I got to spend a good chunk of the weekend diving into the Gears of War 3 beta and, while I was alternating between having decent runs and getting turned into a fine mess of bloody giblets, I came away impressed with what has to be the definitive refinement of Gears gameplay.
The first thing that should be said is don’t expect any revolutionary changes to the game. I’ve heard some complaints saying that it looks like “more of the same” but you shouldn’t really expect anything different with the third title in a series. The Gears series has a fairly distinct formula that has been successfull thus far despite some admitted issues with Gears of War 2. So far, the Gears of War 3 beta shows a move back towards the original Gears of War style of play (but not completely) while improving on what works and fixing what didn’t.
What’s In The Beta
The Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta features three game modes along with four maps to go along with an assortment of weaponry and characters. The three game modes include Team Deathmatch which adds a twist by giving each team a set amount of respawns, King of the Hill which moves a ring around the map for the teams to capture and hold for a set amount of time, and Capture the Leader which has both team’s fighting to capture the other team’s leader and using them as a meatshield while also trying to keep their own leader safe. King of the Hill has quickly turned into my favorite mode of the three as it requires some teamwork but can still reward freelancing a little as well.
The four maps include the devastated sports arena named Thrashball, the torn up shopping center named Checkout, a mining area with dug out paths called Trenches and an old village that still looks mostly preserved named Old Town. Each has a somewhat symmetric layout with plenty of paths to take on the enemy head on or to flank them while also offering lots of little nooks and crannies to launch an ambush from. Thrashball and Checkout are my two favorite so far as they provide a somewhat different pallette from what you’d normally expect in a Gears game.
The New Weapons
Epic isn’t holding much, if anything back, in the beta as new weapons permeate the maps.
- The Retro Lancer with its huge bayonet makes for a nice midway point between the shotgun and regular Lancer but it has a helluva recoil. You won’t be able to hold the trigger down unless you want a view of the sky.
- The Sawed Off Shotgun is ridiculously overpowered but also very hard to nail enemies with unless you are right next to them. However, the reward of obliterating an enemy right in front of you makes mastering this shotgun worthwhile.
- The One Shot is the new sniper rifle in the game and, just as its name suggests, can obliterate an opponent with just one shot. It’s a heavy weapon though that you’ll need to deploy to use effectively. But when the enemy has that split-second where he hears the high-pitched whine of the One Shot warming up and then sees the targeting laser on the body, it’s fun to see them trying to scramble before being turned into a fine mist.
- The Digger Launcher is your anti-camping weapon. Fire a pirahna looking creature into the ground and watch as it makes a Bugs Bunny type trail to the target before exploding. Hit an enemy dead on and the Digger will burrow up through them before exploding.
- The Incendiary Grenade is essentially a Molotov cocktail that sets the ground, wall or roof (and opponents) ablaze. This is perfect for rooting out opponents camped out and defending a spot in King of the Hill mode or even Capture the Leader.
- The Scorcher is just your run of the mill flamethrower. Only flamethrowers aren’t run of the mill and there’s only one other weapon that will send opponents scurrying.
- The Mortar on Trenches is just frightningly deadly if you can get to it and fire it without getting taken out. Watching it rain down explosives for multiple kills is a joy though.
How Does the Gameplay Hold Up?
The move to dedicated servers has been a boon for Gears of War 3 so far as I could not notice any issues with matchmaking with one exception where I was constantly getting dropped out of a ranked lobby. However, I think it is because there weren’t that many playing in that ranked mode at the time. The public matches had the vast majority of players over the weekend. When the ranked lobbies started to fill up with a few hundred by Sunday, I didn’t see that problem again. The test will be how well the multiplayer peforms after the Bulletstorm Epic Edition owners join and then those that pre-ordered the game.
Epic has refined the gameplay with subtle new additions to what we traditionally come to expect from Gears that makes it the strongest entry yet. Remember how you and an opponent could sit at opposite sides of the same wall and comically fire from cover at each other. Now you don’t have to hunker down as you can leap over the wall and give your opponent a kick that gets him out of the way and momentarily stuns him.
You have access to an overview of the map at anytime by holding the left bumper to see where weapons are stashed and enemies are located. Only marked enemies can be seen and you can do that by putting your crosshairs over them and pressing on the left thumbstick. The addition of the map makes it easy to find your teammates so you can get to them quickly and help out.
There’s also an upgrade to the meatshield as you can tag your unlucky opponent with a grenade before giving him the boot towards enemies.
And, oh yeah, the reason this article is titled “Shotty Shotty Bang Bang” is because the shotguns are back in a big way after being somewhat de-emphasized in Gears of War 2. While the Lancers and Hammerburst are the stand-bys for mid-range combat, you and everyone else will be equipping one of the shotguns when things get more intimate. Which they do, often.
We can’t go without mentioning all the unlockables in the Gears of War 3 beta. From ribbons to medals to weapon skins to character models, the unlockables adds something a little addicting for those who are achievement oriented and gives bragging rights among friends.
Gears of War 3 was originally scheduled to be released this month and the multiplayer already feels like a more solid entry than Gears of War 2 when it was released. There are some glitches and other things to that need to be fixed (like spawn trapping) but, as I said in the opening, this feels like the ultimate refinement of the Gears of War multiplayer. Epic has put in a strong effort so far that has me deeply anticipating what’s to come in September.
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