Gears of War 3 Campaign Co-Op Hands-On – Two’s Company, Four’s War
Written Tuesday, August 16, 2011 By Dan Webb
If there is one message that Epic is trying to convey with Gears of War 3, it’s that if you’ve not played a Gears game before, now is as good a time as any to jump in while the water’s hot. Not only do they give newcomers a short recap of all the goings on from the previous two games before they kick things off, but they’ve also jigged around the difficulty levels to accommodate for such things. So for all intents and purposes ‘casual’ is more casual and ‘hardcore’ is more suited as a good starting place for Gears of War vets. With 32 chapters across five Acts to keep you occupied, we went hands-on with the vast majority of the first of the five recently to see whether Epic could nail the balance whilst also keeping us on the edge of our seats.
With Jacinto – the human race’s last bastion – now a proverbial city of Atlantis and the Locust dealt a serious blow, the COG and the human race must turn their attention to a new threat: the Lambent – who are essentially a mutated but more brutal form of Locust thanks to the influx of imulsion. In the wake of the global scale attacks and subsequent sacrifice of Jacinto, the government has essentially disbanded while the COG have suddenly become glorified whipping boys and the centre of the survivors angst towards the government who sacrificed its people so easily. With what’s left of the human race heading to ships to live out their remaining days or heading inland to attempt to fight a noble but utterly pointless fight to the death, that’s where Gears 3 essentially picks up, on a huge tanker called Raven’s Nest.
Rather oddly, whoever isn’t the host in a co-op game from the beginning will have to take the role of spectator as Marcus wanders around the ship to gather his troops. One by one, and with a flashback thrown in revealing the fate of Marcus’ father, the four co-op characters combine and the first Act’s first quartet are united – Marcus, Dom, Jace Stratton and Anya Stroud.
Now for those who’ve already seen the War Pigs trailer or campaign trailer, you’ll know that the fate of Marcus’ father might not be so clear cut, and when Chairman Prescott returns with news that might save the human race, the plot for Gears 3 opens up... but we’re not here to talk about plot. That’s best discovered by yourself. We’re here to talk action, set-pieces, balancing and whether Gears 3 has the potential to deliver the best campaign experience from the franchise.
After a series of cutscenes, the shackles are removed and the action kicks off with a flood of ‘Polyps’ – small crab-like Lambent parasites – flooding out vents and down the stairs. They’re relatively easy creatures to take down, but seemingly like every creature in Gears 3, because of the imulsion, they’ll explode like Tickers upon death – so stand well clear. It’s a case of fending off the invading Lambent Drones on the deck, fighting through the pumpkin patches and shipping crates to achieve a handful of various simple objectives – help the choppers escape, go back to save Prescott, turn on the sprinklers, attempt to escape the ship, etc. Textbook Gears objectives in truth.
The action though comes thick and fast, and is as intense as it’s ever been. With Gears of War 3 being 4-player co-op, it opens up many potential issues: mainly balancing issues and storytelling, after all, there are four stories that need to be told simultaneously now and more fodder needs to be rolled out. That ultimately means that the level layouts are more akin to Gears 1 than Gears 2, with narrow corridors making way for multi-tiered and much more open environments. So in this instance, fighting across the ship deck as a foursome allows for plenty of flanking, fighting to higher ground and from the get-go the action never lets up... well, not until you hit that distinctive Gears gong that signifies the area is clear.
By this point, considering it’s only the second chapter of the first Act, it’s rather early for Epic to up the ante, but balls to that, Epic throws a huge Lambent Leviathan – a 60ft-high aquatic, mutated Locust creature – your way and give you two Silverback APC suits to help take it down. If the action’s going to ramp up this quickly and continue this sort of elevation and pace to the finish line, you’re in for a treat! With Cole, Baird, and co. hovering around in the skies in a chopper trying to offer assistance, it’s a case of teaming up to send this hulking beast back down to Davy Jones’ locker. It’s a simple boss in truth, but no less epic in terms of scale, and you’ll be required to focus on the imulsion weak spots while fending off the Polyps and Lambent Drones it spills onto the boat’s deck in the process. Plenty of punishment later and having taken more damage than Paris Hilton’s knees on a night out on the town, the Leviathan gives in, essentially destroying the ship in the process and flinging the quartet into the cold icy waters.
The second quartet that you’ll find yourself controlling in the first Act is definitely the more entertaining of the two, with the Cole Train, Baird, Clay Carmine and Samantha Byrne making up its cast. From the open sea to the streets of Hanover, Cole’s old hunting ground, roughly one hour before the events just told, the quartet are in town to search for survivors, gather supplies and generally kick Lambent @@@. It’s only 5 minutes into the third chapter and you realise that these four have a great chemistry together and when the squad ask an elderly chap on a checkpoint gate for supplies, he subtly remarks that he’d swap some bacon to get his hands on Sam. “Take the deal Cole,” whispers Baird, “I’ve not had bacon in six months!”
Unlike the first few acts of the chapter, the action here revolves more around the Lambent Stalks that spear out the ground than anything else. While you don’t actually have to fight the Stalks directly, you will have to work together to take down the pods that nestle on the side of them as they constantly spew out enemies at an alarming rate – how quickly and efficiently you get through an area can depend on how you react to these elements. While the action in the park and general outside areas - like when you have to clear a landing zone later on in the chapter - revolves around these set-pieces, inside the action will be far more intense with Lambent Drudges – a Lambent Drone who has completely been infected by the imulsion – who can spawn arms that shoot missiles and even kamikaze themselves if you actually shoot off their limbs. Clue: don’t! Well, not if you’re all in the same area!
This opening section alone takes you through a good variety of different environments, all suitably smothered in those classic Gear of War browns that were more familiar with the first game. There is a good variety in action as well, ranging from more open-world intense battles to those more akin to something from Gears of War 2. There’s even a good variety in set-pieces as well, with Epic throwing a few unique scenarios – like using a Silverback to grab supplies from the supermarket, bash through doors and get them to a chopper – but unfortunately for us, our playthrough was cut short before we got the Cole Train and co. into the stadium that players saw in the recent multiplayer beta. Shucks!
Despite the few bugs that we ran into and the odd questionable checkpoint, Epic seems to have learnt its lessons from Gears of War 2, opting to return to what made the franchise’s campaign so memorable in the first place – epic fights in scale, intense action and plenty of open combat arenas to fight through. If Epic can keep up the rise in scale and intensity from start to finish that we saw in the first Act alone, then it’ll easily be the best Gears of War campaign its ever delivered... Act one alone is already probably better than Gears 2’s campaign in its entirety. There, I said it!
Gears of War 3 is scheduled for a September 20th release worldwide – except Japan, who get it on September 22nd.