RING-ING-ING-ING-ING! RING-ING-ING-ING-INGGG! Like the bells of Christmas, a chorus of revved chainsaws ushers in an equally spirited season. And no, I’m not talking about the local lumberjack festival. I am speaking, of course, regarding last week’s release of the incredulously anticipated Gears of War 3 by Epic Games.

It seems like just yesterday that the developers at EPIC single-handedly chain sawed their way through the foundations of the online shooter with their original Gears title, an XBOX 360 exclusive, in late 2006. Now, looking back, Gears 3 represents the culmination of their efforts. Five years later, the question is whether or not EPIC has delivered a game badass enough to quench the thirst for badassitude that its predecessors laid down.

The answer is yes. HELL YES!

The game continues the adventure of Marcus Phoenix and his COG (Coalition of Organized Government) companions in a world that really can’t seem to get a break. Now, instead of fighting off the underground Locust invaders, you find that they’ve all been infected by the world’s primary fuel source, Imulsion, turning them into crazed, explosive mutants called Lambent.

There are plenty of epic boss battles scattered throughout the campaign which provide a nice break from a sometimes monotonous pattern of battles against Locust and Lambent alike. The story remains solid, propelling you through the stages of campaign play without leaving you confused and frustrated. The voice acting is superb as usual, if a bit cheesy at times, but hey … that’s Gears.

It’s hard to imagine that it could be possible to improve upon the visuals of previous Gears titles, yet Gears 3 managed to one-up itself yet again. The graphics are unreal, and I don’t just say this because the game runs on EPIC’s famed UNREAL engine 4. Gears 3 has a certain refined polish to it that really makes blowing a Locust to bits with a sawed-off shotgun that much more satisfying. Everything seems sharper, smoother and more realistic than ever before.

There’s always been a certain beauty in the dark and tattered landscapes of the Gears games, and Gears 3 is no exception.

As far as gameplay is concerned, a lot has changed and a lot has stayed relatively the same. When you have a series that has sold record-breaking amounts of units across the globe, it must be difficult to know what things you can throw out without pissing off millions of fans, yet EPIC did a great job of avoiding this. The usual cover-based combat system remains intact, even a bit easier to handle than past titles. You’re still going to get your head taken off if you don’t find cover fast in a firefight, but EPIC managed to make staying alive more manageable for combat-challenged players.

The AI on your team can get a bit frustrating at times; I found myself getting downed by Locust and pounding my fists in rage as my artificial teammate stood idly by, watching me bleed out without a care in the world. For this reason, I highly recommend playing co-op with actual human beings.

There are loads of new killing tools introduced in Gears 3, including incendiary grenades, sawed off shotguns, giant cleavers and a new “retro lancer” which you can use to charge at an enemy, skewering them like a stuck pig. The mighty arsenal of weapons at your hands in Gears 3 lets players dole out gory carnage in refreshing variety.

Not to worry; the infamous lancer is still around for when you’re in that chainsawing mood, as well as the standard gnasher shotgun.

When it gets right down to it, the heart and soul of the Gears trilogy lies in its Multiplayer. Although the regular, tried-and-true game modes such as warzone and execution remain at your fingertips, Gears 3 offers some incredibly addicting new game modes.

A ranked Team Deathmatch mode is now available, where each team gets a set number of lives over an extended period, and the last team standing wins the match. I’ll admit this mode can get a bit frustrating if you’ve got some 12-year-old on your team, rushing recklessly into the fray and costing your team valuable lives.

Gears also completely re-vamped its famed survival-based “Horde Mode.” Players can now earn money to buy upgrades after each round of assault and use it to build up defenses such as barriers, turrets and weapons for harder rounds to come. Lastly, the most interesting addition to multiplayer is “Beast Mode,” basically the opposite of Horde, allowing you to play as the enemy. You may take control of some of the most gruesome beasts Gears has to offer with this feature in order to enact some brutality on COG soldiers.

All in all, Gears 3 met and exceeded the expectations of the gaming community. All in all, EPIC Games succeeded in ending its beloved trilogy, one that will be sorely missed.

4.5 stars out of 5

Andrew Lahr is a creative writing major by day, gamer by night. Email question, comments and column suggestions to [email protected]