Massive first look at Gears of War 3

Arcade brings back Mutators (from the Unreal series), spicing up levels with wacky or serious gameplay ‘enhancements’. Each player can equip one Mutator per level, and we’re talking things like confetti head-popping. He wouldn’t confirm it, but Bleszinski is a self-confessed fan of large craniums. Mutators are co-op only though: “I hate it when I can’t find a normal game online because everyone is playing with all these crazy mods,” rants Dude Huge.

Co-op is another feature to have come under intense scrutiny in the Gears 3 design doc. As well as the weapon/ammo swap mechanic, a variety of environmental and personal interactions are promised. Stuff like having to team up to open a particularly heavy door, or pull barbed wire apart while a buddy scurries under. Tantalisingly, there’s even a super-weapon that will need two players to operate, though sadly nobody would tell us more.

Narrative, an element that came on leaps and bounds in Gears 2 (most notably with Dom’s tragic search for his missing wife, Maria) is set to push onto another level; Epic have recruited New York Times best-selling author Karen Travis to take care of the script-writing duties. While the main aim is still to maintain that blockbuster movie pace – that means short, snappy cut scenes – there’s also a desire for high emotion... and closure. So fans will finally get to discover just what’s going on between Adam Fenix and the Locust Queen, and whether Marcus and Anya are destined to get it on. Bleszinski maintains that not every question will necessarily be answered though, which surely means... Gears 4 is on the next-gen agenda! Despite Epic’s repeated claims to the contrary. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Gears of War 3 is plainly a game that shows a super-confident, super-successful developer at the absolute peak of its powers. It’s clear that the Unreal Engine 3 tech is slicker than ever, the weapons more fearsome, the enemies more sinister, the narrative more emotive. Most of all, this is plainly a team that lives and breathes this series. We’ve seen enough to believe this won’t just be a fitting climax to an amazing trilogy, it could well be the best shooter on the 360.

Next page: We chat with Cliff Bleszinski and his Gears 3 team