A few years ago, if someone had asked you whether you'd like to play with an assault rifle with a chainsaw attached, you might call them crazy; but secretly you'd want one. In the 2nd decade of the 21st century, of course such things are easily found, all you need do is pick up a copy of Gears of War 1 and/or 2. But what if those titles aren't enough to get your fix anymore? After all they've been around for a while. Fortunately, the third iteration in this series is just around the corner and its bringing a few new features that will likely have the fanboys drooling with excitement.
Taking place 18 months after the Gears took down the mass of Lambent - relatively unsuccessfully it turns out - the player finds themselves and their muscle bound comrades aboard a converted aircraft carrier known as the Ravens nest. For the past few months they've been camping out on the island of Vectes with survivors of E-day and the left over stranded. The known returning protagonists so far are Marcus Fenix, Dominic Santiago, and Anya Stroud, with a wrench thrown in the works when it turns out that Adam Fenix, father of Marcus, is alive.
This creates the springboard for the game's plot that will see players taking part in the usual action you suspect in a Gears of War title, though it will be more focused on fighting off the new threat of the Lambent, which are now threatening both the future of the Humans and the Locusts. Lead designer Cliff Bleszinski has said that this game more than the others, will let players in on more of the history of the world; since the story is being written by science fiction author Karen Traviss, you'd expect it to have some strong exposition.
Gears 3 will be utilizing the ever popular Unreal Engine 3, the same one that was used on the original; though it will be bringing a lot of tweaks that should see some quite stunning visuals; especially for a console that is over half a decade old at this point. Unfortunately there aren't many hard details available on what new eye candy we can expect to see, but it's quite clear from the beta, preview trailers and screenshots that lighting has been improved, as well as animation and texture resolution. From my own personal experience, the aesthetics feel very similar to previous games - as you would expect - but they have an extra level of polish that is indeed quite impressive.
As it stands, the game is only officially planned for an Xbox 360 release, though in the past Epic Games did port the original over - with limited success - and their recent PC version of Bulletstorm has done very well. The general consensus is that it will show up on the desktop platform eventually, but that at the moment this is merely hearsay and beyond wishful thinking, Epic has yet to say one way or the other what they plan to do.
If it does however, expect the specifications to be reasonable, but not mind blowing. Epic have always done quite a good job at keeping their game playable on older hardware, despite putting together some very pretty gaming engines.
As Art Director at Epic Chris Perna noted, the game takes place in the summer season on Sera (the name of the fictional planet the game takes place on). This will not only mean things are a little greener, but that the Gears themselves will be wearing lighter armor with less plating to compensate for potential overheating. This should mean some more visible muscle mass with characters, giving them a bit more of a futuristic Rambo look.
The actual player control of the characters within the Gears universe is very similar to the two prequel games, making it very easy for veterans of the past titles to pick up and play; getting them back into the action as quickly as possible. However, what they do with their muscle bound hero might be slightly different, as this time around the Locust are the least of the human's worries. The Lambent are now far more well established, and though the Locust forces will still be a thorn in the side of the protagonists, its these infected beings that will be the real problem. This leads to some more exciting types of gameplay, as the Lambent forces will not attack in the same way as the typical Locust enemies.
While there are similarities to the Locust forms that they used to be, the Lambent have plenty of links to plant life that should provide new challenges to even experienced players. Wretches and drones are expected to return, with further mutations not seen in the previous games. Some of these include the fast growing of extra limbs and new attack possibilities spawning from the infected. Stalks are perhaps some of the most differing enemies, as they are more like plant tendrils than anything else. Anyone that's played House of the Dead 3 will have experience in taking these guys down.
However, the Lambent and Locusts aren't the only ones with new ways to fight; the Gears too have some fancy new equipment too with the Silver-back mechanized suit. These man sized walker suits can not only be used as mobile cover by other Gears members, but they come packing a tank load of heavy weaponry that should give players a fighting chance against the new hordes of the enemy. If you haven't seen them, imagine a Lost Planet mech crossed with Ripley's cargo loader from Aliens.
It's not the only new weaponry the humans have to take on their foes with. There's also the Retro Lancer, which is essentially the traditional Lancer but with a bayonet attachment; more for sticking than cutting I suppose. The Digger Launcher sends small burrowing creatures underground that explode - the application of this should be quite interesting. Finally we have some more traditional weapons in the Sawed off shotgun and Incendiary grenades, though the "One Shot" - a gun that kills anything in a certain number of shots (no prizes for guessing how many) - should liven things up a bit.
Female gamers - or those that prefer to kick ass while looking at a girl's behind instead - will be pleased to hear that there will be four new female playable characters added to the game. They are: Samantha Byrne, Anya Stroud, Queen Myrrah, and Bernadette Mataki, a character from the Karen Traviss novels.
However, these ladies will have their work cut out for them as there are a few new Locust enemies to fight, including their lambent variants. There's the Savage Grenadier, the Digger Boomer, the Locust Siege Beast and the Kantus Knight, with Berzerkers also making a comeback by popular demand.
One aspect of the game that we have received a few more details of is the Multiplayer. The ever popular Horde mode will make its return seeing teams of up to four players face off against ever increasing numbers of Locust forces. However, the main attraction for MP in Gears 3 is the new Beast mode. This one sees Horde mode reversed, with players taking on Lucust soldiers attacking AI controlled COG soldiers. In a similar way to Mount and Blade multiplayer, kills will earn tokens allowing players to upgrade their equipment and switch to more powerful forms. Playable classes are thought to include: Tickers, Wretches, Kantuses, Kantus Knights, Digger Boomers, Butchers and even the large Berzerkers.
Other new modes have been announced, though these are mainly tweaked versions of ones already available. Team deathmatch will have some changes made, where now players will be given 30 lives per team, with the game switching to something similar to Warzone and Execution rules when those lives run out. Capture the leader will also be quite prominent with it considered to be a mix of Guardian and Submission rules. Here players are tasked with capturing the leader of the opposing team - who will be chosen at random. They must then hold on to them for 30 seconds with the other team attempting to rescue their captain. However, the captured player will be able to resist, causing minor and disruptive damage to the gamer attempting to hold on to him.
On top of these new game modes, there is likely to be a new performance based unlock system similar to the Call of the Duty franchise, allowing for new characters, executions, weapon skins and mutators which allow for seriously varied custom games.
Whether you're in it for the critically acclaimed single player or the ever popular multi-player, Gears of War 3 is very likely to become one of the biggest selling titles of 2011 when it's released for the Xbox 360 in September. It's the last in the current trilogy, but we'd be surprised if it wasn't likely to spawn the development of further Gears of War based titles. At the very least though, those interested in the story will finally have a closing battle that will finally be the end of things; most likely anyway.