Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gears of War 3 Beta Impressions

Roughly 15 years ago when I first began playing team-based competitive multiplayer in online games, I learned very quickly that I lack team coordination and strategy. Against a well coordinated team, this simply means that I suck, and things certainly haven't changed in the present.

Put me in a 1v1 real time strategy game, and all your bases will belong to me. Put me in a first person shooter free for all, and I will hold my own. Put me in a team-based game like the Gears of War 3 Beta that's just wrapping up, and I'll get a Retro Lancer bayonet up my butt consistently in every match.

I came into the Gears of War 3 Beta at the end of its third week, and I've only played about a dozen games, so this truly is an impressions article and not a be all end all judgement of what we can expect with the retail game this Fall.

I mainly played with a Party of Friends in Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, and a few Capture the Leader matches. In Team Death Match your team starts with a pool of lives and you keep respawning until the pool is gone. King of the Hill is as you'd expect it and Capture the Leader requires you to down and then hold on to the opposing teams Leader to rack up points. Torque Bow Tag was also added in right at the Beta's end.

In addition to the tried and true franchise weapons that make a return, new weapons are added to the fray. The Sawed-off Shotgun and Retro Lancer you can begin with and were extremely common in all the games I played. The Sawed-off Shotgun is a double barrel weapon that will be an instant kill if you land the shot, but if you miss you need to reload which will likely result in your own death. The Retro Lancer is a Lancer from the Pendulum Wars era and is less accurate at long distances and has a traditional bayonet that you can charge and spear enemies with for a great kill animation.

New power weapons I was repeatedly killed with was the Oneshot, a super Sniper Rifle that can fire through cover and will kill you with a single blast, and the Digger, a weapon that launches a Grenade that burrows underground to pop up on a target, blasting them to bits. There's also a new Incendiary Grenade that burns up targets real well.

As you continue to play you earn Ribbons which are similar in concept to Medals found in Halo: Reach, and completing matches, earning Ribbons, and killing enemies with specific weapons unlocks new playable Multiplayer Characters (you start off only being able to select Marcus and Dom and a Drone and Savage Grenadier respectably), new Weapons Skins (such as a Flaming look to some of your guns, or an Urban look which is a grey and white camo painting), and Executions.

Unlike previous titles, you can't perform a weapon's execution animation right out of the box, you need to unlock them. When you begin, Curb Stomping is what you've got (now by pressing "Y." "X" picks up downed enemies as a Meat Shield), but by doing well with your favourite weapons you'll be knocking off heads like golf balls in good time.

The new maps were well detailed and laid out. I played in Thrashball and Trenches a lot, had the odd match in Checkout, and one King of the Hill game in Old Town, which I really liked the look of. Visually speaking the Beta looked good. I didn't notice the major overhaul in texture quality and detail that was apparent from Gears of War to Gears of War 2, but the game is by no means poor looking. Environmental effects are also back, as seen by the random dust storm that kicks up and kills all visibility in Trenches. The Beta's audio is also up to the standard we've come to expect from Gears of War.

One great thing added in the Beta that was notably absent from Gears of War 2, aside from dedicated servers (which are now in!) is drop in and drop out play. Start searching for a match and you'll be popped into a game in progress. Leave, and a bot will take your place so the team isn't down a man. This'll be great for more casual players looking for a quick fix after work or what-not.

Some game mechanic tweaks include holding "X" to pick up a weapon or additional ammo, and if you find yourself taking cover with an opponent on the other side of the same object, you can vault over and instantly knock them down granting you a huge advantage. The Mortar also seems to be able to fire more like a regular heavy weapon now, as I know I was killed a few times by a non-traditional Mortar shot. Holding down "LB" also doesn't just show you the location of your teammates with pop-ups, it shows you their outline so you can see them clearly and you'll also see the icons for the locations of power weapons. If you happen to be the Leader in a game of Capture the Leader, you'll also see where the opposing team is, allowing you to properly coordinate your forces.

Overall, what was in the Gears of War 3 Beta was fast paced and very competitive, and multiplayer enthusiasts are going to be in for a treat when the full game launches this September. For me, I'm really looking forward to the Campaign, Horde, and Beast Mode. My poor bottom will thank me later for avoiding the competitive arenas.

Now, before I sign off, some of the Beta unlocks will carry over into the retail game this Fall. Flaming Weapon Skins, for example, and the Cole Train Character and Gold Retro Lancer if you managed to unlock them for Retail. In order to have them unlock though, you must not delete your Beta's save game file! If you do, you're out of luck. To make sure you don't delete the wrong file, read over Epic Game's post here.

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