Rating: ★★★★½

It’s been a long time coming – one of the first, few major franchises to propel the Xbox 360 above and beyond Sony’s Playstation 3, has finally come to a close. Gears of War, the Epic Games trilogy of oversized men, consistent badmouthing, true bullet sponges, and an entirely incomplete story, ends with nothing short of miraculous growth and somehow, simultaneously, the most limited change imaginable. You’re going to love it.

Gears of War 3 isn’t far from what fans of the series have and will imagine: our favorite barrel-chested men blowing up everything, chainsawing foes in half, curb-stomping their way to victory. The big difference, which Epic Games has seriously pushed ever since they realized they don’t make story-driven games, was to actually make a game players can care about. In Gears 3, the studio has finally discovered its voice. Sure, it’s still a meat-headed, testosterone and adrenaline mixture bent on suffocating players who actually want intelligence, but an emotional one.

Thankfully, Epic doesn’t go that far, instead prompting players to just enjoy their favorite, insanely-buff crew’s wit and ever-condescending humor, a brilliant tactic rarely thought of by game developers. That is, letting the characters tell their story instead of some omniscient being. And that’s what Gears 3 really is, the ending of the trilogy through the eyes of the very colorful characters we’ve come to know and love. And what better farewell than by the prompt bow and curtsy.

Marcus Fenix and Co. follow the twisting and turning plot of the prior two games – that is, the Locust crawled out of the ground to attack the fine, warring people of Sera, and have driven them to near extinction, while suddenly the Lambent attack, a form of the Locust that’s explosive and disorganized, and the good folk of Sera kiss their asses goodbye – where Fenix’ father is alive, well, and with a way to kill the Lambent and Locust. Saddling up his friendly crew of misfits, Fenix races off for adventure in the darkest, most gruesome way possible, meeting old friends and making new enemies along the way.

To say that the world of Gears 3 is colorful is the worst kind of lie. It’s a lush world filled with occasional splats of green and pink, but mostly brown and grey and steel. The color comes entirely from the characters, whether it be from Cole visiting his home town, reliving his past stardom with fans who remember, or Dom finding a way to finally forgive himself for his wife’s death by saving his friend and brother. I can’t say with any certainty that I actually felt emotion during the game…it would be unmanly, and how can anyone really feel with blood and bone flowing rampant. But thinking back, it was a truly heart-warming tale of love, loss, and life.

All that wrapped in a burrito of big teeth, giant arms, chainsaw guns and carnage. Seriously, who the hell can taste that slightly gooey inside with the incredible outside? Not even Epic takes their game too seriously…and if they do, it’s impossible to tell. Play cooperatively and that plot and gripping emotion is thrown out the window by friendly banter.

But if you’re playing with friends, then it’s never about the game; it’s about the gameplay, and dagnabit nothing’s changed. It’s still solid as ever, fun in a perverse way, with too much cover, too much running and gunning, and too many guts spilled everywhere. Some online matches are a sneeze of body parts while others are slow, methodical massacres. The maps have changed but the gameplay hasn’t, and just like before competitive play is a love it or hate it experience.

Cooperatively, Gears of War 3 is the best game to release since co-op was invented. The campaign is fun over and over again, both the updated Horde mode and new Beast modes are charming excitement, and neither gets old too soon. That alone, forgetting the embittered and most certainly subtle political tale, makes Gears 3 a game of the year contender, whether or not the gameplay suits you. There is no better way to enhance a game than to play it with friends, and Gears of War 3 is the very embodiment of that. New titles will come and go, but gamers will keep coming back to this defining buddy game.



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.