Price: £49.99
Format: Xbox 360
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft

What do you need to know about Gears of War 3? Is it worth buying? Definitely. Does it surpass its predecessors? For the most part, yes. Is it an industry redefining release? Well, no, not really.

What Gears 3 is however, is an example of how the refinement of an idea can lead to the release of a perfectly honed title; particularly when the team doing the honing is one of the biggest, most cutting-edge developers out there. Take for example the tap or hold ‘x’ button, tapping reviving a downed teammate and holding (just for a second mind you) swapping your weapon with the one on the floor. A simple, almost obvious upgrade, but one which puts an end to death caused by button confusion – bane of the seasoned gamer.

Right about now it’s probably worth giving the single-player campaign a brief mention, just before we Roadie Run headlong into the online arena. What to say? It’s a decent sized, entertaining enterprise which won’t win any prizes for its scripting (actually check that, it probably will, this being the games industry and all).

Its story of humans versus locust and lambent aliens is one well treaded in different trousers, its particulars not justifying any real analysis. There’s the supposed high drama, the inevitably gargantuan bosses which still have glowing bits to target (the wait goes on for the a boss whose shiny bits aren’t actually its weak spots) and a plot of camaraderie amongst soldiers we’re meant to care for, though, for me at least, none are particularly rounded or vulnerable enough to elicit much empathy.

The campaign does however conjure the required amount of excitement, the nigh on infinite enemies making for some of the most excessive action sequences we’ve experienced. Again, it isn’t any huge leap over Gears 1 or Gears 2, but it is a refinement, your squad (you’ll generally have three buddies helping you out) doing a decent job of responding realistically, while sheer numbers of enemies largely makes up for shortcomings in AI.

Of course, the campaign, as with the rest of the Gears 3 experience, only really comes alive when it’s taken online; in fact we’d go so far as to say that online is a necessity to get the most out of your £50. The much hyped four-player campaign is a great as promised and tearing up the lambent with three buddies proving as fine a multiplayer experience as your likely to have. Even playing with strangers proves engaging enough providing they’re actually going about it with the right kind of attitude.

Then there’s the huge array of multiplayer options; Versus, Horde and Beast modes, all with their individual merits and each worthy of their own dedicated articles – which perhaps we’ll get on to just when we’ve torn the 360 pad out of our blistered hands.

To describe them briefly: Versus is where you’ll find your standard deathmatch, your King of the Hill, Capture the Leader and other variations –including a Couter-Strike-like one life per round mode which makes for some of Gears’ most heated exchanges yet.

Horde mode meanwhile is, quelle surprise, another refinement, this time of Gears 2’s Horde mode where player had to hold out against waves of enemy forces. Here however, additional tactical considerations must be made – where to places base equipment to best withstand the might of the lambent for example. Beast mode meanwhile is a further riff on this theme, turning the tables by putting the player in the boots of the aliens as they look to exterminate the human from what is after all their planet anyway.

Regardless of which mode you choose you’ll find yourself caught up in some of the best balanced, most gruesome, most tense and just plain fun multiplayer ever dreamt up. The guns on offer all with their individual merits (and none head and shoulders above the other); maps which each offer up strategic alternatives depending on your play type (and then ripping up those strategies if you change from say Team Deathmatch to King of the Hill; perfect pacing which sees tactical play punctuated by sudden, explosive confrontation and edge of the your seat finishes which occur far too often to be random, but in fact the result of painstaking play testing, the likes of which is too seldom seen these days.

Perhaps it’s best to sum up simply by saying that as I write these words my mind is whirling with ways to get an edge on my opponent, the benefit of the sawn-off versus gnasher shotguns, the fastest way to get to those all-important map-spawning guns, the mulchar, mortar and Hammer of Dawn … I could go on. What is for sure is that Epic have prodded, polished and refined the Gears experience into what is perhaps its perfect state.

Sure, it doesn’t change gaming forever, as perhaps the hype might have us believe, but it certainly delivers on the entertainment stakes, and isn’t that really all that we ask?