There are two names that immediately spring to mind when any conversation revolving around multiplayer on the Xbox 360 is sparked: Halo and Gears of War. Although there was a game released from the Master Chief camp in 2011, it was a budget price remake. Although it may have been an admirable redux, it was relegated to performing on the side stage this past year while Microsoft and Epic made sure that Gears of War 3 (GoW3) headlined the show. As such, a heaping ration of pressure was plopped onto the team at Epic to come through with a stellar collection of online modes that would prove to 360 owners that the console had a lively new exclusive shooter to keep them busy until Halo 4.
Gears 3 raised the bar for the series in terms of both competitive and cooperative multiplayer offerings. All of the series’ staples — such as the Lancer and big, nasty dudes trading fire from behind the perceived safety of cover — are back again and they’re implemented as splendidly as always. Charging into the fray to chainsaw someone in half, blasting their noggin into warm liquid good with a shotgun, or jamming a fragmentation grenade into their chest feels fantastic.
The new additions to the arsenal inject some much-needed variety into the meat of the game and make for exhilarating new encounters: screaming your head off as you charge forward to impale your foe with the bayonet as if he were a crab on a stick is an experience that is not to be missed by any shooter fan.
The fresh weapons and Brumak-sized load of unlockables are great, but it’s the vastly improved level design that really raises the bar. Destroyed beauty was a wonderful little novel concept back when the first entry in the series released, but the grays and browns of post-apocalyptic worlds have been done to death over the last several years. GoW3 spices things up by adding sunny skies, grassy Thrashball turf, and other cheerier locational elements make the maps attractive places to spend time in. What a novel concept that is. An atrocious spawn system is about the only thing that drags down the fantastic level design.
Topping it all off is an improved horde mode that features some light tower-defense components that can be upgraded to aid players in their frantic struggle against wave after wave of unrelenting enemies and the occasional boss. For me, this is the standout slice of Gears 3’s multiplayer pie. It is difficult to put a finger on what exactly makes the series’ horde mode superior to the sea of wannabes out there, but I believe that it to be one simple fact: blasting Locust to bits is damn fun.
GoW3 is a prime example of what makes gaming online on the 360 so great. Epic’s threequel certainly didn’t win in unanimous fashion. There were a number of exemplary multiplayer games released in 2011, but they’ll have to duke it out for number two on our list. The majority of our staff loved Gears of War 3’s competitive and cooperative offerings, making it our top multiplayer title of last year.