Gears of War 3
Last night I got my hands on the Gears of War 3 mutliplayer beta, and let me tell you, chainsawing guys in half is still a blast. The experience has improved dramatically from Gears of War 2 while still retaining the heavy, dramatic feel the series’ multiplayer is known for. Strap on your Cog armor and grab your lancer, here's what you have to look forward to in Gears of War 3’s multiplayer.
One of the most important improvements to Gears of War’s multiplayer is also the least noticeable. Epic is addressing connectivity issues that fans complained about with Gears of War 2 by incorporating dedicated servers to the third entry. You no longer have to worry about rage quitters, imbalanced latency, or long waits in the match-making lobby.
The feel of Gears of War 3’s multiplayer gameplay has also been tweaked to shave off some of the sluggishness of the past games. By speeding up players, the gameplay feels more on par with reflex-based shooters, but without sacrificing the satisfying weight the Gears name is known for. Rolling in and out of cover, spinning to blast a foe with the gnasher shotgun, and navigating the maps feels a lot smoother than past iterations.
Several new toys join the reliable gnasher and lancer. The brand new sawed-off shotgun requires you to creep in twice as close to the opposition, but the reward is an instant kill that can reduce a pair of enemies to chunks with one shot. The sawed-off’s excruciatingly long reload time and inaccuracy balance out what would otherwise be an unfair weapon.
The retro lancer is an older model of the trusty chainsaw machine gun. It’s slightly less accurate than the modern lancer at medium to long range, but the deadly bowie knife bayonet makes up for it. Holding down the melee button with this weapon equipped makes your character break into a mad dash with the sharp steel aimed ahead of them, allowing you to instantly impale unaware enemies. The result was immensely satisfying each time I made this execution connect.
If you’re into gigantic, hip-slung weapons that reward patience and precision, the oneshot is for you. This huge cannon emits a yellow beam onto the battlefield, allowing you to draw a bead on the competition. A pull of the trigger turns the beam red and emits an ominous, high-pitched noise which signals that some unlucky fool will soon by liquefied. The oneshot can usually be found at high points on maps, and is well worth the climb.
Gears of War’s weapons have always been uniquely useful, but I’ve always felt it lacked an all-purpose tool. Thankfully, the semi-automatic hammerburst rifle is now equipped with iron sights, which makes it a handy firearm in almost any situation. Being able to zoom in with it on some of Gears 3’s larger maps is a godsend.
Six multiplayer maps were available for play – Checkout, Thrashball, Mercy, Trenches, Overpass, and Old Town. Checkout and Thrashball are to be included in the multiplayer beta for sure, but the other two are up to you, so pay attention to the following descriptions. Also, keep in mind that at any point you can now access an overhead view of a map, allowing you to see the positions of your allies and weapon spawn points. This enhancement is perfect for players who don’t play enough to memorize each map.
A decrepit, bombed-out supermarket is the setting for this multiplayer map. Overturned shelves create an obstacle in the center, and scattered boxes and displays create varying lines of sight throughout the map. Though some long distance firing is possible if given a good angle, you’ll want to go with a personal weapon like the sawed-off or retro lancer here. A handful of offshoot rooms make the action even more claustrophobic.
Fight for your life on Cole’s old stomping grounds – a derelict Thrashball court. Tons of waist-high cover is littered throughout this athletic field, creating a map that mirrors the “battle of inches” feel of football. Smart players will duck into the hallways leading along the sides of the map to attempt to flank their foes. Given the map’s large amount of chokepoints, a few incendiary grenades could be deadly. Remember to aim for the huge, dangling scoreboard in the middle to squash your enemies into paste.
This map is a gigantic, symmetrical arena with a stretch of highway across the middle. Burnt out school bus carcasses and road signs litter the roads, and the area floods late in the match for a dramatic effect. You’ll want to bust out the hammerburst or lonshot sniper rifle for this big map, but keep the gnasher handy for a couple tight intersections. A deadly mulcher turret is perched at the top of the map, and if you allow the enemy to dig their heels in, you’ll be in for the fight of your life. Unfortunately, more than once I found myself spawning in the middle of a hail of gunfire, which never happened on the other maps.
Reminiscent of Spanish church’s courtyard, this beautiful map is the other large one in the bunch. A huge open area in the center is accented with a fountain, creating a great focal point for the map. Ruins are scattered along the sides of the map, forming broken hallways where things get up close and personal. There are several blind corners which are perfect for the sawed-off or a well timed retro lancer charge. Between the two larger maps – Mercy and Overpass – this one was much more enjoyable.
This map looks like ground zero of the Locust invasion. Unlike the other vibrant maps, it’s dirty and brown, giving it a classic Gears of War feel. Several narrow pathways are broken up with a few tight corners, so using cover is a constant necessity. A retro lancer or gnasher is ideal for this mid-sized map, and incendiary grenades are a great way to keep your foes at bay.
This map contains many long stretches of road which twist and turn leading towards the center. The middle of the map is a close-quarters affair, which you’ll want to bust out your shotgun for. There aren’t many leverage points, so expect to grenade and pick away at your enemies while they dig in behind cover. This was the most aesthetically pleasing map, as it’s evocative of an old Spanish village which hasn’t been completely ravaged by the war.
You’ll be playing a variety of modes across the many maps of Gears of War 3. Guardian and Submission modes have been combined to form Capture the Leader, which endows one player on each team with the ability to see the enemy. Opposing factions strive to incapacitate and take the enemy leader hostage. Now the kidnapped leader can struggle at opportune times to throw off their captor’s aim, or break free altogether if their keeper takes enough damage. The concussion of smoke grenades can also be used to free the hostage, so keep one handy in this mode.
Team Deathmatch is the bread and butter of the Gears 3 experience, in which two teams are allotted 20 spawns. Each team attempts to whittle the opposition’s remaining lives to zero, and the last team standing wins the round. The first side to win two rounds takes the prize.
King of the Hill is back as well, and it’s basically unchanged. Teams traverse the map looking for zones to control, which they then milk for points until they reappear elsewhere. This is a terrific way to learn which sections of maps make for good fortifications, and which leave you exposed.
Late after Gears of War 2’s launch Epic released a leveling system, but it was little more than a number. In Gears of War 3, Epic wants to reward you tangibly. In that familiar arcade feel, players will see points pop up after killing foes, indicating the experience gained. Frequently using executions will net big points, and unlocks even more devastating finishers. Players can earn character variants like the Cole Train by playing a certain number of matches, or unlock weapon skins by becoming proficient with certain firearms. The incentive to keep playing is increased from Gears 2, and I can’t wait to see what other perks lay ahead.
This year Gears of War 3’s release date was pushed back until September 20, and the extra time means that Epic can take feedback from this multiplayer beta into deeper consideration. My time with the beta preview indicates that the developer isn’t satisfied with resting on its laurels, and that it’s starving for community feedback. Soon it’ll be your turn to suit up, ship out, and help Epic build a better game by blasting through this beta.