Gears of War 3 may not be hitting the shops until September 20 but Xbox 360 owners will be able to get hands on with it well before then, when the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta starts next month. So lucky us – we’ve just had a play ahead of schedule. The best Gears multiplayer experience yet? Read on…
Ever since Gears of War chainsawed its way through the sales charts in 2006 the series has firmly established itself as one of gaming’s key, and most feverishly acclaimed franchises.
The second was eagerly anticipated (and delivered), and the third is just as much. Originally scheduled to go on sale next month, Gears of War 3 has been pushed back to September 20 2011 – so it’s refereshing to get a good hard look at what’s coming, up close.
Did Epic drop the ball on that one? No. Not if Epic can deliver something on par with its previous efforts. More than that, Gears of War 3 looks like being bigger and better in every department – starting with multiplayer.
Owners of the excellent Bulletstorm will gain access to the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta from April 18, before the full public beta begins on April 25 through to May 15.
In London yesterday we participated in the multiplayer beta behind closed doors, where Gears of War executive producer Rod Ferguson told us that Gears of War 3 multiplayer will be the most refined yet.
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“The big thing about the beta was what can we do in that time. What we wanted to focus on was polish.”
On the growing importance of betas before release Ferguson said: “Betas have changed. They are now considered to be demos. You have to polish so early. This time we could. It allows us to get to the fans.”
Awaiting fans will be new gameplay quirks such as radars that let you “spot” opponents to flag up for your teammates, new guns, some excellent new multiplayer maps, the ability to earn and unlock medals, new characters and weapons and an RPG style XP system as you upgrade.
First on our itinerary was Team Deathmatch. A refreshed version of the familiar format sees each team share 15 lives. The first team to deplete the others respawns wins the match. Counters in the top left and right display how many lives each team has, adding to the drama as the match unfolds.
“We wanted to take it and ‘gearsify’ it. What we wanted to do was bring that sense of drama at the end. The way you win is to wipe out the team enough times,” Ferguson explained. “You get these 3 on ones, these 2 on ones” that add to the tension.
A real siege and team mentality develops. From the horror of being the only Cog left against two Locusts from the joy of making epic comebacks, matches tended to play out in a variety of ways, giving a fresh feel to each bout.
King of the Hill mode returns. Players attempt to capture and hold areas of the map to gain points. It’s been made easier to understand this time, for those sometimes left confused as to their next objective.
“We’ve optimised it to make it easier to understand, So you’ll see signs saying defend.”
Capture The Leader is similar to Capture The Flag, but instead you capture the leader of the other team. “It’s all about getting hold of the meat shield and holding them until the timer runs out,” Ferguson says.
Each of the maps to be available in the public beta were enjoyable. It’s early days, but we struggled to find one map we disliked during our three hour play-through.
Thrashball is a derelict worse-for-wear American Football Stadium with corridors surrounding it and plenty of places on the pitch to duck and hide behind concrete barriers.
Hanging above is a giant scoreboard dangling by loose cables. There’s a new weapon underneath it – the Digger – that “shoots a burrowing grenade that eats up the ground and pops up” at enemies to explode them. “If you’re close enough it’ll dig into their [an enemy's] body and pop out of their head” we’re told. You can choose to rush for the weapon – risking the giant scoreboard falling and crushing you when the opposing team fires it down, should you choose. A central location also features a mortar that fires explosive artillery at all enemies in the vicinity, making it a must defend spot.
Check Out, says Ferguson is a department store more suited to close range weapons such as the devastating, but utterly useless at medium range sawn-off shotgun. It packs one heck of a wallop, but you need to be very close to your enemy, and it takes very long to reload.
Old Town is a now remote living and farm quarters with stone steps and buildings and plenty of small paths to escape enemies and chickens that you can combust into a heap of feathers. It’s expansive too, making it great for Team Deathmatch. It’s Ferguson’s favourite map for King of the Hill.
Trench is a sandy series of mines in a desert-like setting windswept by the occasional sandstorm that temporally blinds everyone on the frag-field. Space is tight, unless you nab the high ground. Plenty of opportunities for chainsaw and shotgun action abound below.
A few more words on the new weapons. The formidable Lancer now also comes in a a retro edition, conveniently called the Retro Lancer. Its fire isn’t as precise, but a bayonet on the end you can run and charge with is devastating, and ended up our favourite of the new weapons. Make sure to get a good run up before spearing your foes. Another newbie is the Incendiary Grenade that now comes with the ability to explode instantly, spewing flames all over the shop.
Depending on what type of player you are, it’s the radar, accessible by pressing LB, that is the biggest gameplay changer. Pressing it alerts your teammates to enemies once you’ve spotted them, adding a neat tactical balance to the carnage.
Or maybe it will be the ability to earn medals for acts such as notching the required melee kills, or being able to unlock a new variant of Cole, named Thrashball Cole by completing 50 matches. Completing one match gets you a Beta Tester Medal.
Other rewards in the beta will include a gold-plated Retro Lancer for 90 matches and 100 kills, the flaming Hammerburst gun that comes with iron sights for first-person style shooting, the Flaming Lancer, Flaming Sawed-Off Shotgun and the Flaming Gnasher Shotgun. There are also new characters to unlock from all sides.
The addition of XP that tots up the more you play, to encourage players to play more is a feature that is finding its way into more games. It pops up here too. Not that fans will need much encouragement to play on.
Come next month when fans finally get to play the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta, we can, for now at least reassure fans that the multiplayer experience definitely builds on the good work done by Epic Games so far.
The maps are great, the weapons and new features encouraging to see. It’s early days, but fans can look forward to what should be a terrific multiplayer experience.
Out September 20 | £TBC | Gears of War 3