Gears of War has always sought to be gaming’s manliest franchise, and with its third installment, it can again lay successful claim to that aggro distinction, delivering kill-everything mayhem with a healthy dose of bro-banter, daddy issues, and casual sexism. Gears of War 3 is the ne plus ultra of masculine murder fantasies, all couched within a standard sci-fi scenario that has you once again take control of super-soldier Marcus Fenix in order to wipe out invading hordes of Locust and Lambent aliens, whose assaults require you to use environmental cover as a strategic means of attack. Those familiar with Epic Games’s series will find only more of the same, all wrapped up in a gorgeous-looking and mechanically sound package, and newbies will have no trouble diving right into the action, since even more than its predecessors, this third installment’s story is just an excuse to move forward and blast everything in sight. Given that your last two seemingly successful attempts to halt the Locust have resulted in another go-round of nonstop warfare, it’s hard to believe that your current objects—having something to do with finding and saving Marcus’s thought-to-be-dead pop—are of any real consequence. Rather, it’s a game that asks you to merely drop in, tune out, and fire away.
In that sense, Gears of War 3 epitomizes the franchise, refining and polishing everything that worked about its ancestors—the chainsaw melee attacks, the crisp controls, the gorgeously detailed and well-lit graphics—while adding a few new twists that enhance gameplay. Those minor upgrades include some new weapons (including the Digger, which fires an underground armament that pops up behind enemy lines and explodes) and a slightly greater focus on hand-to-hand slaughters, and while these don’t make the game feel original, they provide a bit more diversity to a template that needs little tinkering. That said, if refusing to muck with formula makes Gears of War 3 something like an Ultimate Edition, it also prevents any revelatory moments; by this point, when a gargantuan Brumak makes its way to the battlefield roaring and firing dual machine guns, the effect is less a mixture of awe, excitement, and nerve-jangling anxiety than of expectations being satisfied. And the fact that the game, on its Normal setting, is something of a breeze furthers the impression that Epic’s main goal was to simply offer something safe and comfortable, rather than truly push boundaries in search of distinctive greatness.
By rehashing more than transforming its stock-and-trade elements, Gears of War 3 winds up resting first and foremost on its orchestration of specific battles, and in that regard it thrives, situating players in cacophonous, moderately destructive environments with enough architectural barriers to afford some tactical flexibility, and decent A.I. for its Locust adversaries (the Lambent, on the other hand, are a far more dim-witted, and thus less threatening, bunch). More often than not, Gears of War 3’s main campaign (which can be tackled via four-player co-op) remains long and exciting enough to make up for its lack of originality and repetitive nature, delivering many frantic skirmishes—some of which you play as other characters, such as egomaniacal ex-footballer Augustus “Cole Train” Cole—that provide a testosterone-y rush. The same holds true of its multiplayer, which affords a variety of modes that, compared with Gears of War 2, places a somewhat greater focus on run-and-gun maneuvers than typical crouch-and-wait sniper-style tactics. More innovation may have made this supposed trilogy-capper a more enthralling adventure, but on its own gameplay and graphical sophistication terms, Gears of War 3 still manages to deliver the gnarly guns-and-gore goods.