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9 Reviews

Gears of War 3: Forces of Nature

Wrath of the elements

Modern Warfare likes to think it knows about fan backlash, but it can't hold an incendiary grenade to Gears of War. Forget quibbling over such niceties as whether Quickdraw Pro is a deal-breaking concession to the quickscopers, or whether Last Man Standing has any place in the world of E-sports - what they lack in customisation options, Epic's core disciples make up for in ferocity. The iconic Lancer rifle, for instance, has been the centre of a raging community hurricane since the franchise's inception.

The developer's handling of such flare-ups is admirably fiesty. Faced with high levels of Gnasher phobia, Epic introduced the Sawed-off with Gears of War 3: impossibly powerful, easy to aim, and all told exactly the kind of weapon to spur freshly slain players to the forums at 3am, pitchforks in hand. The fourth Gears 3 DLC pack seems equally traumatic at first glance, equipping its five maps with fluctuating climate conditions as a sort of eco-conscious answer to the problem of diminishing returns.

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When first we read about Forces of Nature, our heads were filled with fearful visions of Razorhail billows purging maps of their combatants. But the implementation is actually quite restrained, and the cosmetic rewards are considerable. Snow periodically descends on remastered Gears 1 map Raven Down, lending this infamous crossroads a brightness that's unusual even for the vastly more colourful Gears 3. Gears 2 favourite Jacinto, meanwhile, gets sheets of summer rain to cool its new Imulsion burns.

Visibility is the obvious casualty, and that's just as well when you're playing Raven Down, a tiny map that offers relatively little shelter to respawning players. Expect utter chaos here when playing TDM, and good luck getting away from the Locust on high-level Horde matches. The fallen Jacinto is still one of the series' best, a horse shoe map with a spawn on either prong; Epic has added secondary routes along the bottom and up the sides, making it harder to trap a team in their base, but easier to catch the enemy from the rear. The loss of the central Longshot drop may annoy purists, but is a sensible tweak given the new sightlines to east or west.

While Jacinto is likely to attract the largest crowds, don't discount the original offerings. Cove has the least character, a foggy Stranded coastal village with long side routes, but there's fun to be had seizing and defending the Longshot tucked down one flank. It's set on a raised, pillared platform with a clear view to north and south, but a shortage of backdrop makes would-be snipers easy to pick out in turn.

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Artillery is enjoyably twisted - each team has swift access to a Oneshot bunker overlooking the central yard, cue a mad rush at the outset, and opening silo doors create unexpected cover opportunities. But it's Aftermath that takes home gold, a breathtakingly scenic slice of flooded city (complete with teetering beached tanker) that's pitch-perfect for snipers, prolonged TDM and truly epic Horde matches, with its balconies sweeping round and down into galleries and plazas. There's no visibility hit here, but the irregular quakes won't do much for your aim.

Aftermath is definitely the right choice if you're playing Guardian - a Gears 2 mode which gives you infinite respawns as long as your team leader's upright and breathing. Controversially, team leaders are now visible on HUDs as coloured stars, making them easier to chase down, but as in Capture the Leader, they'll be able to see all other players via Tac/Com. In other words: you'll always know where they are, but they'll always see you coming. It just about balances out, providing the chap in charge isn't an idiot.

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