By Sweep 64 Comments
Those that follow my blog will know that I'm a big Gears Of War fan.Usually that knowledge is accompanied by some form of bewilderment or confusion, which is understandable. I can't really explain why I love the Gears franchise so much. I play the games obsessively, I have read all the fiction (yeah, there are Gears of War books. They suck, for the record), I filled out a chunk of the Gears wiki pages here on Giant Bomb and I even have a few Gears of War action figures and T-Shirts. It's bordering on unhealthy. So when I heard that I could get into the Gears 3 beta by buying a copy of Bulletstorm, I immediately did so. I didn't particularly enjoy Bulletstorm and it was promptly returned to my local GAME and exchanged for store credit. I had entered the DLC code into my account already, so my plan was to simply rent the game on the 18th and play that way. My Gears 3 pre-order would come into effect the following week, so it didn't seem like a big deal.
However on Friday I was scrubbin' around at home when Cliffy B started tweeting out Gears 3 ViP beta codes. This would save me some money not having to rent out the game from blockbuster, as well as getting me into the beta 3 days early, so I was pretty excited at the opportunity. After some quick investigation it became apparent that there were actually a large number of Gears Devs tweeting the codes, so I followed the ones with the fewest followers, to minimise the competition, and sat there in front of my computer hungrily waiting for codes to get dispensed. I set up TweetDeck with a filter so it was only showing me posts with the #Gears3Beta hash-tag and bumped up the refresh rate to max which meant the posts were hitting my feed up to 10-15 seconds before they were going up on Twitter. I made sure I was logged onto xbox.com as well, so I could instantly copy across the code and hit enter. After about 20 minutes of desperately scrabbling for codes that were being snatched up within SECONDS (literally two or three seconds) I managed to tag a code. I raised my fists triumphantly into the air, turned on my Xbox to begin the install, and went to get a beer while the Gears 3 Beta Downloaded.
Big shout to Mark Rein for my beta code. Cheers, buddy!
Since Friday I have clocked a lot of hours with the Gears 3 beta.You unlock new character + gun skins by completing a certain amount of matches. For example, 20 King Of The Hill matches get's you Cole, 50 Matches in total get's you Cole Train (Thrashball Cole) and 90 matches get's you the Gold Retro Lancer. I had unlocked everything except the gold lancer within 24 hours. Yeah... I played a lot.
So there have been multiple news articles explaining what the beta involves, what guns and game-types, but very little actual information about how the new features will effect gameplay. This blog is designed to address exactly that. I played the fuck out of Gears 2, and I know all about the Gears fiction, so i'm probably in as good a position as any to fill in the gaps. So... here we go:
Probably the best feature I have seen on the beta is the matchmaking.Finding and joining matches is quick and painless, the interface is clean and the game loads fast. Once a public match ends players are instantly taken to the next match and thrown right back into the action, so there is never more than about 30 seconds where you aren't shooting someone. It feels very dynamic as a result, and it's very smooth compared to the Gears 2 Lobby system which felt somewhat clunky. Players can quit at any time and their scores will be kept, as well. This means if you drop out of a game while the scores are still showing, or while the next level is loading, you will still receive all your XP and points. The drop-in drop-out nature of the matchmaking is to the games credit. The only flaw with the system I have found so far is with the team-balancing, and the game has frequently dumped me into a team full of AI against a fully human set of opponents. I give them a good run for their money but the AI is still pretty docile, meaning that unless you get some real people on your team you are probably going to die.
