It's not a proud moment, when you realise you've missed a running animation. Gears may have popularised sticky cover to the point where even Deus Ex sponged it up, but that blurry, momentum-packed 'roadie run' is still pure Gears. Welcome back, Deltas.
It's been two years since Jacinto sunk into oblivion, and the four members of our newly inflated co-op squad are living a less than active life on a sea platform. Marcus, plagued by dreams of his dead father, is scornful of Dom's bumper crop of radishes.
Out in the sea, they're safe from the burrowing Locust hordes, but the creepy, dormant stalks of the Lambent are a constant reminder of the new threat that's devouring the Locust, and twisting them into a newer, even more mindless race. Our heroes' peace is broken in two ways: first, world-class dickbag Chairman Prescott arrives with news of Dom's father. Second, a massive Leviathan starts whipping four shades of everything out of the sea platform. It's time for one last trip around the world to fix everything, once and for all.
And what a world: if you were left cold by the series-long theme of destroyed beauty, thinking it was just an excuse to be dusty, then Gears 3 makes it fresh again. There are moments when the landscape feels more fantasy than sci-fi. The organic chuntering gas barges are neither destroyed nor beautiful - they're a patchwork quilt of sliced meat from a Terry Gilliam fever dream.
The mutating Imulsion gave the designers a chance to let their Resident Evil influences show, with Lambent Drudges sprouting limbs as you damage them. Their heads survive the explosion of the bodies, and slither crazily towards you. There's even an enemy that seems to have taken inspiration from Atari's 1980 arcade hit, Caterpillar. For a game that came to define a certain grey-brown aspect, there's an unexpected willingness to pull off new palettes, new looks and new inspirations.
If Gears of Wars 2 was Dom's moment to show a tender side, this time Marcus gets the chance to take emotional centre stage, with all the acting range of a sack of gravel and sausage meat. But the first act is dominated by Cole Train. It's good to take control of him, and see him acknowledged by his old fans. The moment where he relives his old sporting victories in a combat scenario will have you banging your wrists against your forehead in cheerful outrage.
New art direction and increasingly likeable characters aside, the combat basics of Gears haven't really changed. There's still the same thundering, cumbersome feel to the movement, and the same satisfying thunk of the weapons. Ammo feels more scarce, with the blue ammo boxes either rarer, or better hidden. Of the new weapons, the Retro Lancer's bayonet lets you sprint with a little purpose, but unless the enemy's weak enough to trigger the execution animation, you end up with an unsatisfying stop-dead. It almost feels like you've changed your mind about spearing them, and decided to stop and say hello instead.
Weapon of choice
That's no problem if you've got another new weapon, the Sawed-Off Shotgun - one-shot, agonisingly slow to reload, but deadly provided you're within kissing distance of the grotesque mutation. But it's returning weapons such as the Torque Bow and Boomshot that prove most useful against the toughest enemies - you can empty all 420 Lancer rounds into the armoured Lambents that crop up towards the end. You'll wonder if you're damaging them at all. But two powered-up shots from the Torque Bow will remind everyone that there's guts under that silver skin.