Before its release, gamers were deluged with enough “Gears of War” publicity to make a reality TV star blush. It made a gaming celeb of “Gears” lead designer Cliffy B and was viewed by most gaming magazines as this generation’s Cabbage Patch Doll, Tickle Me Elmo and RoboSapien rolled into one. Since its release, posts on its greatness have almost been as omnipresent as those annoying Bob Seger and John Cougar Mellencamp car commercials. It’s been getting more press than an indiscreet clergyman and has been touted by Microsoft as the defining game (at least until “Halo 3” comes out) for the Xbox 360. But is “Gears of War” all that and a bag of Funyons? Is it a landmark game that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as “Metal Gear Solid,” “Grand Theft Auto” and “Super Mario Bros.”? Not quite. It’s certainly a great game, easily one of the best titles released this year, but it lacks the personality of those great pantheon games. “Gears of War” is set on the Earth-like planet Sera. Fourteen years ago, a previously unknown enemy known as the Locust emerged from underground and launched an attack on humanity. The resulting invasion left most of Sera’s surface a wasteland. Gamers play as Marcus Fenix, an imprisoned soldier released to fight off the Locust and help save the planet. Or at least that’s what it says in the booklet that came with the game. Gamers are dropped right into the action, with little or no back story given. Why was Fenix in jail? What the heck are the Locust, and why are they so ugly? Is love really a battlefield? These are questions that never get answered, and they prevent Fenix from having the mythos of a Master Chief or a Solid Snake. Fortunately, the game play is so amazing you almost don’t care. “Gears” doesn’t play like a typical shooter. Running at a herd of Locust with guns blazing won’t work in this game. Sure there is plenty of shooting, but you need a small amount of brains (Whew! I have just enough) and teamwork to be successful. Slamming your back against a concrete pillar that’s getting blasted to bits and revving up the chainsaw attached to the end of your machine gun (yes, it is as sweet as it sounds) as your squad flanks the enemy brings both a smile to your face and a tinge of tension to your gut. Taking cover and attacking strategically with your three teammates makes the game feel much more realistic than a typical shooter. Once you’ve beaten the game on single-player, an incredibly satisfying online mode awaits. Multiplayer supports up to eight players in three modes on ten maps. While the competition is a blast, I prefer online co-op play. Going through the campaign with a buddy at home or with a stranger online is sweet! Throw in drop-dead gorgeous graphics and adrenalinepumping audio, and you have a thrilling title. “Gears of War” may not be a pantheon game, but it comes awfully close. CONTACT THE WRITER: Check out his blog at www.gazette.com or drop him an e-mail at email@example.com. His Xbox Live gamertag is coloradojoe. Gears of War Cost: $59.99 - $69.99 Players: 1-2 (8 Online) Formats: Xbox 360 Category: Sci-Fi Shooter Rating: M (Mature 17+) Grade: A - Terry’s Most Popular Nonmilitary Uses for the “Gears of War” Chainsaw Bayonet 1. Ice sculpting swans 2. Trimming the hedges of backyard mazes 3. Aleutian totem-pole carving 4. Slicing the Christmas ham 5. Scaring children who come to the door on Halloween while wearing a hockey mask.