Features & News

Beta Impressions: Gears of War 3

May 18, 2011, Author: Ray Willmott

If there’s one fault you can throw at the Gears of War franchise, it’s that the multiplayer has never really got it right. Flawed mechanics, empowering matchmaking facilities making for unfair scenarios, and glitches that bring down the experience were enough to push people away with only a core faithful hanging around for the long-run. Naturally, it seems like Epic want to rectify this and go for the homerun with the forthcoming Gears of War 3! The multiplayer beta that has been made accessible through pre-ordering Bulletstorm or Gears 3 gives Epic a chance to not only test their newly installed servers, but also to test out the modes and allow for thousands upon millions of different in-game scenarios, allowing them to iron out the glitches ahead of September’s release.

The burning question is how does it play online?

Well, mode wise, the Beta hasn’t really offered anything new to the series: you have Team DeathMatch, King of the Hill and Capture the Leader, all of which have featured in some form in previous Gears games. However, each has been adjusted to ensure that they are kept fresh and exciting within this world, and from my playtime with all three, already, I can tell that this is a vast, positive evolution over its predecessor.

I’ve spent most of my time in the beta on Team Deathmatch, therefore it is the mode I have most experience with. TD sees both teams start with fifteen lives each. Lives are lost every time someone on that team is killed. That person will then respawn after a short penalty period and jump back into the game. However, when all lives have been depleted and a teammate is killed, that player is permanently eliminated from the game and forced to watch their team mates fight for survival from the sidelines. Obviously, this encourages people not to go in gung-ho and guns blazing and to operate as part of a unit which is a philosophy that the Gears of War franchise has always encouraged.

There’s not much to say about King of the Hill or Capture the leader, however, here they are in brief: King of the Hill sees you compete in teams against each other to assume control a designed area on the map, and the winning team is whomever finishes up with the most points.

With Capture the Leader, one person on each team is designated the leader and it will be the objective of the opposing team to capture that leader to score points for their team. The leader is used as a meatshield by the attacking player and needs to be held as a meatshield until the time limit runs out. This can be tricky when your opponents are trying to get their leader back and are filling you with bullet holes. Much like Team Deathmatch, this really does create a tense, exciting, fighting environment.

However, we’ve all played these modes again and again on game after game, so you’re probably wondering what Epic have done to make this unique to Gears and still interesting to play? Well, with the vintage cover and gun gameplay you’ll be familiar with, Epic have thrown in a few new tricks. Subtle differences include being able to mark your opponents during battle. This will help you identify individuals that seem to be evasive and out of eye shot or those that are camping. You can also have access to a top-down map at anytime, which makes it easier than ever to shout out commands to your team and have them conglomerate on a position, without them scrambling around, trying to remember where they need to go.

Down in front!

Not enough? How about being able to use an enemy as a meatshield, tagging that enemy with a grenade and then kicking them toward an opponent, blowing both corpse and enemy up in one go. Oh and in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, you’ll be well aware that for the first time in the Gears franchise, you can play as a member of the opposite sex. More specifically in this beta, Anya.

Perhaps the biggest change however is that you can now also get yourself up and off the ground if you’ve been knocked down! No more have you got to wait for someone to run past and get you up, if you’re in cover, or not directly in someones line of fire, by simply tapping A, your character fights through the pain and gets back in the battle. For anyone who has played Gears of War before and understands some of its frustrations, I’m sure you’ll join me in a collective, wow!

The Beta comes complete with four maps, a small sampling of what will end up in the full retail release. The maps are Check Out, Old Town, Thrashball and Trenches, each of which is vastly different from the other. Another first for the Gears franchise is the ability to interact with the environment but also for the environment to affect the way the game is played. So for example, in Thrashball, an indoor, almost stadium-like arena, there is a large scoreboard dangling over the centre of the room. You can actually shoot that board down and on top of unsuspecting enemies, crushing them on impact!

