(CBS) - Gears of War 3 came out today to rave reviews. The third-person shooting game puts you in the shoes of the game's star Marcus Fenix as you fight against enemy monsters.
It you're not a hardcore gamer, you're probably wondering how to jump in to a game that is on its third iteration. We asked Epic Games producer Rod Fergusson for some in-depth advice on how a newbie should jump into the third installation of the Gears of War series.
CN: What is the best tip for a beginner jumping in the game at this point?
RF: As a beginner jumping into Gears of War 3, don't worry as this version of Gears has a lot of features designed just for you to make it easier to get into the game and have fun.
The first thing you'll want to do is watch the "Previously on Gears" cinematic that will give you the necessary background story from the previous two games to really enjoy the campaign. Gears is a co-operative game, it was meant to be played with friends (Gears 3 supports 4 player co-op in campaign), so now that you're up to speed with the story, find some friends online and get started with a "new" campaign.
If you don't have any friends and you don't want to play alone, you can just select to join someone else's game and make some new friends as you play.
When asked for the difficulty level, select "Casual" if this is your first time as it will make the experience much more forgiving and will provide you with some aiming assistance to help you get used to the controls.
The campaign has a rich tutorial system which will walk you through all the important controls you need to know to be successful. After you finish the campaign, Horde Mode would be the next place I suggest going. It too is a co-operative game type for five players and the objective is simple - try to survive 50 waves of enemies. It's all about teamwork and so it's a great place to learn the game as everyone rally's together and supports each other.
When you're ready for some competitive multiplayer, you can train by creating "Private" matches where you can practice your skills and learn the maps fighting against A.I. controlled enemies (you can set how difficult you want them to be). Once you're comfortable there, fire up "Casual" multiplayer and you'll be entering a select area reserved just for new players like you. You'll get to play along with, and against, other beginners and learn the competitive game without facing those that have been playing for years.
We also interviewed Gears of War 3 writer Karen Traviss on how to get us caught up on the game's story. Traviss was brought in to give the story a fresh perspective. This is her first time writing for the Gears of War series.
CN: Can you provide a brief back story to catch us up on the events leading up to Gears of War 3?
KT: Sera is a world that's just come out of a decades-long war over "imulsion," a kind of fuel. Just as that war ends, a completely unknown sentient species - the Locust - bursts out from underground warrens and begins slaughtering humans in their millions across the world. Nobody knows where they've come from or what they want: all the humans can do is try to fight back against overwhelming odds, and they soon reach a point where the only option left to stop the Locust is a scorched earth policy, to destroy all the major cities with an orbital weapon called the Hammer of Dawn.
Millions of people, maybe even billions, die. But the Locust regroup and come back, and humanity is now cornered in small enclaves. Marcus Fenix, a decorated veteran, is one of the Gears (soldiers) fighting to protect what's left of the human race. They fight on for 15 years until the last human stronghold (Jacinto) is about to be overrun by the Locust, then literally sink the city with the enemy forces inside it.
The Locust finally seem defeated and the human survivors are now refugees trying to rebuild society from nothing. But when they take refuge on a remote island, they find out the hard way why the Locust came to the surface and elbowed the humans out of the way - they were trying to escape a lethal life-form called the Lambent, which is gradually taking over the entire planet, causing terrible mutations and killing everything it touches. The refugees are forced to flee again to escape the Lambent, and break up into small nomadic tribes to survive.
When the third game opens, we see one of those groups - the Gears - eking out a precarious existence at sea in a rusting helicopter carrier while the world is gradually dying around them. And then a helicopter appears out of nowhere, and they get some shocking news...
CN: How do you think you've humanized the characters and their stories in Gears of War 3 versus the last two games?
KT: Whether I'm writing novels, comics, or games, all my fiction is driven by characters. And my specialty is the soldiers' perspective - even if they're fictional and have outrageously large biceps, they're still ordinary guys doing that most extraordinary of jobs, as real as I can make them and true to the military communities I know. And I've obviously been steeped in the various characters' mind-sets while writing the novels and comics, so I simply carry that over to the game: I immerse and treat it as a real war with real people.
There's no other way I can write. I have to see the world through the eyes of the characters I'm writing, and I'm a news journalist by background, so that's how I tackle everything, as if it's really happening. War seen from an overview is best done by historians. The human experience of war is best seen from the perspective of individual soldiers. And that's going to be a very tight focus - staying alive and looking out for your mates, as we say in the UK, rather than big picture politics and patriotism. We have a lot of military players and readers, and they often tell me they appreciate the fact that the Gears ring true to life in terms of outlook and reactions. It really matters to me to tell the truth about what it means to serve, even in fiction - even if the Gears wield chainsaw rifles and face non-human enemies, the bonds and the loyalty are real.
CN: Let's talk about the protagonist of the Gears of War 3. Is it someone new? Why should we care about the protagonist?
KT: We've stuck with a tight-knit band of characters from the start - the game is very personal, very intimate, and that's one of the things that engages the audience. They know these guys. (And gals.) They want to know what happens to them, because there really isn't a guaranteed happy ending. People die in Gears, just as they die in real life, and the world is short on miracles - this is a desperate struggle to survive.
Characters matter a lot more to gamers than most people think: it's exactly like watching a TV show or reading a book - you immerse, and the people become vivid and real to you. Games are just another form of fiction, albeit a more demanding one in many ways for both audience and creator. Yes, it's fun to let off steam shooting monsters, and Gears has some wonderfully disturbing ones that you can dispense with in entertaining ways - or they'll dispense with you if you're not fast enough - but players will tell you the game becomes a lot more intense for them when they can really understand and identify with the characters.
I'm not sure there's really a single protagonist in Gears, because it isn't a one-character story: they all have their interlinked story arcs and people feel they know them by now. But a lot of fans are going to be focused on what happens to Marcus Fenix and Dom Santiago. Marcus and Dom have been through their respective personal hells in not one but two wars, and there are some pretty harrowing revelations ahead, especially for Marcus. He's a complex and troubled man, a reluctant hero with an overwhelming sense of duty and guilt, and Dom is an incredibly loyal, never-quit friend who'll never abandon him however hard it gets and no matter how much it costs him. The dynamics of a small unit are very family-like, but there's also the real family angle in this - dead wives, missing fathers, grieving sons, and trying desperately to save the people you love.