Environments are varied enough to feel like a complete story, and graphics/effects are second-to-none. The overall arc is once again a Star-Warsian rendition of Homer’s “Odyssey”, consisting of constant travel and constant epic monster battles. On paper this may seem like a boring ride, but in practice Epic has managed to inject enough interesting detail to make Gears 3 a true standout game, not only in gameplay and co-op but in story and substance. Short dream sequences, the obligatory handful of shoot-stuff-from-a-slow-moving-vehicle-platform (including underwater), several unique boss battles, split paths...the campaign alone feels like the end product of master storytellers giving players as much as they can on one disc.
In the interest of technical information: the campaign supports two players in splitscreen, or four players via Live or system link. If two local players want to play over Live from the same console, it is possible, but for the first time in the series both players are required to have Live Gold subscriptions - no guest players online. Each player can choose their own difficulty; a nice touch.
Like the rest of the game, the Campaign is chock full of reasons to play it again and again. An Achievement is available for playing through in either of the two easier difficulties (Easy, Normal) and another is available for completing one of the harder difficulties (Hard, Insane). Another Achievement is available for playing through in co-op (two to four players), and yet another for playing through in four-player co-op, specifically. If all that wasn’t enough, an Arcade mode makes things a little more raucous by pitting the squad against each other in competition for the best score.
So, obviously I’m quite taken with the co-op campaign. But I can’t undercut Horde mode - not in good conscience. Gears 2 introduced us to the magic of this five-player survival mode, and it’s back with a vengeance. Now each time you fire up a round each player generates cash, which can be spent on fortifications and obstacles. While on one hand this adds a layer of ease to your survival, on the other hand ammo can only be replenished via cash purchase - so how you save/spend your monies is a new factor in individual and team strategies. I thoroughly loved my short time with the new Horde mode.
Beast mode, surmised by many to be the “opposite-of-Horde” mode, is actually very different than expected. Like Horde, it also thrives on cash earned while playing, but unlike Horde the cash is not spent on ammo and obstacles. Each time you spawn, you’re given a choice of class to play as - each of these has a relative cost. Considering that you are much more expendable in Beast mode (as part of Locust wave attacks), it’s more important to use your short life efficiently than to worry about long-term survival. And if you spend all of your cash on the most powerful class available each time, then you could find yourself resorting to a lowly Ticker when the rest of your team is coordinating a Boomer/Grenadier combo assault. Getting to the last round of Beast mode will definitely take some tips from experienced players...and a small degree of team strategy. Also: watch out for chainsaw bayonets around every corner.
Versus multiplayer retains Gears 2’s ten players per game for all modes minus Wingman, which has been dropped back to eight (four teams of two). The player count for your online party is also ten, an odd sight but a welcome one. “Mute” and “kick” options are all present, including a single-button command that will mute all players in the party that aren’t already on your Friends List. King of the Hill mode is back, as well as Wingman, Execution, Warzone, and Team Deathmatch. Capture the Leader combines and replaces Guardian and Submission. If these don’t mean anything to you, then I apologize. Just know that there’s a full buffet of multiplayer gametypes, should you tire of the co-op buffet. I had no issues connecting to any games, and if anyone dropped from the match in progress an AI bot took their place without so much as a hiccup.