(CBS) - The Gears of War series has been one of the Xbox 360's most successful exclusive franchises since 2006. It's a series that harkens back to the greatest action movies of the '80s and '90s where the good guys are incorruptible, gruff one-liner spouting tough guys and the villains are one dimensionally evil.
Epic Games established a new bar for the cooperative cover based third-person shooter and with Gears of War 3, has raised the bar yet again. This latest and supposedly final chapter in the franchise delivers on all fronts.
First and most importantly, yes, the game play is amazing. The general controls feel tighter and more responsive, but see no great changes from Gears of War 2. But that's not the whole story. Enemies are clever and varied, four-player cooperative play is finally available and some really awesome weapons are waiting to be found. Somehow, Gears of War 3 takes the same cover system and combat it's known for and makes it feel fresh.
The game is front-loaded with a bevy of new enemy types that require intelligent and adaptive strategies to defeat. Returning enemies see a late and sparingly paced return, often in surprising and unfamiliar circumstances. Like bumping into an old friend in a strange place, the old has become new again.
The level design is phenomenal and allows for more natural feeling cover and plenty of room to flank and maneuver. Many of the game's locations are very intricately designed and visually open, allowing Epic Games to show off the capabilities of their upgraded Unreal Engine.
One of the largest divergences for the series is its narrative. Most fans don't play Gears for its story, but will be pleasantly surprised to see the attention it receives here. Gears of War 3 easily delves into more character depth and story development and exposition than the first two games combined. From its diverging narrative between the now numerous members of Delta squad to its surprising emotional turns and desperate undertone, things have gotten a lot more sophisticated. Don't worry though, amidst the bleak and hopeless backdrop, the series' classic humor is still intact.
As amazing as Gears of War 3 is, it does have some minor flaws. There are times early in the campaign when only one player is in control and your friends are left in ghost-cam watching the show. Other times the game presents an objective that excludes teamwork, forcing one player to complete the task while the rest of the team simply stand by or perform clean-up duty. Most regrettably though, many of your favorite familiar faces are given far too little screen time, while other more forgettable characters receive entirely more than they deserve.
These are minor issues though as the game is enormously entertaining and certainly doesn't skimp on content. If you played the beta, you know the graphics are amazing and the competitive multiplayer is outstanding fun. An updated Horde mode returns along with the new Beast mode that puts players on the side of the Locust in waves where you have to defeat as many COG as you can before time runs out.
Epic Games has delivered a title that fulfills every hope of its fans. Gears of War 3 is a satisfying conclusion to a monster franchise. It may be the end of a trilogy, but let's hope it's not the last we see of Delta squad.
Gears of War 3 is available now exclusively for Xbox 360. It is rated M for Mature by the ESRB.