- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 17, 2011

Marcus Fenix, one of the chiseled and grizzled veterans of the humans continuing struggles against the Locust Horde, again leads Delta Squad into battle in Gears of War 3: Limited Edition (Microsoft Studios and Epic Games, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated M for Mature, $79.99), the final piece of the current story arc in the Gears of War trilogy.

Exclusive to the Xbox 360, Epic Games’ latest entry to this third-person shooting franchise keeps players on Sera, a planet ravaged by death and destruction, and in action where the fine art of taking cover from enemy fire strikes a balance with sticking a chainsaw into the gullet of a gooey monster. 

What’s the story: Roughly two years after the flooding of Jacinto City, Marcus and his close associates are stuck on the water aboard the Raven’s Nest carrier class vessel CNV Sovereign. When a former COG (Coalition of Ordered Governments) chairman returns after having been missing for years, Marcus also learns about the existence of someone very close to him who is in need of help.

Of course, he and his pals can’t resist a rescue mission and it’s off to the post apocalypse locales of Sera to save a legend and deal with some aggravated human survivors while battling Locust and Lambent forces. 

Play the role: Start as Marcus with support from Anya Stroud, Dominic Santiago and Jace Stratton (either computer or player controlled).

Fight a Lambent Berserker during the Horde mode in the video game Gears of War 3 for the Xbox 360.
Fight a Lambent Berserker during the Horde mode in the video game ... more >

As the five-chapter saga develops over roughly 15 hours of game play, Epic give players missions also starring other Gears such as the team of Augustus Cole, Damon Baird, Samantha Byrne and the full facial helmeted Clayton Carmine.

This time out, the developers take great care to try and humanize these muscle-bound brutes and take away a bit of the testosterone by adding lady warriors (still tough as nails) and some emotional twists. They also introduce an occasional weepy flashback such as Cole Train’s glory days in Hanover as a Thrashball superstar juxtaposed against his current desperate state.

It certainly helps flesh out the details of the massive epic but the redundancy of some dunderheaded dialogue (Marcus offers his best mix of Nick Nolte’s growl and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s corny one-liners) and proliferation of profanity hampers buying into the potential dramatic layers of storytelling.

However, put away your bloodstained hankies as the ferocious enemy waves snap players back to the violent reality of playing a mature video game.

Besides a wide range of Locust including grenadiers, sniper drones, savage Theron and Grinders (gatling gun equipped Boomers, not the sandwich), an emerging mutant species has evolved from a toxic fuel source. These Lambent now compete with the Locust for Delta Squad’s attention.

The Lambent pop out of multistory stalks in various, often weapon-wielding forms to attack the teams and mix characteristics from the Swamp Thing with transformations that lovers of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” would appreciate.

Get to the action: Still controlling characters from an over-the-shoulder perspective, players can carry four weapons, take cover with the tap of a button, restore other character’s health, and find ammo and new firepower scattered around war zones.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the latest game spends more time refining and celebrating its strengths rather than innovating, and that’s not a bad thing.

For example the cover-and-move strategy continues to be the best in the industry and expands so if an obstacles is destroyed, the character hops through the rubble.

Weapons are also mostly familiar such as the Hammerburst Assault Rifle, Mulcher (a mountable gatling gun), Gnasher Shotgun and the high caliber Boltok Pistol.

Story Continues →