically moving from one location to the next, getting “closed in” by the environment, and a wave of enemies appear/emerging out of nowhere.  When the final enemy is killed, you hear a distinct sound effect, the area is safe, and the next location opens up.  It feels far from organic.  This was my problem with Dead Space 2 as well.  And is the formula many games follow.  Maybe I am just becoming jaded again.


The battle “arenas” are a lot larger this time around, offering you plenty of opportunities to flank and take different approaches, but the game still comes off as very closed off and linear.


- Visually the game is a complete homerun.  Best looking 360 game in my opinion.  The Gears series has always been known for its visuals, but I have found flaws in each of the previous games.  Each provided some jaw dropping moments, but there were always plenty of sections, levels, or textures that looked pretty bland and half-assed.  Not the case with Gears 3.  The game is just gorgeous and a lot of it has to do with the MUCH improved lighting.  Gears 3 is vibrant, even colorful at times.  A lot of it takes place during the day and the sunlight is glorious.  It really adds a lot to the overall visuals.  In the prior two games I always found your character to have an almost  “paper cut-out” or bad blue screen effect to him, where his colors and the light reflected on him did not match the environment.  Always looked odd to me.  That is no longer the case thanks to the fantastic lighting effects.


There is one section towards to the end of the game, an on-rails shooting section which takes place underwater, and the visuals are simply breathtaking.  It looks like nothing else in the Gears series and caught me completely by surprise.  Very, very impressive stuff.  Looks like Epic has really mastered the Unreal 3 engine.  If other developers can get this performance out of the engine going forward, then I can easily wait for the next-gen consoles for another couple of years.


- Overall, I enjoyed the campaign, despite its predictability and slightly stale gameplay.  One note, the game is FAR easier on normal difficulty than I remember the previous games being.  I breezed through it and began playing a bit reckless as a result, since I didn’t really fear taking plenty of shots from enemy weapons.  I am sure if I would have started it on hardcore my overall experience with the title would have been better.


I wonder what direction this series will go.  I am hoping they try something completely different and explore other areas of the story with completely different play mechanics.  Should be interesting.


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