The final chapter in the Gears trilogy will soon draw to a close, and we're pretty sure that this isn't the last time that we'll visit the Gears universe, though the current story arc will come to an end in Gears of War 3. Karen Traviss, the author of the Gears novels will be penning the story and design director Cliff Bleszinski has stated that it is a much more personal story this time around, with many of the unanswered questions being addressed. You've already seen and may have possibly played the multiplayer modes during the beta, so by now, you should know all the details of Horde mode and Beast mode. At this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, Epic Games gave us a glimpse of what the campaign would be like from a different perspective, more specifically from the eyes of Cole and Baird. At a recent press event, we played a sizeable chunk of the campaign--all of act one--to get a feel for just how big Epic is going with the final game.
Without giving away too much of the story, the game is set a year and a half after the events of Gears of War 2 and the fall of Jacinto. At the end of the last game, it was revealed that Marcus Fenix's father may still be alive, which is where things kick off in Gears of War 3. The Gears are now living aboard an aircraft carrier, and judging from the E3 demo, they don't stand much of a chance against a leviathan attack. It didn't take us long to reach the part that was shown in the demo, but we were finally able to take those silverbacks (mechanical suits) for a spin. It's tough to be graceful in one of these outfits, but having a never-ending stream of bullets and rocket launchers to hide behind helps. Movement is tricky, and you can only access your more powerful rocket when you plant the silverback on the ground and take cover. Because the leviathan wasn't exactly a small target, this was not much of a problem until the glowing lambent started to board the ship. Due to its explosive nature, we kept a distance and stayed behind cover as often as possible.
Before starting the game, we were advised to play on the hardcore setting because we've played the previous games before. This was good advice because we found the difficulty to be challenging yet still manageable. We swapped it to normal and casual later on, which are designed for players who are new to the game, but it allowed us to be a lot more aggressive and enemies went down much faster. Ammo can be an issue if you're not conservative, but walking into corners and around large objects in the environment will generally yield some extra grenades or an ammo clip.
We were dealing with a lot of lambent in the first part of act one, so the new retro lancer didn't make an appearance until the regular locust showed up (not much fun stabbing an explosive lambent in the back). There were new enemies to deal with, though, like lambent stalks that would spawn enemies from pods. There were also drudges, which had tentacle arms and would throw emulsion fireballs at us. They have a weak spot in their chests, but you have to keep an eye on their heads, which can still come after you when severed. Things can easily get out of hand if you don't take down the pods on the stalk to prevent more lambent from spawning, but with the right approach, encounters shouldn't be too bad.
It was clear from the beginning that the set pieces are going to be huge and elaborate. That isn't because this game is the grand finale but because these level designs have to accommodate four players that need a bit of elbow room. For the most part, we had enough room to maneuver and take cover when needed, and when the situation called for it, the team would split up to get through tighter quarters.
For the first time, we also stepped into the shoes of Cole Train while he, Baird, Sam, and Clayton Carmine headed for his hometown of Hanover for supplies. Amid lambent slaughtering, we learned more about these characters through their playful banter and their sarcastic one-liners. We won't know Carmine's fate until the game ships, but judging from the way things were progressing, there won't be a shortage of close calls for this Carmine brother.
Four-player online cooperative play is one of the game's biggest new features. There's an arcade cooperative mode as well, where players will earn points for their actions. In addition to bragging rights, this will give you an idea of who's pulling his or her weight and who isn't. The Gears of War series has always shined when it comes to cooperative play, and by adding a couple of extra players to the mix (the more the merrier!), it looks like it'll be an even better experience than the last.
After playing the campaign and spending time with the changes and additions to the multiplayer modes (which now have dedicated servers), it's no surprise that Gears of War 3 is one of our most anticipated games of the year. It's not long now until the game ships, so be sure to check back when our review hits in a little more than a month. Gears of War 3 is scheduled to be released worldwide for the Xbox 360 on September 20.