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The soldiers of COG are back, and this time they face an even more formidable foe.

Gears of War 3 Cover
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Epic Games
Available: Out now
Price: £39.99

And so the pre-Christmas rush for your hard earned pennies begins as the major game studios begin rolling out the big guns… First out of the starting blocks is the third iteration of Epic Games third person epic, Gears of War.

This time around, the soldiers of COG are very much on the back foot, thanks to a new threat which has declared indiscriminate war on both the humans and their former opponents, the Locust. The game begins aboard a battered and battle-scarred warship, held together by goodwill and luck that acts as home to the last remnants of the human military machine. The old faces from the previous games are all present and correct with the player mostly filling the shoes of the legendary Marcus Fenix – a man seemingly carved from solid beef [as are the majority of his compatriots]. After a quick, but poignant wander around the ship to orient yourself all hell rapidly breaks loose when the new foe begins their attack. Hewn from a combination of plant matter and highly explosive 'Imulsion' – the Lambent patently have a grudge against the planet's new inhabitants and show remarkable intelligence for vegetables – they utilise human and locust weaponry, as well as having the ability to hurl Imulsion over the top of the cover which used to be such a boon in the first two instalments.

It's not long before Gears of War unleashes its first set-piece of over-awing spectacle as a massive Lambent/fish thing joins the attack and starts taking huge chunks out of your ship – significantly lowering your odds of survival – Gears of War 3 certainly inherits its predecessors sense of the dramatic. Visually, it is sublime with the Unreal 3 engine pushing out hitherto unseen levels of graphical gorgeousness and detail. The plot and characters, as written by series scribe Karen Traviss remain superbly realised and likeable – leading to a palpable sense of comradeship with your team-mates and a genuine sense of gratitude when they run into the fray to save your butt.

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Epic as the singleplayer campaign is, it is the multiplayer which will ensure the longevity of any game and Gears doesn't disappoint here. Oft copied by its peers, the Horde mode returns with more RPG elements as you earn points to spend on fortifying your position with upgradeable turrets, fences and towers in a bid to stave off the ever tougher waves of enemies trying to tear your team to pieces. Beast mode reverses the roles, but is a more tactical experience as you unleash a menagerie of critters against the beleaguered COG – each turn costing points that must be justified by earning more for kills. Team Deathmatch offers some great locales for player-on-player carnage and remains the most satisfying form of one-upmanship against cocky teens.

As befits its blockbuster status, Gears of War 3 is a formidably polished experience that exhibits a genuine evolutionary leap over its previous instalments – it is a full throttle, emotive and awe inspiring game that pulls out all the stops in the name of entertainment and, with online and multiplayer modes, one that should keep on giving for many months to come…

9/10