It's hard to believe that it's been five years since the original Gears of War released on Xbox 360, less than a year after the console's release. And while the series has certainly matured over the years in a number of ways, it hasn't necessarily undergone any sort of massive reinvention, either. But that's not entirely a negative thing.

Instead of crowbarring in changes to the formula where they don't belong, Epic Games' has kept their sci-fi franchise fresh and interesting by gradually introducing new features, ideas, and enhancements that build on the core Gears experience. In doing so, they've preserved the essence of what's made their brand of cover-based combat so revered, while not making it feel like just a lazy sequel.

Gears of War 3 stays true to this design philosophy, too. Even though at times it plays more like a continuation of the previous instalments, it's still a much more refined action experience than the previous games -- and it makes seeing the trilogy through to its end worth it.

But Gears of War 3 isn't entirely devoid of new features. Arguably the most notable change introduced in the new game is the addition of four-player co-op. Playing through the main story with up to three other players not only makes the campaign more enjoyable, it actually allows for more strategic opportunities, too.

The inclusion of four-play co-op feeds into Gears of War 3's narrative as well. Throughout the campaign, one group of characters will be occupied with carrying out a mission, while another will be engaged in a completely separate task, oftentimes located on an entirely different place in the game's world.

Gears of War 3

The paths of these different groups will often cross, which results in the game frequently shifting your perspective so that you'll experience separate events going on at the same time. These parallel missions help give this final confrontation between the human heroes of Gears of War and their Locust nemesis a much more epic feel.

It's unfortunate, however, that more time isn't spent further developing Gears of War 3's new characters. There are a lot of new faces introduced, but their backstories aren't nearly as fleshed out as series regulars like Marcus Fenix, Dominic Santiago, and the rest of the "original" Delta Squad crew. The result is a lopsided storyline where memorable moments are overshadowed by scenes that'll have you scratching your head.

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