Occasionally, a game comes along that wows us, surpassing expectations. Gears of War, launched in the fall, is one. It delivers from start to finish.

The single-player game, or campaign mode, is set on Sera, a once-civilized planet taken over by the Locust, an evil horde of monsters and death squads. Players assume the role of Marcus Fenix, former soldier for the Coalition of Organized Governments. After escaping prison, Fenix is thrown into battle and it's up to him to stop the Locust. Missions range from basic reconnaissance and retrieval to full-on battles.

Unlike in Halo, where you run-and-gun your way through each level, in Gears it's all about cover. Walk to the side of a wall or a wrecked car, push a button and you'll immediately assume a cover stance. From there you can lean out and fire or fire blind while remaining protected. While in cover, you can execute a variety of maneuvers to get out of sticky situations.

After conquering single-player mode, it's time for multiplayer. Though the game has the usual Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes (both incredibly fun and addictive), what we love is the Co-Op mode. Players can play via split screen or over Xbox Live. What's awesome is that you can work together to beat the Locust. Coordinating flanking attacks or aiding a downed teammate, it's all possible in Co-Op mode.

From a graphics standpoint, it's the best-looking Xbox 360 game out there. Scratch that; it's the best-looking game out there, period. Even better than anything on PS3. Trust us: It's that impressive, with unique architecture, complex textures and incredible weather and lighting effects.

If you're one of the 2 million people who have bought a copy, you know this is a great game. If not, pick it up. You'll thank us later.

-- Tom Ham

Gears of War Mature; Xbox 360 ($60)

Microsoft/Epic Games