Let's start with one clear and definite fact: Since its introduction in 2006, the Gears of War franchise has been all about hard-driving, futuristic warfare on an Xbox 360. No Wii remote-waving, casual-gaming, family-friendly fare here. No. this franchise is unapologetically hard-core, jam-packed with roll-and-thump, gun-blazing action.
Fans who immediately snapped up this third installment—and there were 3 million of them in the first five days of the game's release—probably had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Quite simply, they were looking for Gears of War 3 to wrap up the series' narrative with the same immersive play, the same intuitive game mechanics and the same gore 'n' glory combat the first two games are (in)famous for.
That's exactly what they got.
Flex and Kill
The Gears of War saga focuses on a hulking, heavily muscled supersoldier named Marcus Fenix and his bull-necked Delta Squad members, the titular "gears" in any given battle. This rough-and-rugged team has been fighting what seems like a lifetime of war. They've been going at it tooth and nail with a swarm of enemies called the Locust—subterranean, albino-skinned monstrosities that began crawling out of cavernous tunnels beneath the surface of the humans' home planet of Sera.
At the start of this third and final Gears tale, the remnants of humankind are clinging to the flotsam and jetsam of their dying world. And after sacrificing their last remaining stronghold in the all-out offensive of Gears 2, things looks pretty bleak. But then Fenix receives a cryptic message that his scientist father, once believed dead, might actually have survived. And it's possible that this brilliant man has found a way to vanquish a new breed of mutant monsters that's emerged from Sera's bowels.
It's up to the Delta Squad, of course, to make it happen, as Fenix and his gears of war heroically embark on yet another mission impossible: finding Fenix's father, destroying these bloodthirsty alien interlopers once and for all and saving a shattered planet in the process.
Virtual Mop Not Included
The story plays out with some emotional moments that help us connect with the human side of this harrowing sci-fi journey. But at the end of the day, it all leads back to the death, blood and gore that the franchise is known for. As with the first two games, Gears of War 3 bursts with realistic visuals and cinematic flourish—for better and worse. Exploding marauders erupt in chunks of meat and yellow bile when riddled with bullets from shotguns, miniguns, assault rifles and the like. When hit with weapons such as flamethrowers, cannons or grenades, enemy skin and body parts blacken, crack and sizzle to a believable crisp.
The death-dealing isn't all long distance either. Enemies can be grabbed and used as "meat shields." And the game also glories in "creative" executions. In certain situations, gamers are offered the opportunity to finish off opponents with a specific killing blow—everything from stomping a victim's head to pulp to eviscerating him with a chain saw to beating him to death with his own severed limb.
Cutscenes can deliver even clearer views of the carnage. In one cinematic moment, for instance, the camera watches closely as a central character has a large knife slowly and painfully shoved into her abdomen. In a sentence: The gamemakers never flinch from showing every gush of crimson and spurt of gore.
Filtered … But Not Cleaned
Now it should be noted that Gears of War 3 does offer a content filter for gamers who want all the action without all the M-rated content. When engaged, the filter bleeps out the searingly foul language—which includes a constant stream of f- and s-words and an arsenal of other profanity bombs—as well as redacting that profanity from the onscreen script. It also dials down the splurt-and-splatter graphics, replacing a gush of entrails, for instance, with a sprinkle of sparks when a whirring blade finds it's fleshy mark.
That means the dripping content can be tamped down to almost T-rated levels. But the edits and tweaks won't make the 10 to 12 hour-long slog through Locustdom a sweet trip through a pretty field of daisies. In single-player or the various multiplayer modes this game is never anything less than what it is: a hard-core shooter.
That's a clear and definite fact.