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A Criticism of Gears of War 3, Act 3 (Part 1)

Today, I’m trying a slightly different approach.  Instead of doing a blow-by-blow nitpicking of Chapters 1 through 3 of the third Act, I’ll just discuss things rather generally.  It’s still roughly chronological, but this new approach should be easier to read.

Chapter 1: Unbreakable

The chapter opens with Marcus talking to Colonel Hoffman, relaying all of the major plot points thus far.  It’s exposition, but unlike the rest of the exposition in this game, this dialogue is actually well-written.  It feels like Marcus and Hoffman are actually having a conversation, instead of Marcus explaining things to Hoffman for the player’s benefit—it’s a subtle difference that really matters.  And what really sells it is Hoffman’s line at the end: “Fenix, I have no goddamned idea what to say, and that’s a first for me.”  Between the writing, Jamie Alcroft’s delivery, and Hoffman’s expressions, this chapter is off to a really great start.

During the defense of Anvil Gate, while holding grubs off at the second gate, Baird and Hoffman have the following exchange:

Baird: “I thought nobody got past the defenses here.”
Hoffman: “They didn’t, but that was the Pendulum Wars!”
Baird: “You still got Hammer of Dawn Control? You know, the big, dangerous one?”
Hoffman: “I do, but the targeting system’s screwed. We can’t risk it.”

Hoffman took the Hammer of Dawn with him when the former COG abandoned Vectes.  Baird was there, so he should know this already.  And the computers are massive, so it’s not like other Stranded are going to walk into Anvil Gate and juts take it.

Regarding the layout of Anvil Gate: There should be two large towers with a single large cannon in each of them.  Those towers do not exist, which is a shame because they were mentioned in Anvil Gate and Coalition’s End to be very iconic.  Additionally, the layout in-game is to have three courtyards with a garage.  How was this place ever unbreakable?  Furthermore, how did Anvil Gate ever support a civilian population considering how small it is?

The defense fight plays itself.  As a no-win scenario, the only thing that the player can do is make the end come faster.  The illusion of winning is thinly veiled.  The encounter is ultimately not engaging.  The high point of the defense is at the second wave, when Maulers and Grinders are moving in to break the gate; this is the one point where it feels like the player can hold the line, instead of being forced to participate in what is obviously a losing battle.

When the third gate is breached, getting into the garage to repel attackers is very difficult if the player is not already inside the garage.  Apparently, Hoffman can also die without getting downed at this point.  This leads to an objective failure, despite no explicit objective saying that the Colonel must live; it’s a pre-determined loss, so why is one death so pivotal?

The defense ends with a fuel tank being dropped into the third courtyard and ignited.  The “Last Resort” is invulnerable until the objective says to shoot it.

The chapter closes with Hoffman telling Baird that the Hammer of Dawn still triggers a few satellites, but has no accuracy.  Baird replies, “Maybe I can fix that.”  Bullshit!  He had a chance to fix it when it was still busted on Vectes, and he couldn’t.  At least the cutscene ends with some great chemistry between Baird and Bernie; as a reader of the novels, the dialogue between the two is rather heart-warming.

Chapter 2: Rescue

From the ramparts, it is not evident where this chapter takes place.  Looking up at the fort, there aren’t any identifiable points of reference.  In addition, this courtyard is pretty wasteful.  There is a lot of free space, which could be better used for housing the refugees here, with only bits of shelter and storage actually being used.  At least we can see Betty, Dizzy’s grindlift rig from Gears 2, as part of the wall; Dizzy took Betty with him when Hoffman’s group hit the mainland.

If the player stays on the ramparts, then Dom says that he’ll go get Sam, “because [he] owes her one.” He’s concerned for her.  More importantly, it shows us that he’s slowly getting over the loss of Maria.

The fight against the Lambent Berserker…  Like every other boss fight in this game, it’s dragged out longer than it should be.  The best strategy is to grab some power weapons and use those; if you’re playing on Arcade mode, then you cannot bring the Precious with you from 2-6.  On a related note, there isn’t much to do for strategy otherwise.  Players cannot consistently lure the Berserker to them, which means if they have a power weapon that they won’t be able to make full use of it.  This flaw in the design makes it difficult for players to execute their strategy.

For example, maybe the player has a OneShot.  Maybe the player needs some time to get some distance so they can set up properly; nope, the Berserker won’t tolerate that, and charges the player.  However, if the player does manage to get away, then the Berserker will refuse to come at the player so they can fire a round into the chest.  There is no pattern or trigger for making the Berserker charge a specific target, therefore the player has no say in how the fight plays out.  It’s frustrating.

After detonating the boss, the gang finally takes a look at Prescott’s data disc on Azura.  Azura is a remote island, hidden from the world.  Marcus asks, “How the hell do you hide an island?”  Well, no one has any satellites and long-range aerial reconnaissance is out of the question.  With these limitations in mind, it’s pretty damn easy to hide the island.  The bigger question is, “how was this island constructed without anyone blabbing about it?”  The implications of that question are rather grim; Prescott must have contracted some construction, and then when the island was finished, the contractors were either imprisoned on the island or executed.  Of course, when you’ve wiped out 75% of the global population using the Hammer of Dawn, a few hundred construction workers is rather insignificant.

Then we have some dialogue exchanged:

Hoffman: “What the hell is a Maelstrom Barrier?”
Baird: “Some kinda shielding device…”
Yeah, Baird. That’s what a barrier is: it’s a shield; it is designed to keep you safe.

Baird: “Only way in is to go under it.”
Hoffman: “There’s an old sub in the shipyard at Endeavour.”
Baird: “Yeah, if it’s sea-worthy, and you can get the motors running, and if you have fuel for it.”
Those are all of the things that the player has to do in Act 4.

Dizzy says he can fix the sub, fuel it up, and drive it if the squad can find the parts and fuel; Dizzy is ex-merchant navy!  As a marine engineer.  Onboard an imulsion tanker.  I have my doubts that he can actually steer the sub.  As he says in Coalition’s End: “I’m a marine engineer.  I fix ships.  Goddamn it, I got my certification!”

Chapter 3: Breakneck Run

This chapter opens the following morning.  At some point, Carmine and Jace arrived.  Cole, Baird, and Carmine are to go find reinforcements, while Marcus, Anya, Sam, Dom, Dizzy, and Jace are to go find the sub.

The highway system here sucks.  It’s road spaghetti!  We can see Dizzy approaching on the overpass above, though.

It’s a shame that we can only look forward, instead of in 360°.  I’d really like to get a good look at this area between Anvil Gate and Mercy.  On the other hand, it’s really fortunate that everything only attacks when being in front of the trucks.  We’d be pretty much screwed otherwise.

Along the way, there are three volatile pipelines to destroy.  Everything comes in threes, remember?

The airplane frames are pretty cool to look at, for the brief moment we get to look at them.

The texture pop-in on this chapter is really bad, even with the game installed to HDD.

The chapter ends with the Packhorses catching some razor wire and decapitating a Brumak with it.  Remember how I said in the Act 1 post how Seran razor wire is not to be played with?  This is why.

By the way, Dizzy is in the tanker.  Jace is driving the truck that Marcus and Anya are in.  Sam and Dom are being driven by one of Hoffman’s Stranded.  That’s a total of seven people between the three vehicles.  Keep that in mind for Thursday, when we finish Act 3.  There is going to be far more to talk about, too.  Bring a snack!

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