The questions that seem to be getting thrown around most frequently regard the shotguns.The Gnasher was obviously one of the most popular guns in Gears 2 for it's brute force, and it's similarly favoured in the beta. However the new guns make the game a lot more interesting by addressing many different playing styles. For example, in Gears 2 I favoured the Lancer over the Gnasher, but often had to resort to the Gnasher because of the range at which most conflicts were taking place. The Lancer was pretty redundant, designed for long-range precision as oppose to spraying up close. The Retro Lancer addresses this by being more powerful, yet moderately less accurate, and with some pretty brutal recoil. The optimum range for the Retro Lancer, therefore, seems to be just between those of the Lancer and Gnasher, making it perfect for countering players who just like to roll in close with a shotgun. Considering this was the main tactic of Gears 2, this makes it useful for killing just about everyone. To make the standard Lancer more versatile, the recoil is practically non-existent (as with the hammerburst) and the clip size has been almost doubled, meaning you get a beefy stream of bullets to hose down your enemies with. The HammerBurst has been plugged as the marksman's weapon of choice with minimal recoil and extreme accuracy in Iron-Sight mode. It's also very quick to reload, and can score headhots. Which is nice.
The Sawed Off is only really useful in certain circumstances.It takes an age to reload (two or three seconds, even with an active reload) so it's only really useful against single opponents unless they are all clumped together on a capture point or something. It also requires you to be right up in a dudes face, almost the same range you would be to chainsaw a guy, in order to be effective. The result, however, is insta-death for anyone on the receiving end, and without the paralysing animation of an execution or chainsaw kill. Because of it's terrible range the Sawed Off is most effectively used to ambush and blind-fire round corners, or to sneak up on enemies who haven't seen you yet. A frontal attack will fail when countered with any other gun, so you really have to pick your battles. It seems to work well as a complimentary weapon with the machine-guns, for example. I'm currently rockin' the Retro Lancer as my main, as it's versatility works in most situations, but switch to the Sawed-Off whenever I want to get the drop on somebody. So far the results have been spectacular.
A lot of people seem worried that the power of the Sawed-Off is going to make the Gnashed redundant, but they have nothing to worry about.The Gnasher is still super popular and most of the people I play against still seem to favour it over all the other guns. It's still the best weapon for a direct attack, and any time the Sawed-Off can kill you, the Gnasher would be just as effective in terms of power, though getting that precision shot is slightly more difficult. Players still seem to be adapting to the wider range of guns like the Sawed Off and Retro Lancer which really even the playing field when it comes to close quarters combat. The best thing about the Sawed Off is that it has put an end to those stupid shotgun showdowns from Gears 2 where the last two players would strafe in circles shooting at each other for 20 seconds unable to hit anything. The Sawed Off clears the screen, literally. However, if you miss with it then you are fucked, so be careful.
GrenadesThe smoke grenades are now officially useful again, creating a larger and more impressive cloud of smoke that actually serves as some pretty decent cover. If enemy players are too close to an exploding smoke grenade then they will cover their face with their hands, making them unable to fire, but are not rooted to the ground like they were originally in Gears 2 (Until they patched the flinch out, making the smokes useless) and are still able to roll away to safety. A pretty solid tactic is to stun enemies with a Smoke and then use the time when they are stunned to get in close with a shotgun or rev up the chainsaw bayonet. The Incendiary is the new flame grenade that works very much the same as the Ink in that it leaves an area on the map which will hurt any enemy players who venture too close. The blast radius of the Ink has been reduced and it is now no longer a large cloud of smoke, but a more focussed patch of poison. As such I tend to keep hold of them and tag them onto meat-shields as a distraction rather than a meaningful weapon. Because of their reduced radius, the Ink and Incendiary aren't particularly good proxy traps either, so I haven't really been sticking them to walls much.
Power WeaponsThe One-Shot is an absolute beast that will destroy anything it touches, as the name implies. However it makes a sharp beeping noise when aimed, and there is a laser to accompany it so it's pretty easy to spot when it's being aimed at you. The Digger Launcher is pretty cool as well, frequently replacing the traditional boomshot, though the path-finding of the projectile is somewhat unreliable. I have frequently had shots explode on contact with walls and objects, instead if digging under them as advertised.
