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    Gears of War 3 Multiplayer Beta Impressions

    Written by John Rios

    Fans were naturally upset when Gears of War 3 was delayed for marketing purposes, but that anger quickly turned into excitement when Epic announced that it would run a public multiplayer beta. While Epic is using the beta to gather valuable technical data to tweak and refine the game, players are just happy for an advanced opportunity to chainsaw their buddies into bloody giblets.

    Currently, there are only three gametypes, Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, and Capture the Leader. There are four maps: Checkout (a department store), Thrashball (a sports stadium), Trenches (a dusty mining facility) and the cobblestone streets of Old Town, which looks like it was lifted straight out of Fable. You can even blast stray chickens to a red mist. First and foremost, you should know that matchmaking is smooth and painless even for a beta. Epic learned a hard lesson after the debacle with Gears of War 2, and have implemented a great matchmaking system that is on par with Halo. Dedicated servers are a god send, which should eliminate the hated “host advantage” that plagued games past.

    Gameplay is classic Gears – brutal and bloody close-quarters combat that’s fun as hell. Look closer though, and you’ll see the numerous but subtle changes over the previous iterations: the action has been sped up slightly, though the overall pace remains deliberate with frantic bursts. The game is still not anywhere near the hyperactivity of Quake or Unreal, but the small bump in speed certainly raises the excitement level when you see an enemy rapidly charging towards you.

    Other new features include the very useful ability to spot and mark enemies for your team, trade weapons and share ammunition with teammates, mantle kick enemies on the other side of low cover,which stuns them for a few seconds. Grab an opposing player when they are down and they become a meat shield. Once a meat shield, the player can tag them with a grenade and thrust them into a crowd of opposing players. Holding the X button is now used to pick up ammo or weapons. This last feature fixes the previous problem of accidentally picking something up when you meant to revive a downed teammate (which now just requires a quick tap of the X button).

    All of the classic weapons return, including the chainsaw Lancer, the powerful Hammerburst (now with iron sights), the Gnasher shotgun, and all of your other favorites like the Boomshot (rocket launcher). New tools of destruction include the Retro Lancer, a version of the assault rifle we all know, but with a fixed bayonet and increased damage. Its accuracy isn’t the best though, with a kickback so nasty that hitting anything beyond close range is a challenge, but such is the cost for that extra stopping power.

    The new Sawed-Off Shotgun is a brutal double-barreled beast that pretty much guarantees a splattery one-shot kill, and has a devastating area of effect. The downside is that you essentially have to fire at point-blank range, and if you miss, you’re in big trouble thanks to its agonizingly slow reload time. The Sawed-Off is a joy to kill with but can get very annoying when you’re constantly on the receiving end, and feels somewhat overpowered. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Epic rebalance this weapon in the final build. The Oneshot is a sniper rifle on steroids, with a Torque Bow-like laser sight that broadcasts where you’re aiming (and where you are), and a nerve-wrackingly long charge-up time. But as the name suggests, it’s a one-shot kill and just the simple sight of that laser is enough to send enemies scrambling for cover. The coolest new weapon is the Digger Launcher, which fires a digger that burrows into the ground and explodes beneath you. Since we’re all used to looking out for tracer rounds in the air, you can easily forget to look down at the ground for the tell-tale Bugs Bunny-like puffs of dirt signifying potential death from below. Each weapon has its own gory execution move, and you can unlock new executions by racking up kills with said weapon. The best execution so far: ripping off your opponent’s arm and beating him to death with it. However, this particular execution runs way to long and can leave you open to many attacks.

    Gears of War 3
    beta has an extensive list of unlockables and challenges similar to Call of Duty and Halo, with ribbons, medals, weapon skins, characters, and experience points all guaranteed to keep people playing until the game hits retail.

    As before, the maps are small and tight with lots of cover. Checkout and Thrashball, each strike a good balance between open battle areas, defensive coverage zones and multiple paths for offensive flanking. Thrashball also has the added bonus of having a giant scoreboard dangling over the center of the field; shoot the cable and you’ll squash anyone foolish enough to be standing beneath it. Trenches and Old Town funnel you into “hallways” and dead ends, and thus have lots of choke points where the fighting can get very intense. All maps are littered with weapons, which can now be highlighted by hitting the left bumper. You can also spot your teammates this way too, in an X-ray effect similar to Batman’s detective vision in Arkham Asylum. You’ll quickly learn to appreciate this handy new feature when you get separated from your teammates, or respawn after a death and want to quickly regroup with your team.

    Graphically, the game looks fantastic, especially the colorful Old Town map. Instead of the drab greys and browns the series is known for, Old Town is bright and sunny with warm yellows and lush greens that make for a nice change of pace. As you might expect, the lighting and shadow effects are top notch, and the blood and gore are, well, bloodier and gorier than ever.

    Even though this is a beta, it is clear that the game is still extremely brutal for newcomers. There are supposed to be little helpers for low-level players but this is not a game you can expect to just hop right in and dominate. You’ll die quickly and often, as the Gears of War franchise has attracted a very hardcore multiplayer following. Team work is the way to go when playing this beta, as with most competitive team-based titles. Lone wolves will have a tough time surviving.

    Overall, the Gears of War 3 beta gives gamers a generous taste of what we can expect in the final build. No, there’s no Horde mode or any hint of the story, but the new changes and additions to multiplayer bode well for the final chapter of the trilogy. This jaded Gears player is looking forward to the full experience come this September.

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