The Gears of War series has never been known for its subtlety, so it was only fitting that Ice-T – a man with a similar reputation – was brought to a vast stage at E3 by Epic Games’ Cliff Bleszinski to play through a short segment of the upcoming game.

The gameplay shown took place on what appeared to be a cargo ship lost at sea and under attack by a large, tentacled creature named Leviathan – like the Lambent, a product of emulsion mutation. All the Gears touchstones – yelling, gore, heavy gunfire and yelling – were present and in abundance as the assembled COGs formulated a plan to take out the sea-dwelling beast.

With the eight COGs present but split into two groups of four and occupying two separate sections of the stricken liner, we first saw things from the perspective of Marcus and Dom’s team as they rushed to a maintenance bay to retrieve two Silverback battlesuits before tackling the Leviathan head-on. These mini-mech suits come equipped with a Gatling gun, have stomp and kick attacks, and can deploy into a stationary turret mode which allows them to launch missiles while being used as cover by other players.

After taking some punishment and with one of its eye sockets oozing yellow goo, the Leviathan retreated, allowing the Gears to focus on smaller facehugger-like creatures swarming the decks. When the Leviathan redoubled its efforts to chew the ship to pieces, the other COG team led by Cole dumped a container of Tickers onto it, sending it to a watery grave as Marcus and Dom dove out of the way.

In a much smaller room at E3 proper, Bleszinski ran us through the same gameplay segment again, but this time from the perspective of Cole’s team. Whilst doing so, he announced that the game’s main campaign – the series’ longest yet – could be played all the way through using four-player simultaneous co-op. The other COGs that will feature aren’t confirmed, but the snippets of gameplay we saw showed Anya, Cole, Baird and Jace in action.

The focus of the campaign this time around is survival – the story takes place two years after the events of Gears 2, and things aren’t looking flash for humanity. The Lambent infection is now widespread, and of course the Horde are still kicking around too. But as shown after Gears 2’s credits, Marcus’ father Adam Fenix is still alive, so Gears 3 is a “save the father, save the world” scenario according to Bleszinski.

However let’s face it – the Gears story is the worst aspect of the franchise, perhaps not due to the narrative itself, but rather the clumsy manner in which it is conveyed; via overwrought line readings, redundant cut-scenes and irritating walkie-talkie sections that stall the action yet yield little information while doing so. Unfortunately all of these things featured in the gameplay demo for Gears 3 too. It’s nice, then, that Epic has recognised the role Horde mode played in making the second Gears outing such a success by substantially expanding it for Gears of War 3.

In ‘Horde 2.0’ the goal is the same as the original: survive 50 waves of baddies with up to four friends playing alongside you. This time, however, things have a slightly greater strategic element. Players choose an area to use as a command post, and from there build up their defences by purchasing razor wire, electric fences, decoys and turrets. As you’d expect, currency is earned by killing enemies, with headshots and executions rewarding players with the greatest dollar amounts. Cash not only upgrades and repairs defences, but can be used to purchase weapons and even respawns if necessary.

In addition, bonus objectives such as ‘score X headshots this round’ will trigger loot drops consisting of cash, ammo and power weapons, all of which carry over from round to round.

Speaking of weapons, those new to Gears 3 include a powerful sawed-off shotgun, a retro lancer with a bayonet, the One-Shot (a sniper rifle with the power to fire completely through a Mauler’s shield), the aforementioned Silverback mech, a digger launcher (which shoots a burrowing explosive underneath cover) and our new favourite: the Vulcan cannon. An extremely rapid-fire yet mobile minigun, the Vulcan requires one player to feed ammo into it while another aims and fires it. (May word of our calling permanent triggerman on this instrument of death resonate throughout the internets.)

Naturally, with new weapons come new enemies, and the powerful Lambent are rumoured to feature heavily in Horde 2.0, although we saw only tiny glimpses of them. We do know that every tenth level will feature a number of bosses though, ranging from Beserkers through to Brumaks, and that the Locust army has been reinforced by new classes such as Savage Grenadiers, Digger Boomers, Siege Beasts, and the Kantus Knight.

There are also some interesting unlocks to discover, including flower blood, big head mode and ‘80s sitcom laugh track mode, and it’s nice to finally see playable female characters – four no less, although Anya was the only one we saw onscreen. Disappointingly, we saw nothing of the new Beast Mode, although we cannot fathom how playing as the Horde in Horde mode could be anything less than ridiculously fun.

Even taking all new additions into account, there is no doubt that this is a Gears of War game through and through. The aesthetic is unmistakable, the gameplay seemingly identical. At this stage it’s safe to say that while it probably won’t convert the series’ detractors, fans are being serviced. Serviced hard.