HANDS ON: Gears of War 3 review

Big Dudes, Big Guns, Big Fun

The final entry in the Gears of War trilogy has just been released, and Xbox 360 fans have reason to cheer. Marcus, Dom, Cole and Baird are back in a final effort to save the planet Sera from a new enemy: the Lambent. These creatures are big, they're powerful, and they are gruesome. And oh yeah, they're a ton of fun to kill.

If you haven't played a Gears of War game yet, or just want a refresher on how things got to where they are, the team at Epic Games has put together a short video outlining the history of Gears 1 and 2. Once you're up to speed, jump in to the four player cooperative campaign. New weapons such as the silverback mech suit and one-shot sniper will aid you in your journey. The story might not be the deepest or most engaging, but who cares? You're firing rockets at hundred foot tall monsters and chainsawing ugly Locust creatures in half! You can play through the campaign with anywhere from one to four players on difficulties ranging from Casual to Insane. For newcomers or those going alone, Casual will present the slimmest of challenges and is ideal for those who like to play at their own pace (or search for dozens of collectibles), while Insane (unlocked once you beat the game on Hardcore) is, well, insane. Bring a friend or three. You're going to need 'em.

If you want to have even more fun with campaign, play through in Arcade mode. Kills and revivals earn you points, and there is a definite thrill in outscoring your friend next to you on the couch. You'll also find mutators such as "big head mode" or "laugh track" to change things up and can add to that score. There are some mutators that make things even harder, such as "no ammo pickups" or "friendly fire". Mix and match these mutators to provide the ultimate in campaign replay value.

If campaign isn't your thing, or you want a new challenge, prepare for the deepest Xbox 360 multiplayer this side of the Halo series. Horde mode returns, and it's borrowed from its tower-defense buddies. In Horde, you'll battle up to 50 waves of Locust and Lambent enemies on any multiplayer map. Complete a round and you'll be given about 20 seconds to fortify your defenses. Build decoy mannequins, plant barbed wire, or construct turrets to help you deal with the increasingly difficult enemies. Up to five players can work together with the goal of outlasting the beasts.

Speaking of beasts, Horde 2.0 is joined by the all-new Beast mode. Turn the tables on those pesky humans as you control the bad guys. Take control of kamikaze Ticker bugs, Drones, and other scum in an effort to overthrow the human race. You won't get the benefit of booby-traps that the humans have, but your numbers are greater.

Gears' version of team deathmatch is Warzone. Each team is given a set amount of lives at the start of the match. When these respawns run out, there's no jumping back in. This leads to thrilling online duels where one human can outwit a batch of Locusts to pull off an amazing come from behind victory. However, if you need to get your feet wet, or don't feel like playing online, this mode (and many other multiplayer modes) can be played offline, with A.I. bots taking the place of your enemies.

Other popular multiplayer modes returned to the game as well, such as King of the Hill, Capture the Flag (with an unlucky gamer playing the part of the human flag) and Wingman, where four teams of two battle it out elimination-style.

There is so much to do in Gears of War 3 that this game is almost a steal at $60. Even if you never spend a second with the campaign, the multiplayer modes will keep things exciting for years to come. And if you don't want to play online, the arcade mode in campaign is full of replay value and new thrills every time you play. Gears of War 3 is an instant candidate for Game of the Year, and this Xbox 360 exclusive is a worthy addition to the blockbuster franchise.

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