***If you haven’t played Gears of War 3 yet, and you hate “spoilers” do not read ahead. Go finish the game already and then read. If you have finished the game or don’t care then good for you, carry on. Consider yourself warned.***
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WTF?! I am almost crying because Dom just died.
In the middle of the cutscene following his death, I picked up my notebook and wrote those words to begin my first draft of my Gears of War 3 article. A quick bit of history. Before Gears of War, I had never played Xbox or Xbox 360. I saw a friend playing Gears of War and asked about it because I heard some of the dialogue then saw Dom Santiago. It was the first time I could recall seeing a Latino character playing so prominent a role in a video game. Then and there I decided I would be “Player 2,” a role I rarely willingly accept. There were a lot of other factors contributing to the success of Gears of War and my love for the game but Dom pulled me in first. Gears of War 2 came along and I was right there, but fell a little short. Nonetheless, the Dom and Maria Santiago storyline (and Horde mode) were the only saving grace of the sequel. The Gears of War 3 is announced as the final chapter, Epic Games plans to make this an epic trilogy and end on a high note. Or not.
There is a reason Hollywood tends to remain predictable and allow their star roles live until the end of a story, we like it. On the rare occasion a major character is “offed” it is hit or miss because it has to be done just right so as not to leave their fans feeling gut-punched. We often like to use our games and movies as an escape, we want to see a piece of ourselves in the character, we don’t want to die. In defense of the unpredictable, killing Dom (or in this case, his suicide to save the team) worked with the story since the poor bastard was obviously miserable without Maria and every good action story has a romantic subplot, but why so damned early in the game! How can you play Gears of War without Dominic Santiago? The same effect could have been achieved while still allowing Dom fans to play through the majority, if not all, of the game with him still being a major player. To add to my frustration, I had to change characters…twice. And this is outside of the Cole-Baird perspective retelling in Act 1. I was forced to play as Jace and then Anya following the demise of Dom. Gratefully, there is no skill difference or specialties in the characters but I play a certain way and I like certain weapons. Needless to say, I was peeved when my longshot was no longer available nor was my boltok pistol meanwhile, player one maintains with their chosen and collected preferences as the overbearing, grunting Marcus Fenix.
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Dom’s death isn’t the only issue I had with the game. I started talking about the game with a colleague and I used X-Men: The Last Stand as a comparison. Ouch! Anyone who can recall the travesty of that film can testify to the feeling as many characters as possible were added unnecessarily in some attempt to provide closure. Not only are so many previous characters brought back in Gears 3, but there are a few new ones as well. Unfortunately, it made the game feel rushed. It doesn’t make sense in a medium where an extra hour of play could have worked. Perhaps the gripe is best aimed at the writing. In addition to feeling rushed the attempts at humor often fell flat because the lines were forced. Cole is supposed to be a little over the top but Jace too? It was an unsettling coincidence. What kills me most is the steady decline in the plot. It starts off powerful and then much like the Twilight stories, just falls to pieces scattered at your feet. I reluctantly overlook that a mere sergeant seems to run the show even in the presence of officers because he is apparently the only who can save all of humanity as the son of living legend, Adam Fenix. Even the predictability of the Adam Fenix storyline is forgivable. The story of the COGs is such a fundamental part of making Gears of War so compelling. The problem is more in the delivery and lack of balance in the plot points.
So why, pray tell, is this game getting 5/5 ratings? Why are gamers acting as though this is a second coming? I was told that sometimes you find something that has such amazing highs it overshadows the inordinate amount of lows, like drugs. Such is the case with Gears of War 3. The plot is poorly told but when Dom does go out in his “blaze of glory,” Carlos Ferro plays the part so dramatically you are actually pained to see him go. While I am a fan of Ice-T I felt his part in the game was also a bit contrived, and I do not want to touch on the horrendous song he did for the game. The final boss fight with Queen Myrrah ends as most games do, but her death is a very decisive, up close and personal shank delivered by Marcus in Dom’s honor. Overall the campaign was ‘okay’ at best. Then there is the online multiplayer.
Multiplayer seems to the be the driving force behind the latest in the Gears of War franchise while the campaign took a back seat. Horde Mode is even better this time around. It is tougher and if you get stuck with the wrong “team” you will struggle to pass wave 10 (of 50) but when you finally make it to 50 the sense of accomplishment is overwhelmingly amazing. I love the fortification options and the upgrades, even the badge names. I am personally chasing “Loot Courtesan.” [Primarily because it sounds like a fancy way of saying Gold Digger.] Versus Mode is no joke with 6 options each with the Quick or Ranked Match choices. You have to be quick and fierce or you’ll be pummeled. Playing in the 5-on-5 team matches is arguably the most challenging part of the game but can be incredibly exciting if you enjoy competition. I am not a fan of Beast Mode and I may play some more to attempt the achievements but if a game isn’t fun or easy there is no reason to waste precious time to add a few points to your gamer score.
Oddly, when asked or provoked I have so many issues with the game and I find I am often speaking from a disappointed place yet, I keep playing. Gears of War 3 has become my drug. Super highs, lots of lows, and I am always chasing the next high.
One can’t rule out marketing genius in playing a part in the phenomenal sales of Gears of War 3, including the notion it is the final in the series. I find it difficult to believe they won’t follow in the steps of predecessors; money can be a difficult thing to walk away from when you follow up with games like Bulletstorm. But, we shall see.