Another example of this comes in Trenches. Trenches is an outdoor, desert-like area and after extended playtime in the area, a loud horn blares out in the distance and suddenly you find yourself in the middle of a sandstorm. A sandstorm that completely impairs the vision of both your team and your opponents. This usually lasts for around thirty seconds and can make for critical moments in the game, enabling you an opportunity to catch your opponents by surprise.

That’s not all that’s new! Gears 3 also introduces new weapons to the fray, the Incidendary Grenade, the Retro Lancer, The Sawed Off Shotgun, the Digger Launcher and The One Shot. Epic have also tweaked the Gorgon Pistol (Now Gorgon SMG) and the Hammerburst. The Sawed Off Shotgun will take some getting used to, with one bullet and a lengthy reload time and the Retro Lancer, while it has good burst power, basically forces you to charge and spike your opponents from afar in order to take advantage of its melee opportunities. Although, unlike the original lancer which forces you to rev up a chainsaw, with the Retro Lancer, you can now melee quickly and easily, slashing your enemies up with a piercing blade near the guns barrel. Ow! The Retro Lancer takes some getting used to, but has quickly replaced the original Lancer for me as a go-to weapon in Gears 3.

Bring it!

The Digger Launcher is equally an excellent new edition to the series, which fires a bullet reminiscent of a mole that goes deep underground and pops out on an unsuspecting opponent, blowing their head off their shoulders. This can go also go underneath cover, so no longer can you simply sit in cover, fire-pot shots and remain hidden. You can also knock your enemies back and out of cover if you’re crouched the opposite side from them. This is a great new feature that adds even more tactical warfare to the game than ever before. Gears 3 feels more like real-time warfare as never before. Now, you’re vulnerable in any place, at any time! In addition to all that is new, familiar favorites also make a return, such as the original Lancer, the Mortar, the Gnasher Shotgun and the Boltok Pistol!

On top of all this, Gears 3 provides an XP/unlock system, that players may recognize from Call of Duty. Just having a brief glimpse of this in the Beta tells me that this absolutely suits the Gears of War series and works in harmony with the rest of the new features added into Gears 3. At the moment, the reward system purely gives you unlockables such as a flaming gnasher, lancer or unlock player models such as Thrasher Cole or Anya. Dependent on the kills you get, the consecutive amount of kills you have, the variety of weapons you use or any other number of variables, you can earn experience points, boost your level and unlock character and weapon skins and medals. In fact, by completing certain things in the Beta, you can unlock features in the full game when it releases in September.

Take note Brink; we do girls! Ahem...

In a year where Microsoft’s gaming catalogue is looking slim, Gears of War 3 is going to provide reason enough for people to want to jump into Epic’s World once more and continue the battle between COG and Locust. This brief look into the online features of the game are really whetting my appetite for the games final release.

I came into this Beta, playing the same way that I played Gears 2 and I was mauled, I was totaled, humbled and pushed around in every embarrassing foreseeable way. Gears 3 forces you to adapt and adjust. If you’re going in not wanting to try the new weapons and ignoring them for your old favorites, you’ll be in for a rude awakening. As the Beta has gone on, I’ve gotten used to using the Retro Lancer, the Gorgon SMG and the One Shot. I’ve yet to get the technique down for the Sawed Off Shotgun and still prefer the vintage Gnasher, but just from playing against others and falling at their feet in bits and blood, I’m already noticing the advantages to practicing my craft. The changes, both subtle and significant, all have a major impact on the way this game is played, ultimately, for the better and whether you’re coming over from Gears 2 or experiencing the franchise for the very first time, you’ll see that in terms of online play, Gears of War 3 wants your attention.

It just makes one wonder, with all the differences we’ve been shown in this Beta, what else do Epic have up their sleeves as we build towards the September launch? What have they kept hidden away in preparation for the launch and what changes will they make to the elements they’ve already added? Just a few short weeks with Gears 3 has got me even more excited for the game’s launch this Autumn, but it’s also reaffirmed in my mind that I will be playing this online in ways I never did with Gears 1 or 2.

Really, Epic did it right this time!