Gears of War 3 Preview: Act 1 Hands-on
Gears of War 3 begins as Gears of War 1 did, with Marcus Fenix sitting solemnly in a jail cell. As we watch him liberated, armed, and dispatched to fight the invading enemy, we realize that what we are watching is the beginning of Gears of War 1, remade in a gauzy, disintegrating guise. As a firefight with Locust on the steps of the Fenix estate swirls into oblivion, we realize that we’ve been playing a dream.
Once the credits roll, the game‘s assured, cinematic introduction snaps us back to reality. Fenix’s living conditions might not have increased much in size, but the room in which he wakes up is not in a prison, but on a ship, called the Sovereign.
After the sinking of Jacinto at the conclusion of Gears of War 2, the remnants of the COG took to the seas in makeshift floating cities like Sovereign, hoping to escape the ravages of the Lambent Locust. This ploy has not been successful, however, and as Gears of War 3 begins, familiar characters are gearing up to the deal with profusion of Lambent stalks — huge, bulbous, and pregnant with danger — through which the ship is currently navigating.
Roused from his dream, Marcus takes a trip down the hall to rendezvous with his old sidekick, Dominic Santiago. This initial sequence shows off Gears of War 3′s commitment to worldbuilding and visual storytelling. The details, as with previous Gears games, are all there, down to the way that Marcus has to step up and over the bottom lips of the ship’s sealable hatch doors. His slow walk through the corridors gives players a sense of their environment and its most important aspects: the wan faces and gallows humor of the NPC’s evince the fragile psychological state of the Raven’s Nest passengers; the dilapidated machinery and cobbled-together improvisation suggest a population of people trying to survive by making do.
Dom, it turns out, has been remade as the ship’s botanist, which explains his hilariously hirsute appearance and his soiled set of hippie-farmer overalls. When Marcus tells him about the Lambent, however, he slips quickly back into his combat armor.
Now reunited, the pair head upstairs, where players are treated to still more lovingly rendered, narratively evocative scenery before rendezvousing with Anya Stroud and Jace Stratton, who-round out Marcus’ four-member team. Though there’s plenty of soliderly bonhomie on offer, the writing and voice acting are a little more clunky than one expects from a AAA video game in 2011 — for all of Gears’ visual and gameplay advancements, its growling grunts and B-grade, military-jargon-laced dialogue haven’t changed much since 2006.
Soon, the Lambent are attacking, and the team makes an initial stand inside the mess hall — pushing over tables to create, new, dynamic cover opportunities — before storming up onto the deck. Festooned with post-apocalyptic agriculture, rusting equipment, and gibbering Lambent bleeding Imulsion everywhere, the deck of the Sovereign makes for an arresting battlefield.
Fenix and his three companions are tasked with securing the helipad for the arrival of Richard Prescott, prodigal prime minister of the COG who disappeared in humanity’s hour of great need. Once the Lambent are momentarily checked, Prescott touches down, superciliously handing Fenix a data disc that he thinks will interest the hulking, soul-patched soldier. The foursome fights their way to the ship’s CIC, where they can properly decode the disc.
The revelation it contains is nothing short of a bombshell. Dr. Adam Fenix, Marcus’ father, is alive. Presumed killed in the first Locust invasion, the bull-necked, bespectacled scientist apparently survived. What’s more, as he explains in his message, he thinks he has a cure for the Lambent problem.
Though Marcus resolves to find his father and the cure he purports to possess, his specific Lambent problems are rather more immediate. Prescott radios in distress from the Captain’s cabin, and the COG team embarks on another bullet-riddled journey across the open deck, this time with the aid of a Longshot rifle and the use of fire extinguishers to clear their path of smoldering debris.
Arriving in time to save Prescott, Marcus and his three companions order the reptilian politician to stay put. The Sovereign is a “Raven’s Nest”-class carrier, and they need to get the ship’s birds in the air, in case the worst happens. This involves a cleverly designed traipse through a hangar bay — the team has to activate the elevators which will lift the helicopter’s to deck level so they can take off.
Early on in this endeavor, it’s clear that their precaution is justified. The ship is under attack by a Lambent leviathan, which rends huge holes in the hull. The appearance of this creature gives the game an opportunity to indulge in some classic Gears “shouting the obvious” dialogue: “IT’S A GODDAMN LEVIATHAN!” roars Fenix, after a particularly well-scripted tentacle attack. “WATCH THE TENTACLES!” he chides, redundantly, sometime later.
Evading the attentions of the Leviathan for the time being, the team eventually makes it back onto the deck. Once there, they commandeer a pair of Silverback mech suits, and begin to dish out some punishment against the Lambent’s Lovecraftian horror. The boss fight, though it shows off nice creature design and good graphical effects, is mostly of the “shoot the glowing weak point” variety, although using the immense power of the suit to fend off adds lends some welcome excitement.
Instead of killing the beast outright, Marcus and co. attempt to goad it in one particular direction. Another four soldier fire team, under the leadership of Augustus “Cole Train” Cole, has been maneuvering a large quantity of explosives into position on the bridge above the ship. Eventually, they are successful in dropping them onto the Leviathan, bringing an end to the chapter.