Gears of War 3 gameplay preview

Hands-on: Humanity is on the edge...

"We never said Gears would be a trilogy," stresses Cliff Bleszinski AKA Dude Huge, the loveable nerd-turned-super cool millionaire Lamborghini owner, and the bulging brains behind 360's best-selling original franchise.

"Gamers don't like trilogies," Bleszinki continues. "They will judge if a game deserves to get a sequel or not. As for us, we just hoped we could do enough to earn the right to continue the series."

Time (and nine million copies shifted) has proved that Xbox owners want as much of brooding bandanna hulk Marcus Fenix and his curb-stomping COG (Coalition of Ordered Governments) troopers as the North Carolina-based team can throw at us.

As Bleszinki flexed his considerable pecs on NBC's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, he also took time to reveal what he called "the worst kept secret in the games industry." That secret was Gears 3. Bleszinki rolled the trailer and the 'net lit up with rumour and theory: just who is that tentacled third faction seen swatting the Locust? Why did Marcus look so knackered? Was that a sawn-off shottie?

Rest assured, Gears of War has never been a series to stand still. The original title spawned the cover-shooter genre, before the sequel spiced up the recipe with dashings of survival-horror, sprinklings of giant worm intestine-based action, and the ruddy great cherry-on-top of Brumak riding. Rather than bore us with a PowerPoint presentation, the artist formally known as Cliffy B, and Executive Producer Rod Fergusson, leapt right into the fray. Confirming the sizzling excitement of four-player co-op, they treated us to a whopping chunk of Gears 3's opening level, where the last few human survivors are barely clinging on.

Set aboard a retrofitted naval carrier called Raven's Nest, the tatty boat is a haven for the last dregs of humanity. It's a sure sign of how bad things are, as Gears' main-man, Marcus Fenix, walks around the battered lower decks in search of best mate Dom Santiago. Finding his old pal (looking grizzled and bearded), erm... watering his radishes, the rolling co-op suddenly kicks in as player two takes control of Santiago.

The devs pause to take in the colossal, gross, alien Lambent stalk looming up from the ocean next to the carrier. "These are our new Emergence Holes," reveals Bleszinski. To protect the Raven's Nest from direct attack, the ship defences batten down their armour-plated hatches. It's not long before we bump into our third playable character, cornrowed Jayson 'Jace' Stratton from the popular Gears comics. Completing the quartet is the delectable Anya Stroud, now kitted out in full COG armour and virtually unrecognisable from her drab comms officer days. Lara Croft and Faith Connors watch out - there's a new alpha female in town.

Over the radio, news reaches our COGs that ex-Chairman Prescott, thought dead, is approaching Raven's Nest in a helicopter. "He never called, he never sent flowers..." mocks Anya. This revelation sets the scene for the shooty-shooty action to kick off in full. The carrier is suddenly swamped with a new foe - the parasitic Polyp. These icky headcrab-a-likes are chucked up by the massive Lambent stalks, exploding out from under the ocean. The invaders scuttle around, making them tricky to
target. The new sawn-off shottie soon makes short work of the critters, peppering them with its awesome killing power and ridiculously wide spread.

Even neater, you can now swap weapons and ammo with your co-op buddies (and even some NPCs), so you've always got the right tool for the gory job. Further polish has been added to the cover system too. The big new play is the flying kick takedown, out from cover, that turns defence into attack in a flash.

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