The Forces of Nature Map Pack brings to an end the quite frankly astounding DLC collection offered by developers Epic, as part of the Gears of War 3 Season Pass deal. For the rest of us that didn’t shell out for the DLC in advance, this final Gears 3 map pack is available for 800 MS Points.
The ‘forces of nature’ theming means that each map features, or takes place after, a particularly harsh bit of weather. The pack includes five maps – three new ones, and two retooled maps from Gear of Wars 2. A well as the multiplayer maps, the pack also includes four new character skins, five new weapon skins available straight away plus two more that are unlocked during play.
Like I said in my write-up of Gears of War 3 and my previous Gears 3 DLC review, Gears of War 3 offers some of the best multiplayer fun that you can experience on the Xbox 360. Epic are masters when it comes to crafting online multiplayer games, having honed their sublime skills creating the now classic Unreal Tournament series.
The Gears of War 3 multiplayer modes offer players a third-person shooter experience that requires more than just twitch skills. The multiplayer maps are craftily designed with tactical gameplay in mind. This means a more dynamic game with less poorly-balanced sniping, camping and fools jumping around to avoid fire. Basically it’s very good; and with each map pack released it gets better.
The first map is titled Artillery and is set amongst a fort of some kind with an ever-present and slowly approaching tornado in the distance. The map gives players plenty of cover in a combat arena that I found to be too flat and just a little bit bland. Things get a little more exiting when the warning sound goes off and the tornado gets close to the battle, reducing visibility. I felt that the map lacked the sparkle that Gears maps usually offer; the tornado offers a hook, but one that doesn’t add that much to the game.
Next there’s Cove. This battle is set amongst a foggy dock area that that definitely seen better days. Again, this map is very flat, but there is more chance of getting ambushed and the pacing seems a bit quicker than that of Artillery. The fog doesn’t really offer any additional challenge, except when it amplifies the rising (or setting) sun, which will blind you. Still, not on par with the usual offerings.
Aftermath takes the conflict to a once majestic, now flooded city. In the background a huge ship rests where receding flood-waters left it. This is another of those maps that really show of the Epic designers’ architectural modelling skills. The map features classical-looking buildings with vantage points that allow for some map-wide sniping. Those same buildings provide some good vertical gameplay. Apart from some ominous rumbles, the danger seems to be over and the daylight setting offers players the brightest map of all those included in the pack.
Jacinto is a reimagined map from Gears of War 2 that, keeping with the ‘forces of nature’ theme, is this time caught in the middle of a torrential rainstorm. It is a night map that is lit by the pools of glowing Imulsion scattered about the city. The map’s multi-level structures, tight corners and good sniping spots make for a fast-paced game with plenty of up-close combat opportunities.
The last map, Raven Down, is another fan favourite from Gears of War 2, and lets players fight a pitched battle around a crashed aircraft. The flurry of snow can quickly turn into a blizzard, reducing visibility to such an extent that it is easy to accidently run straight into the enemy. There’s lots of running and lots of gunning to be had in this open map that still has plenty of decent cover spots.
With every Gears of War 3 map pack release there’s also been a smattering of additional character and weapon skins included for good measure. With the Forces of Nature map pack we get an additional four new character maps: The Savage Hunter, Commando Dom, Mechanic Baird and the Savage Grenadier Elite. There are also five new weapon skins, which are available immediately, plus another two which are unlockable. Whilst I’m happy to pay for the additional depth that well-crafted DLC gives to an existing game, paying for extra skins - things that we used to unlock during play - is a bit disappointing.
To be honest, while the ‘force of nature’ theming makes for an interesting selling point, I thought that the gameplay environments would be a little more affected by the touted bad weather. Apart from some of the maps having poor visibility, that’s it. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with what we’ve got, I’m just saying this would have been the perfect opportunity for some maps with more dynamic scenery and creative gameplay challenges.
As usual, the visuals are top notch and there is some amazing attention to detail, especially with the wind effects as the tornado approaches in Artillery. Creating the weather effects has also kept the Epic sound designers busy in providing us with some neat sound effects, especially that howling wind.
Of the five maps, Aftermath looks the nicest, but it is Jacinto and Raven Down that offer the best multiplayer fun. Aftermath follows closely; but the other two, Artillery and Cove, I could take or leave.
All in all, the Forces of Nature map pack is a solid effort. It’s not quite the send-off that I thought it would be, being the last piece of content for this epic Gears of War trilogy of games, but it was always going to be hard to live up to the excellent standard set by previous map releases, and it’s only in comparison to these that this otherwise excellent release feels so underwhelming.
Lasting appeal: 8.5