Massive first look at Gears of War 3

Able to evolve in all kinds of sick ways, the Drudges start off as lumbering Imulsion-spewing hulks. As they take hits, they begin to mutate. It’s a chance to show off the new (or, rather, old) bayonet-equipped Pendulum Lancer – a forerunner to the chainsaw edition we all know and love. The Pendulum doesn’t quite have the gibbing ability of its successor, but it’s super-powerful and kicks like a mule. We’re also impressed by the spacey feel of the environments; a return to the more sandboxy missions of the original Gears, rather than the linear, funnelled feeling of the set-piece loving sequel.

Drudge dread

The Lambent Drudges are hardy SOBs. One mutation sees their bodies stretch until they’re hugely tall and able to retch out chunks of Imulsion gob over cover. Their arms also stretch, flailing about and scattering COGs if they stray too close. Another mutation makes their legs morph into a trunk that spawns Polyp beasts. The final form detaches its head from its body, becoming a repulsive snake-like creature that flits around the floor, breathing fiery Imulsion flames.

Above: Drudges are the shock troops of the Lambent army. Imulsion-imbued brutes with a host of horrid mutations up their icky sleeves. Make sure you kill ’em quick before they begin to metamorphose

The Drudge even go kamikaze. When they’re about to reach critical mass, they’ll rush players and attempt to blow them to kingdom come. “It’s all about unpredictability,” reckons Bleszinski, “plus the ability to engage multiple players at the same time.” The Lambent are certainly a massive shift from the mostly humanoid Locust variants. They feel far more alien, unpredictable... and scary. They’re a great addition.

Once the first wave of foes has been nailed, Prescott himself appears and hands Marcus an optical disk. Battling his way through the ship’s garden to the control deck, Marcus is flabbergasted to learn that [SPOILER] his pop, Adam, is still alive. Forced to work for the scheming Locust Queen, Adam Fenix has stumbled upon a solution to destroy the Lambent and save Sera. (“It was always the Imulsion,” Adam mysteriously teases). Now he needs his son to come save him and the entire planet [/SPOILER]. As all this sinks in, the Lambent renew their attack, destroying Prescott’s chopper with a gigantic tentacle and flooding Raven’s Nest with legions of Drudges. A narked-off Dom roars out: “You f****d up my tomatoes, you a**eholes!”, charging into the fray.

Scorched earth

Despite the game’s grim and desperate tone, planet Sera itself looks sunny and lush. The game is set during the scorching summertime, and Epic have taken the chance to make the environments more colourful. It’s definitely a change for the better, although the familiar grey palette and destroyed beauty motifs of the series are still in evidence.

As the demo neared its conclusion, we were introduced to the COG’s kickass new weapon in the fight against the Locust and Lambent. Dubbed the Silverback, it’s a heavily-armed exo-skeleton ("Not a mech!" emphasises Bleszinski). TheSilverback’s special move is a defensive mode that transforms it into an immobile lump of steel cover.

Above: Like humanity, the sinking of Jacinto has left the Locust on the verge of extinction. This chap has lost it and turned savage – making him the most dangerous, aggressive Locust grunt ever

Teammates can then hunker down behind it, without fear of getting shot up. This brute is pretty tasty on offense too. The manufacturer’s spec is rocket launcher and chaingun, but you can choose your own combos too. Best of all, players can still pull off COG specialities like roadie runs and curb stomps when strapped inside the beast. Though watch out for the Silverback’s rear-end weak spot: there’s no armour plating there in offensive mode.

The demo sadly fades to black at that point... that’s all Epic are prepared to show for the moment. It’s massively encouraging stuff, and despite Bleszinski and Fergusson’s repeated stressing that this was an early, unpolished build, it’s fair to say that Gears 3 will definitely be right up there with Crysis 2 as packing the most gob-smacking visuals on 360.

Spew on this

That’s not the end of the show though, as the reveals keep on coming. Before we know it, we’re treated to a range of inventive and hilarious execution moves. The flamethrower finisher is one of the best. When a Locust is down, Marcus jabs the weapon inside his victim's body and lights his foe up from within. Flames spew out of the victim’s mouth, cooking him from the inside. “We were mulling over flames coming out of other body cavities too,” laughs Bleszinski. “Nothing’s final yet, though.”

The sawn-off Gnasher has a more poetic execution. Snapping the weapon open to reload, Marcus instead hooks it around a downed enemy’s throat and uses the hinge to snap their neck – reloading his gun in the process!

The Pendulum Lancer has an appropriately old-school, get-the-job-done flourish – a jab to the side with the bayonet. Stricken, the Locust grunt falls to his knees – before Marcus swoops behind him and slashes his throat clean open. Gurgling gore, the Locust quickly buys the farm.

Above: Wooden crates will obviously splinter under sustained gunfire, so Marcus is going to have to move to avoid being pulped

Heavy weapons haven’t been left out of the execution fun either. Marcus uses the mortar to splat the skull of a fallen Locust. In a classy touch, the poor SOB’s foot still twitches spasmodically, even without his head. “We’re actually thinking of having Marcus blast the severed head outta the Mortar with his next shot," muses Cliff Bleszinski. We’re giving that idea two thumbs up.

Gears 2’s meat shield was one of its undoubted gameplay highlights, but this new version – the bag ’n’ tag – will blow your mind. Players are now able to tuck a grenade in the nape of a captured Locust’s neck, and send them flying back to their squad mates with a hefty boot to the backside. The entire lot then explodes in one humongous fireball. "You want your buddy back? Take em!" shouts Bleszinski.

All that Locust-slapping pretty obviously reveals that the old foeis hanging in there somewhere. So oddsare that we’ll be in for some three-way battles, with the ultra-hostile Lambent taking on all-comers at some stage.