Admittedly, you might have to bear with Gears 3 in the early stages. The opening, with Marcus, Dom and their comrades battling the fiendish Locusts aboard a floating refuge, is a little too close to Gears-by-numbers, as you hold off waves of attackers using the by now tried and tested cover mechanics. The same holds true of the second section, as Cole and his team work their way through yet another ruined city, this time tackling the just as fiendish Lambent as the stalks thrust upwards from the ground and dispense warriors and exploding bloaters into the fray. In fact, there’s a worrying sense, early on, that Gears has become a bit of a one-trick pony, and that the relentless pacing is designed to overwhelm and stop you noticing the repetition.
However, the deeper you get into the game, the more this feeling disappears. While Gears 3 never quite matches the consistent mood or grim atmosphere of Resistance 3, it still has the artistry to vary the pace, build up the tension, and throw in a range of different scenarios. While the cover-based blasting never really changes that dramatically, a sequence where you fight feral Locust through bunkers and an underground lair feels very different from the last-ditch defence of an old fort, which itself feels different from a series of battles in the ruins of a city besieged by brand new peril. Despite stretches where the game reverts to formula, there’s always a new challenge or epic battle lying in wait around the corner. What’s more, Gears 3 now has a weapon set to rival the best shooters in the business, with more real variety than Killzone 3 or Halo: Reach and some of the most imaginative arms outside of Resistance.
With the mutated Lambent even more in evidence than in Gears 2, there’s no shortage of variety on the enemy front, either, and while neither the Lambent or Locust forces fight in a particularly tactical manner, they’re tough enough and deployed cleverly enough to make you work hard through every stage. Old favourites re-emerge in new, more dangerous forms, and new threats emerge that give you something new to think about. Thanks to a recharging health system and revives from allies there’s not a lot of dying in Gears 3, but certain sequences will stretch your abilities and give you that feeling that you’re fighting against overwhelming odds. It’s also worth mentioning that your CPU-controlled comrades are handled very well indeed, giving able support but never hogging the spotlight. With its more squad-based structure and emphasis on a wider cast of characters, Gears 3 does a better job than any other shooter we can think of of making you feel like part of a fighting team.
If the game struggles anywhere, it’s in conveying the emotional depths that it now clearly aspires to. The first Gears was wildly ridiculed for its meat-head heroes and slightly uninvolving story, and while Gears 3 follows on from Gears 2 in working hard to turn this around, it rarely achieves the pathos you can see it reaching for, though their is an amazing moment where this threequel reaches back to the first game with surprising sensitivity and understatement. Plot-wise, Gears 3 has plenty to interest and intrigue fans of the series, but it’s hard for a game this macho and this badass to work on any other level.