Gears of War 3
Bayoneting reptilian humanoids never felt so ... right.
Fenix's sprint is similarly distinctive and purposeful. When he runs, Fenix doesn't just quicken his normal pace. Instead, he enters the famed Gears "roadie run," in which the camera tightens on his bustling frame and jiggles frenetically, producing a thrilling feeling of urgent flight. And when you hit a button to send Fenix into cover, he does more than just sidle smoothly up to a wall. As Tom Bissell showed in his aptly titled 2008 New Yorker profile of Bleszinski, "The Grammar of Fun," Epic's designers took great care to make sure Fenix hurtled into position with a gratifying, controller-rattling thump, uttering just the right grunt and stirring up just the right amount of dust. Each of the game's actions, from the concussive jerk of Fenix's shotgun to the propulsive feeling of dodging out of the line of fire, begs to be repeated. That's just what Bleszinski intends. "I should want to be the rat with the feeder pellet who's addicted to that one little thing in your game," he told Gamasutra.
Though these gameplay elements all appeared in earlier Gears games, Gears of War 3 blows its predecessors out of the Locust-infested gym. (Seriously, there's a Locust-infested gym.) Bleszinski has said that his goal is to remove all of the parts of games that "feel like work," and Epic accordingly crafted this entry into a digital speedball: all fun, no downers. Gears 3 has corrected every hiccup that slowed down the prior games (like tedious vehicle sequences and overly vast maps), and the game plays faster, looks better, and animates more fluidly than any Gears title before it.
Gears of War 3 highlights just how much detail-obsessed work goes into creating a video game that feels not just fun but also natural. The game is so responsive and intuitive that you notice virtually no gap between what you want Fenix to do—say, chainsaw your way through the Locust army—and what he actually does onscreen. Even when compared with another fun, highly polished game like Halo: Reach, Gears 3 stands out for the balanced, almost naturalistic sensation of its combat. In Halo's disembodied long-distance gunplay, characters avoid damage by running sideways and jumping up and down like idiots. Gears of War, by contrast, is intimate and breathtakingly visceral—a game that often doesn't feel like a game.
Gears 3's only real blemish, in truth, is its single-player experience. Everything, including its main campaign, has been designed for cooperative online play, so taking on the game by yourself is distressingly easy and undramatic. If you take cover in a safe place and wait, your computer-controlled squadmates will win most any battle on their own. The game is meant to be played online.
Fortunately, Gears of War 3 is so dense with content—from its standard competitive multiplayer setups to its ingenious, endlessly replayable cooperative modes like Horde and Beast—that you can ignore the main storyline entirely and still have hundreds of hours of unadulterated fun. Which is why Gears 3 is such a danger to any strong-stomached human with an Xbox: When you've created a game so well-wrought that even reloading a gun is enjoyable, the thing should probably be regulated as a Schedule I narcotic. Play Gears of War 3 for a few hours, and you'll never be happier to be a rat with a feeder pellet. Good luck trying to stop.
Taylor Clark is a writer based in Portland, Oregon. His most recent book is Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool.
Image from Gears of War 3 courtesy Epic Games.