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The Story: In the third installment of the popular third-person shooter franchise, Gears of War 3 continues the fight between humanity and the Locust Horde, a humanoid-like species who live underground and embroiled in a civil war between themselves and the Lambent, a species of imulsion-infected Locust. The war pushed the Horde to the surface of the Earth-like planet Sera, where the humans live, in an event called Emergence Day. With the war now above ground, the human resistance, called the COG (Coalition of Ordered Governments), are humanities only hope for survival. The series follows the exploits of a Marcus Fenix, a once-disgraced COG soldier who, ten years after Emergence Day, abandoned his post in order to rescue his father. Sentenced to 40 years for desertion, he is extracted from his crumbling prison by his best friend and fellow COG, Dom Santiago, who recruits him to be part of Delta Squad, a thug team who will deliver the supposed war-ending Lightmass Bomb, a mission that fails, resulting in the death of the squad’s leader. Fenix is promoted and with the help of the small unit, continues to explore and find ways to expose the Horde weakness. By game three, the humans realize the only way to destroy the Horde is to obliterate Jacinto, the last human stronghold on Sera. Fenix and the other COG’s abandon the lost city and take refuge on an island called Vectes, going aboard the CNV Sovereign, a military ship and seek refuge in the open ocean. Meanwhile, Marcus learns his father may still be alive and key to their salvation.
Impressions (Campaign Mode Only): Gears of War 1 (2006) made a huge impact on release, supported by a slick marketing campaign that included the highly satisfying (if not a little misleading) music video-style clip of Fenix running along a rain soaked street and diving through a window, only to meet face-to-face with a Corpser Mother, all to the tune of Michael Andrews and Gary Jules singing Mad World (a cover of the Tears for Fears original). It was a massive hit, and showcased the games incredible graphical qualities and hinted at some of the gameplay, all run on the Unreal Engine 3. It’s success ushered in a revolution of sorts with shooters and spawned a number of sequels.
GoW3, like all the GoW games in the franchise, delivers with top-notch level design, intelligent enemies and a nice mix of powerful weaponry. Utilizing a four-man squad-based style of play, the story campaign puts the player in control of Fenix or Dom with co-op players able to choose Augustus “Cole Train” Cole, Damon Baird, and a few select others, including the series first playable female character, Anya Stroud. Incorporating a sleek cover-based mechanic that allows the character to squat and hide behind numerous waist-high barriers throughout the game, the player can safely (mostly) remain out of danger while in this position. Characters can pop-up and fire as well. Player-characters are allowed to carry four weapons at a time, slotted to the D-pad and limited by weapons type: 1 handgun, 1 set of grenades, and 2 primary weapons (rifle, shotgun, sniper, etc). These guns feature unique mechanic called “active reload”, indicated by a small icon on the player’s HUD (head-up display) that has a cursor sliding along a hash-marked line with a thin, designated spot the player must tap a control button on the controller at the right time in order to gain a faster reload and damage bonus on the next fired shot. Failure to hit the mark accurately leads to a mis-load, slowing the process and making the player vulnerable.
The gameplay and story offer a fresh adventure for players growing familiar with the series. A number of clever set pieces and puzzles, plus a variety of new enemies and locations help establish this as the better sequel, if not the best in the franchise. GoW3 retains the game-enhancing Down But Not Out feature where a wounded character, one who has taken too much damage, begins to bleed out, but can be revived by another character or player. Executions are still in play, giving both sides of the conflict the ability to perform a special animation to kill and enemy, with the popular chainsaw rifle, The Lancer, arguably the most satisfying.
As a story, GoW3 has the most depth of the series and allows the characters some much needed humanity, something that has been lacking in much of the two earlier games. There is a wonderful sense of desperation in the story, and while there are still many humorous moments, there is a far more pervasive gloom about the plight of these soldiers, which makes for some compelling moments. The relentless nature of both the Lambent and the Locus provide for many excellent firefights, yet the game, as least below the Insane Level difficulty where the rules are slightly changed and the enemies greatly enhanced, always feel fair with a proper amount of challenge. Despite the run-and-gun mentality of the premise, there is need for strategy, and GoW3 inspires a lot of opportunities for creative approaches to combat. While the game assumes the player has completed the first two in the series, it’s not a necessity. Still, starting from the beginning, especially with where these characters come from is recommended and will provide a much deeper meaning to the moment described below. GoW3 is a must-play.
Act 3 Chapter 5: Dominic Santiago is a COG soldier who lost his wife on E-Day, though he never gave hope that she was still alive as she was taken by the Locust. In game two of the series, indeed, Fenix and Dom do discover her in a catacomb, but it is too late. The dramatic moment, forever haunts Dom and severely changes his attitude about the fight. In GoW3, Marcus learns that his father may be alive and held prisoner on a COG island called Azura. It is protected by powerful “hurricane generators” that make access to the compound only accessible by submarine. With the war depleting resources, Fenix and his crew find a usable submarine but need Imulsion to power the engine. The nearby abandoned town of Mercy to gather the fuel but once there, they discover the people have become infected have become Lambent, mutated into fierce fighting creatures. At the center of the town, the COGS fight an increasing number of both Locusts and Lambent. Atop platforms, the team is surrounded by massive tentacles, glowing approaching Lambent and swarming Locust. There is no hope for survival. Recognizing that they will all die unless something drastic is done, Dom notices they are standing above a row of fuel tanks and jumps down into the fray, boarding a transport vehicle and driving off. Fenix sees this and while he fights, using their headset communications, shouts at his friend, asking him where he is going. Dom replies that they must run and get away as he spins the truck around and floors the pedal straight back at the fuel dump. Fenix then understands what’s about to happen and pleads for Dom to stop, but there is no reply as Dom has made his choice and saves his last words for his dead wife. He then slams into the tanks full-on and sets the town ablaze in huge fireball that eradicates the Lambent and Locusts while his COG friends manage to flea in time. It’s a sacrifice that allows the team to continue on and reach Azura and make a last stand.
Why it Matters: It’s always surprising how much a character in a game can have an affect on a player. After investing a lot of time with them, immersed in their world, we come to identify and gain sympathy for them. That’s why it’s always shocking when they suddenly die. There’s been plenty of surprising main character demises in games and many have been really affecting for players. Think of Aerith in Final Fantasy VII or Sgt. Paul Jackson in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. These were shocking moments. Dom’s demise is certainly another. What’s great is how we know precisely the moment when we realize what he’s got in mind. He runs out of ammo and drops his shotgun at his feet while the shuffling, glowing, marauding Lambent inch forward. He sees his team on the nearby platform in a similar desperate situation. Then he looks down and sees the tanks beneath the edge and the transport vehicle attached to the rig of tanks. We know right then what he’s about to do, and it courses through us like ice when his intentions fully dawns on us. Even still, we somehow know he must. We watch as he jumps down, unlatches the truck and climbs aboard. He drives down the corridor and swings it back, all the while the player hoping there is something different that can be done. But that’s when the chaotic sounds of battle fade away and the mournful tune of Andrews and Jules Mad World makes it’s sorrowful return and we accept that this is the end of Dom. He drives to his destiny and we are moved by his sacrifice and commitment to the COG, to humanity, and his lost wife. This is a great video game moment.