E3: Gears of War 3
Many of you may have already seen the Gears of War 3 presentation by CliffyB at the Microsoft press conference. However, I got an up close and personal viewing of the same presentation in a small, dark room in the center of the E3 show floor, played live by four Epic staffers, and I must say, fuzzy feelings were incurred.
By no means do I think the Gears franchise progresses video games in any sort of unique or meaningful direction. That being said, playing Gears 2 coop was one of the most straight-up fun experiences I have ever had. Cliffy & Co. know how to make a simple and satisfying coop experience that caters to the most base urges of the human psyche, and I love them for it. So, without further ado, here are my first impressions of Gears of War 3.
The first thing we were shown was the new campaign mode, which featured four players kicking tandem ass against a typical horde of Locust and now, the slimy, serpentine Lambent. Continuing from where the last game left off, we see our favorite Cogs Marcus and Dom, accompanied by familiar faces Baird and the beloved Cole Train. We were also introduced to a new character, Anya, the female character who doesn’t put her hair up even in the midst of battle. A girl’s got to look good, right?
The Lambent, not unlike the Locust, seem to be spawned from the earth, and burst forth from disgusting pustules on huge worm creatures. This is where the game gets exciting. I got chills as I watched four players fight both Lambent and Locust, who in turn were battling each other. Apparently the Lambent have never heard that an enemy of an enemy is a friend, and as they ripped through an unsuspecting group of Locust, the Cogs were able to catch their breath.
That is, until a new enemy was spawned, a glorious return from Gears 1: the berserker. Except this time, the berserker is Lambent, covered in slime and tentacles, and—wait for it—can jump. Yeah, this time the berserker is not only an impervious killing machine, but is extremely mobile and can pretty much overcome any environmental obstacle, or so I was led to believe as “she” (as the presenter put it) jumped clear over a large metal gate to pursue our heroes.
We were also treated to the return of another fan favorite, the Hammer of Dawn. To those of you unfamiliar with the franchise, the Hammer is a satellite-controlled super weapon that is fired from space and could take out a concrete bunker. The berserker is hit by one of these... and apparently survives. We’ll see if that was just for dramatic effect, or if these new berserkers are really as near-invincible as they are portrayed here.
The second big reveal at the presentation is the new Beast Mode, which, like the much lauded Horde mode from the last game (which featured two players taking on unending hordes of enemies, and spawned similar modes in many other games), features four players cooperatively taking on hordes of enemies. This time, however, they turn the formula on its head and allow the players to control the Locust and Lambent hordes, and task them with massacring hapless human survivors.
This mode, put simply, looks awesome. They have added an RPG element by creating creature trees that allow you to pick a category of creature, such as a Locust Boomer, and then as you “level up”, it seems, you get access to the variations, such as the Grinder and the Butcher. Meanwhile, your compatriots can pick complimentary creatures, such as the pesky Tickers from the last game, which can sneak behind enemy lines while the Boomer absorbs damage, and blow the humans to gory smithereens. Or, as suggested by the presenters, three players can control Locust Drones, the standard grunt, while the fourth can control the priest-like Kantus, who is armed with a revival ability, making the teamwork feel similar to what you might see in an MMO.
Another cool Lambent beast is a fast-moving giant centipede, that conveniently shoots electricity from its pincers (can you say overkill?). This team-oriented gameplay looks sublime, and I look forward to getting my hands on it later this year. The humans get harder as you play, similarly to Horde Mode; in early stages, you are killing mostly “stranded” humans, unsuspecting and under-armed human survivors. As you progress, you encounter more and more Cogs and heroes, eventually even taking on Marcus and his team.
Overall, I have to say Epic has done exactly what they needed to do: take a winning formula and expand upon it. Yeah, they may be playing it safe, but if you’re not looking for the most extreme example of your typical male-empowerment trope, then you should probably be playing a different game. However, if you’re looking for a badass, fun filled romp through a world of chest-splitting, head-exploding, face-stomping action, then I suspect Gears 3 will serve you just fine.
I’m glad we live in a generation of games where coop is king again; there is no feeling quite like the camaraderie of crushing hordes of enemies with your best friends, and Epic seems to get that. I hope other companies take a cue from Epic’s ideology and follow suite with more expansive and exciting cooperative modes. In fact, I can guarantee that competitors are now scrambling to mimic Beast Mode, like they did with Horde mode a year or so ago. Rock on Epic. Microsoft, keep paying these guys to do what they do, keep the XBox360 the hardcore gaming Mecca, and you can go ahead and make as many Kinect games as your heart desires.