A GAME THAT NEEDS NO INTRODUCTION But it helps if you’ve read the comics.
Gears of War 3 should feel familiar. You hit A to go behind cover, you've got a gun with a chainsaw on it, most of the levels end with your squad trying to flip five switches or pull three levers . . . same old, same old.
Except the female characters have guns now. And there are more fighters who aren't white. And there are civilians fighting, too — and all of them despise you for being a COG soldier.
See, the Coalition of Ordered Governments has been keeping secrets. Secrets about the planet's mysterious fuel source. Secrets about the origins of Emergence Day, when the Locust monsters popped out of the ground and started slaughtering. And yet more secrets, all found in the Gears extended canon of art books, comics, and novels.
Although this Gears has longer cut-scenes than previously, you'll still be confused. In the game's final chapter, Delta squad's resident snark machine, Baird, points out several plot holes to protagonist Marcus Fenix. Eventually, someone hands Baird a data disc in response, an allegory for all the Gears extended reading you've been neglecting.
If you had read the comics, you'd be familiar with the game's two new female characters (Bernie, an aging fighter, and Sam Byrne, a mixed-race woman with an Australian accent and jokes that rival Baird's), as well as the game's new black character, Jace, all of whom appear in this game with no explanation or introduction. You'd also know that Lieutenant Anya Stroud has combat training, not that you'd ever guess from the first two Gears games, in which she wears a dress and never gets her hands dirty. Now she's in the same armor as the men, packing the same artillery, and unleashing warrior cries while sawing Locusts in half.
But whenever the game acknowledges that its new female characters are, y'know, female, it falters. When Cole, Baird, Carmine, and Sam try to talk a civilian into sharing his food, the man offers bacon in exchange for sex with Sam. Baird and Carmine half-jokingly consider the offer until Cole shuts them down. Jokes about sex slavery ring hollow in light of Gears' novels, which describe a "breeding farm" called Jilane where women were both artificially inseminated and raped to provide soldiers to the COG. The Gears franchise does better by its female characters when it ignores their gender entirely; the story thankfully does this for most of the rest of the game.
At least the Uncle Tom-ish Augustus "Cole Train" Cole has been transformed from a comic sidekick into a leader. You'll play several chapters as Cole instead of Marcus, visiting Cole's hometown and pre-war life as a famous sports star. The game intersperses flashbacks to Cole's glory days with the destroyed stadium, a fitting backdrop to Cole's longing. The rest of the game gropes at achieving that sense of aching loss, but Cole's chapters are the most haunting.
The plot emphasizes banding together regardless of gender, color, or experience, and just as in other Gears games, the gameplay echoes this camaraderie. The campaign now allows four-player online co-op, and you can each play on different difficulty levels. And as for multiplayer, Gears 3 has upgraded its Horde mode by adding cover system upgrades between waves of enemies. And, of course, you've got the Versus and Beast modes, all bound to inspire months of gaming war stories in your gaming clique.