Many people will be pleased to hear that the Longshot is now a lot less accurate outside of the scope, so it's a lot more difficult to down people with a quick active-reload up close. Lastly, the Gorgon Pistol now fires a continual stream of bullets as oppose to it's burst fire in Gears 2, making it a much more useful SMG. I use my pistol a lot as the Retro Lancer downs people before killing them, so I frequently find myself grabbing enemies as a meat shield, and the Gorgon is very useful.
The Multiplayer Modes
Team DeathmatchIs kinda fun, though I prefer objective based gameplay so I haven't really played much of this beyond what I needed to unlock the new characters. The limited number of lives makes sticking in a group a key tactic as it makes it much easier to revive squad-mates. It's very similar to the Rush tactics of Battlefield, where you need medics to prevent your reinforcements from being depleted. It's a smart way of promoting organised team-play and communication.
Capture The LeaderProbably my favourite of the new game types. It's like a cross between Guardian and Submission from Gears 2, a cross between capture the flag and ViP mode. One player on each team is made the leader and the other players must protect their leader whilst trying to capture (meat-shield) the enemy leader. Once captured they must be held for 30 seconds. If both leaders are captured, the countdown timer stops until one leader is dropped. The main reason this game-type works so well is because the leader is actually given the tools required to be a valuable asset to the team instead of just a helpless AI that needs babysitting the whole time. The tac-com ability (pressing LB to see your team-mates on the HUD) now shows x-ray positions of friendly players, very similar to detective vision from Batman: Arkham Asylum, but the leader has the ability to also see enemy players as well. This means they can keep their team constantly updated as to enemy positions and respawn locations, etc. This is especially useful on the map Trenches, which features a sand-storm that covers the entire map in a blanket of sand, minimising visibility. Being able to see your team-mates and enemies through the sand is therefore very useful, and your team relies heavily upon your communication skills.
Lastly, if you are the leader and you are captured by the enemy you have the ability to struggle against your captor by pressing B - this sounds kinda pathetic, but when you do so it effectively prevents them for firing or moving for a couple of seconds, potentially giving your team an advantage over your captor.
King of the HillPretty much the same as it ever was, though the King Of the Hill matches currently last stupidly long amounts of time - up to 20 or 30 minutes for some of the longer games - so after unlocking all the characters I needed I haven't really gone back to those. Hopefully they will make them a bit shorter when the game hits retail.
The Characters and LevelsThe characters are pretty basic, not much to say really. The one notable exception is the Leader for the COG is Prescott, not Hoffman. Prescott served as a COG soldier (as did all politicians) during the Pendulum wars before Emergence day, however it was considered only a formality and he never actually saw any action. It's an interesting inclusion to have him here as by the end of the third Gears Of War book, Anvil Gate, which bridges the gap between the second and third games, Prescott has lost all power and authority as Leader of the COG and Hoffman is pretty much doing whatever the hell he wants. I think Cliffy B even mentioned that the third game is set when the COG had dissolved and Prescott had fled to an unknown location, so his inclusion here is somewhat strange. But then again, they have Cole in a fucking Thrashball uniform, so attempting to find continuity amongst the Gears 3 multiplayer characters seems somewhat futile.
The levels look really great.My favourite is probably Old Town, which is set on Vectes island, where the COG re-established themselves after Jacinto was sunk. The island is situated behind a deep sea trench which had prevented the Locust from tunnelling there, and housed an old naval base which had been de-militarised because of supposed toxic leakages. This is soon discovered to be false and when the COG arrive they find a small community of COG citizens who have been living on the island since the Pendulum wars and have never even seen a Locust before. Knowing all this, it's nice to finally get a chance to see some of the smaller COG settlements before they got all fucked up, and the level looks appropriately beautiful. I especially like being able to kill chickens with a Retro Bayonet. Good times.
So, I think that's all the important stuff covered. If anyone has any specific questions then I shall do my best to answer them. Otherwise I guess I will see some of you in the beta when the Bulletstorm kids get in tomorrow.
I will be the one killing you.
Thanks For Reading