Published Sep 29, 2011When Gears of War first arrived in 2005, it announced itself as a different kind of shooter. Yes, it was third-person and cover-based, after years of forward-charging first-person POVs, but the real hint of what was to come was the melancholy TV ad that hauntingly juxtaposed a post-apocalyptic alien insect war against the stirring strains of Gary Jules' "Mad World" cover. Yes, you will kill, it seemed to say, but you will also feel.
Though it's always been an adrenaline-fuelled action game, small moments, like a rescued soldier's suicide or Dom Santiago's gut-wrenching decision to euthanize his prisoner-of-war wife, have been Gears' way of adding emotional heft to its exciting game play.
It began with the residents of the Earth-like planet Sera on the brink of extinction after a race of underground creatures known as the Locust rose to the surface on Emergence Day. The first game took place 14 years into the war, as beefy protagonist Marcus Fenix and his team of "Gears" ― soldiers in the Coalition of Ordered Governments, or COG ― enacted a plan to eradicate their enemies. It was only partly successful.
Six months later, Gears 2 found the last remaining human settlement, Jacinto, under attack from Locust attempting to sink it. Much of the sequel was set underground, as Marcus Fenix and his Delta Force platoon took the fight to the Locust in their underground lair, only to discover a civil war going on between the Locust and a new even more deadly enemy, the mutated Lambent. They're eventually forced to sink their city in hopes of drowning their enemies and this too proved only partially successful.
Which brings us to the GoW trilogy's concluding chapter. A year-and-a-half has passed since Jacinto fell, literally, and the survivors have taken refuge on floating barges as the Lambent threat re-emerges. The storyline that follows fleshes out the game's universe while tying up plotlines, most notably what happened to Fenix's missing father ― Fenix was introduced as a treasonous soldier fresh from prison, where he'd been held after going AWOL in search of his dad ― and how he may hold the key to winning the war.
It's a threequel, so there's admittedly not much new, but novelty can sometimes take a backseat to refinement, and Epic Games have taken what they've learned from the first two games and applied it. It's now a three-way war and the stakes are higher, the battlefield grander, the emotional moments more earned and the action set-pieces Gears is famed for arrive more elaborately and enveloping than ever. And unlike Modern Warfare, Epic knows how to pace itself, setting scenes and unrolling narrative rather than numbing players with non-stop action.
The campaign, as ever, is co-op ― now boosted to handle up to four players ― and the multiplayer has numerous new modes, including Horde 2.0, which should keep the game at the top of the Xbox Live leaderboards for some time.
Gears of War has by now become a part of gaming lore and further franchise adaptations in game, book, comic and film formats will no doubt continue, but Epic's current war story has faced its final battle, and the winners are us. (Epic/Microsoft)