Gears of War 3 hands-on: the written preview

OK, as I said earlier, here is the written version of my time with Gears of War 3 from almost a couple of weeks ago.

This write-up appeared both in The Press newspaper and on Stuff but I’ve add some additional comments on content that was cut from the hard copy version due to space constraints.

Enjoy.

The trouble with previews

Previews present something of a dilemma for writers and readers alike.

On the one hand you want to give as much information as possible so readers get a good impression of how a game is progressing and how it differs from previous games in the series, but on the other, you don’t want to give too much detail and be accused of spoiling a yet-to-be released game.

So, I’m going to preface this preview with a warning: It may contain minor plot spoilers, even though game-maker Epic itself has revealed a lot of details through trailers and gameplay videos, but to be honest, any Gears fan worth his or her salt will know what happened at the end of Gears 2 and where the story is headed.

Something new for the series is four-player co-op and that’s how we played the single player campaign – me and my Well Played podcast companions: NZ Gamer’s Aylon Herbet, Game Culture’s Julie Grey and PC World’s Siobhan Keogh. Fellow podcaster Chris Leggett was there, but he was playing through the campaign on his own.

Our hands-on session took us through the bulk of the game’s first Act, so if there are around five acts and they’re all about that length that means the single player game will clock in around the 10 hour mark. Here’s the situation: the Coalition of Ordered Government’s has been disbanded, society is in disarray and Jacinto, the capital, is no more (those who finished Gears of War 2 will know that). It also seems that the imulsion that helped power human cities has somehow infected and mutated the locust, creating freakish and terrifying mutations.

Our session opens on the CNV Sovereign, part of COG’s Raven’s Nest. The old guard is slowly introduced: Marcus Fenix, still as gruff as always. Dominic Santiago – he’s looking older now, has a beard and looks thinner. He’s the ship’s gardener, too, tending to vegetables. “You’re coming between me and my radishes,” remarks Dom to Marcus at one point. The team head to the top deck to provide the welcome wagon for Commander Prescott, who has a video disc that contains a message for Fenix about scientist father, Adam.

The main focus of the hands-on session is an attack by a lambent leviathan – again, those who have finished Gears of War 2 will be familiar with this creature. Jace Stratton and Anya Stroud join Marcus and Dom taking on the leviathan, which is attacking the Sovereign, giant tentacles whipping the ship.

I could dwell on the first part of the session in length, but most Gears fans have seen it before either in E3 coverage or online. This is the sequence where you can drive a silverback – an armoured mechanised battle suit bristling with weapons – to shoot the lambent locust and the leviathan. It’s the sequence where at the end we see a crate containing explosive tickers tipped onto the lambent from an overhead bridge.


There’s nothing like a twist to get you thinking

Then the hands-on takes a twist. We are now playing the same sequence but from the viewpoint of Damon Baird, Augustus “Cole Train” Cole, Clayton Carmine (the younger brother of Anthony and Benjamin Carmine) and Samantha Byrne. The quartet are searching refuge camps in Hanover that house Stranded – survivors from the fall of Jacinto – for food. “We’re looking for the grocery store,” mutters one. It seems the same imulsion that is spawning the lambent locusts is also making survivors sick.

Car wrecks and debris litter the streets; glowing imulsion flows through the cracks in the road. At one point during combat three of us chainsaw the same unfortunate locust, the bayonet chainsaws fitted onto our lancer rifles filling the screen with blood and smoke. The bloody combat is punctuated by lighter moments and one-liners: Cole says when dealing with the leviathan: “Put scientifically, we need to blow its brains out his ass”.

On the way to the main supply camp, we find a crate of supplies and a front-end loader mech in a nearby garage. I climb into the machine and walk to the crate, which I have to carry to a drop-zone. It has no armaments – although there is a stomp move that can squash smaller enemies – so my colleagues must protect me from attacking locusts as I plod to the green smoke which indicates the drop zone. The supplies dropped off and more locusts defeated, we make our way to the settlement where the leader has a surprise for us: ammunition.

Our hands-on session ends with Baird, Cole, Stratton and Byrne’s view of the leviathan battle – but whether the mission is successful or not, I don’t know. I’ll have to wait for the game to find that out. Gears of War 3 brings back the armaments that fans know and love from the previous two games: the lancer, shotgun, longbow sniper rifle, but also new ones – the retro lancer, the sawed-off shotgun and the one-shot.

Let me make this clear

Something that was clear to me is that narratively, Gears of War 3 is an advancement on Gears 2, which I thought dealt too much on Dom’s hunt for his wife Maria, who had been captured by the locust and imprisoned in their underground lair. Perhaps in Epic’s effort to be more “bad ass” than the original Gears things just got out of hand (the giant worm level is a good illustration of that) but with Gears 3 I like that at least in the part of the game we played Cole was a more developed character. No longer was he just the bulldozer sized man-mountain who quipped a few “Yeehaws” and off the cuff one-liners.

Again, not giving too much away, but there was a rather poignant moment near the end of the hands-on session where “Cole Train” reminisced about his past thrashball career and where he had gone since the locust attack.

Look, if I could sum up my time with GOW3 – as fleeting as it was – in one word it would be “fun”. I had fun playing and it was genuinely pleasing being back in the combat armour of Marcus, Dom and Cole taking on the locust. I’ve even started replaying Gears of War 2 just to get me in the mood.

I guess it’s because I want to know what happens to Marcus, Dom and crew, seeing as this will probably be the last time we see these guys together (this is the end of the Gears trilogy, right? Or will Epic pull a rabbit out of a hat with a surprise ending).

Honestly, for me September 20 can’t come soon enough.

And now, here’s a video of Gears of War 3 for your viewing pleasure.

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