Gears of War 3
All good things must come to an end. It has been a long road since we first busted Marcus Fenix out of prison back in 2006 to fight the Locust horde.
Humanity has been through the ringer but instead of them fighting off the Locust and restoring peace to their home planet they have been fought to the brink of extinction and Gears of War 3 finds them teetering on the edge in a desperate last stand for survival.
Gears of War was the game that put the Xbox 360 on the map by showing off the console's visual prowess and its ability to provide some fast-moving and addictive multiplayer which still has a fairly strong following five years on.
Epic then shied away for a while working very hard on the next breakthrough on the Unreal Engine which paid off in spades when they first demoed Gears of War 2. Gears of War 2 saw the human race fall into darker times accompanied by some impressive graphical advances.
Sadly the multiplayer was plagued with problems and many gamers find themselves drifting back to the original's snappy pace and solid matchmaking.
With Gears of War 3 Epic are pulling out all the stops to make sure that the huge jumps in visuals are accompanied by the kind of multiplayer mode that is worthy of the end of Humanity. The first part of this was to engage in a hugely successful beta programme that allowed them to fine-tune the multiplayer and reward loyal Gears fans in the process ahead of the game's release in the Autumn.
The second part is a reworking of the Horde co-op multiplayer which provides a bit of variety over the classic favourites like deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag.
Gears of War 3 will be furnished with a five-player version of Horde mode with players teaming up to hold off increasingly tough waves of Locust from your chosen strong-point with limited resources. Each kill earns player money which can be used to buy better weapons, extra ammunition, fortifications, traps and mounted weapons for the defensive position.
This is good fun. There's nothing particularly revelatory about a co-operative survival mode but Gears of War 3's Horde mode does it right. The level we were playing through was well-balanced and had plenty of opportunity to place defences and mounted weaponry at a variety of choke points. The mild disappointment here is that placing defences is more of a case of running up to a location which has a ghost image of razor-wire or a turret and selecting whether or not to buy the thing. This eliminates a whole tactical element from the gameplay and perhaps it might have been better to give more freedom to placing defences in the rally phases of play in between waves.
The gameplay itself is as fast and cover-reliant as ever, demanding the usual careful timing and aiming in order to maximise the damage of every bullet. The kinks from the cover-mechanic have been fully ironed out and it now feels suitably smooth and convenient to enter and leave cover.
Another refreshing refinement is that the weapon damage is a little more forgiving. This is especially welcomed in Horde mode given that you have to buy additional ammunition with the money you earn from killing Locust. The trusty Lancer is very handy at dispatching enemies and even, with some concentrated fire to the head, can take down a Boomer without too much hassle.
With no single player modes on display we have to rely on what Cliff Bleszinski and Ice-T had to show us on the stage at E3. Unsurprisingly the E3 demo was suitably epic (excuse the pun). It saw our familiar squad, led by Marcus Fenix defending a pier installation from a massive aquatic monster.
This monster was even larger than a Corpser and thankfully there were mech suits on hand to add a bit of extra firepower. From the demo it was unclear whether these bits of heavy kit will be playable when Gears 3 hits the shelves in September but they still added some much needed weight to the human side of the battle.
As you would expect, the visuals are as sharp, detailed and gory as ever throwing you deeper into the the action than ever before. It also demonstrates that you will need to be braver than ever before as Gears 3 seems to promise the biggest challenges that the series has ever presented. Given that the Gears franchise is not known for being particularly forgiving at least on the higher difficulty settings Gears of War 3 will probably not be for the faint of heart.
At this point it is hard to see how Gears of War 3 could be anything less than its predecessors. With the return of multiplayer more akin to the first game and additional engine refinements over the spectacular Gears 2 experience Gears 3 is promising a titanic ending to the story.
Gears of War 3 will hit the Xbox 360 on September 20th beginning what promises to be an exciting festive season for shooter fans.