Another great gaming trilogy came to an end Sept. 20. Since that date, Gears of War 3, the final release in the trilogy in question, has already sold over three million copies. The good news for those three million consumers is that the Gears franchise is going out on top with the best release in the series.

Players Microsoft and Epic alike should be very pleased. The campaign – which can be played either solo or with up to three friends, a first for the series – in GoW3 picks up 18 months after the events of the previous installment ended. Players once again take control of Delta Squad, which is comprised of the familiar faces of Marcus Fenix, Dominic Santiago, Augustus Cole and Damon Baird.

Fellow soldiers and civilians join them in battle against their fearsome new enemy: the Lambent. The Lambent are former Locusts that have been mutated by the fuel of the planet Sera, Imulsion. Just when the humans thought they had decimated the Locust Horde enough to be able to rebuild their society, the Lambent struck; thus begins GoW3.

In addition to fighting the Lambent, players will also be faced by Rogue Locusts, Loyalist Locusts and a shocking new enemy – all while searching for the whereabouts of Marcus’ father, Adam. Adam’s importance is tied to the fact that he may have a weapon to end the many battles humanity is fighting once and for all.

As for the quality of the campaign, this is the best entry in the franchise. The problem is, this really is not saying much. GoW has never been a strong, story-driven game, and though GoW3 attempts to change this, it still falls short of the emotion and depth of such games as Final Fantasy, The Elder Scrolls or Mass Effect.

This isn’t to say there aren’t emotional moments; such moments just don’t pull on the heartstrings as strongly as they should, and the player doesn’t know the characters well enough to actually care about their individual fates.

Whether or not the story is stellar should not prevent players from enjoying the campaign, however, thanks to the stellar gameplay the Gears franchise is known for. Gameplay is more fun than ever thanks to new weapons, new tactics and more hidden collectibles than ever (not to mention the cornucopia of easter eggs Epic has hidden throughout the game).

Unfortunately, even the gameplay is not perfect: Tedious vehicle scenarios, a sore spot since the original GoW, are as clunky and devoid of fun as ever, not to mention they break up the otherwise frenetic pace of the game. That said, players that enjoyed the previous entries will find a lot to love here.

After the campaign, players will undoubtedly get into the meat of the game: its copious and varied multiplayer options. In addition to the standard 5-on-5 Warzone, Execution and King of the Hill matches, GoW3 introduces a traditional Team Deathmatch and Capture the Leader. Wingman also makes its return.

Right out of the gate, there are eight maps for players to spill each other’s guts over with 21 different weapons. The maps vary from tried-and-true close-quarters combat to larger, open maps to combinations of the two. Most importantly, all maps and modes are immensely enjoyable and addictive, thanks to the revamping of the multiplayer experience.

Although the Gears franchise has always had multiplayer, Epic didn’t truly get it right until this installment. Both GoW and GoW2 were plagued with host-advantage, glitches and unbalanced weapons. Finally, in GoW3, they’ve hit the nail on the head with dedicated servers (all but eliminating host-advantage) and weapons for all situations. Some will find the sawed-off shotgun and retro lancer too powerful, but the key is simply to play smart and use proper tactics and teamwork, a staple of the franchise.

If players tire of competitive multiplayer, they still have cooperative Horde and Beast modes to look forward to. Each supports up to five players. Horde mode has changed since GoW2 with the addition of fortifying bases, a concept clearly lifted from tower defense games. This adds a strategic aspect to the mode and gives it that much more depth and longevity.

Beast mode is the opposite of Horde, in which players take control of the Locust Horde and attempt to destroy human forces and fortifications.

Although this is fun in a novelty aspect, unless Epic releases downloadable content, players will quickly bore of the short, 12 waves herein. This massive, deep, multiplayer package adds up to an incredible amount of fun and value for the player.

The Gears franchise has always been a technically impressive game in terms of graphics and sound; thankfully, this final incarnation is no different. GoW3 looks as gorgeous as ever, with every destroyed building, deadly weapon and bloody chunk of skull and torso looking as good as such things can with the current generation of hardware.

The game just looks smooth when playing, as well, a key component for such a fast-paced experience. The music for the campaign is serviceable, highlighted by a reprise of a tune that will no doubt be familiar to Gears fans. The sound is as loud and vicious as ever, and the voice actors – save a few cheesy lines – do well, particularly John DiMaggio, voice of Marcus Fenix (and Bender of “Futurama” fame).

This all comes together to make an excellent game, presentation-wise. Overall, despite some annoying flaws, fans and developers of the Gears of War franchise could not have hoped for a better close to this excellent trilogy. This puts the exclamation point on the sentence that Gears of War started with its release in 2006. Truly, GoW3 is the definitive Gears experience.

4.5 stars out of 5

Regen McCracken is a junior intending to major in journalism. Email questions, comments or gaming lore to [email protected]