November 7th 2008, Gears of War 2 had just seen release, met with Critical Acclaim and day one sales figures of over an astounding 2 Million, the future looked bright for Epic Games. Avid Gear Heads made the jump immediately to the sequels multiplayer component and where met with both a tremendous gameplay experience, and some disheartening lag issues. And so began the months of title updates intended to combat the flaws and bring us closer to the experience Epic Games originally aimed for. And, Epic being the dedicated development team they are, succeeded, and those of whom stuck with the title through its dificult times, (such as myself) were able to relax in the knowledge that the game was no longer as incosistant as on its release date. Whilst the skillful players remained, Epic were begining to realise a gap in the market, deriving from the modes available in the title. Whilst those with skill were able to enjoy themselves, moving cover to cover gibbing there opponents, others felt discouraged from further playing the game due to there continuous anhialation, followed by a hefty waiting time for the next round to begin and for them to be capable of respawning to meet the same fate. and same wait.
This problem would later be combatted in the third instalment of the franchise, Gears of War 3, with a new mode, Team Deathmatch. Whilst not the treditional Team Deathmatch found in games such as Call of Duty, Halo and such, the game mode had its own "Gears twist". Utilising the idea of a "life-pool", each team has 15 Respawns, with each death a respawn is depleated. Whilst catering for the "newbies", many longtime skilled players (such as myself), where somewhat worried at the prospect of respawns in other than Capture based modes such as Annex and King of the Hill. And gameplay videos didn't offer us an answer as to how much this addition would change the overall experience. However, on December 17th 2010, Epic Games confirmed player would be getting a Beta to the recently delayed third instalment, and so, four months later, on April 18th 2010, we got our answer.
As many members of N4G will be well aware of my obsession with the Gears of War franchise, it will come as no shock that I am currently enjoying the hell out of the Beta for the third instalment and any worries about respawns being implemented being vaporised. Respawns do not deter me from utilising a similar play style to that of which I used in the first two titles, nor do they prevent the game from being enjoyable. In this Blog Post I'll share my opinions of the Beta. First stop, weapons.
W E A P O N S
Anyone who's played a Gears of War titles multiplayer component will be well aware of the central weapon of use and th most requiring of skill, the Gnasher Shotgun. With so many kills registered on a daily bases using the GS, it was an obvious choice for Epic Games to bring a new shotgun into the frame. Many, including myself, were sceptical of the prospect of having a new, more powerfull shotgun, however, I applaud Epic Games, for both the balancing of the weapon, and the enjoyment of using said weapon. Whilst not detering me away from the Gnasher Shotgun, the Sawed off is tremendous, requiring a different approach from the Gnasher entirely, the gun requires the player to get a matter of inches away from his opponent to achieve its kill, and an astoundingly lengthy reload to prepare for its next. With the lengthy reload, this both prevents overpowering of the weapon, and discourages the player from rushing multiple opponents in the hope of challenging each of them to a battle. Whilst many Gears of War forum visiters have complained of the guns power, I assure you, this is solely due to their frustrations of being the victim of the weapon. There are simple ways of avoiding and combatting a user of the Sawed-off shotgun... keep at a distance.
Also (somewhat) new, is the Retro Lancer, being briefly mentioned in the Gears of War 2 Art book, the weapon is the original model of the Lancer Assault Rifle, utilised during the human vs human "Pendulum Wars", of which occured prior to the original game's start. With Gears of War 3's campaign being set in bleak times, with the lambent and locust having destroyed the COG, it can be assumed resources are low, and therefor the team have resulted in fishing out dated weapons to combat Sera's threat. The weapon is incredibly inaccurate, however, each bullet packs one hell of a punch, and with this weapon, Epic have achieved the impossible, they have designed a weapon even Gears Pro's won't mind using close range away from the shotguns. Again, the gun is highly balanced, with its terrible accuracy and insane recoil, the gun demands a certain degree of skill. However, all is not what it seems with the RL, as all of whom have even seen Gears of War will know, the standard lancer wasn't only capable of firing bullets, with its mounted chainsaw, players were capable of tearing the enemy in two. The RL was equipped with the aged equivelent, a bayonnette, allowing for people to charge (similar to the roadie run) with the holding of the melee button (B) and impale any direct enemy.Whilst a one hit kill, the execution last several seconds, leaving you completely open to enemy fire whilst completing the animation, and also, those worrying that the "Retro run" would be over used, the charge needs a lengthy run up to count as more than a standard melee. Also, with Stopping power yet again returning, enemies charging in plain sight, dont stand a chance.
Yet again, the Hammerburst has seen a redesign (of sorts), with the weapon now allowing for the use of iron-sights. New to the franchise, the iron-sights are a welcome addition, whilst only featuring on the hammerburst and requiring single fire due to the slight recoil of the weapon, it feels well incorperated and allows for both a closer look at distant combat and for better accuracy of certain limbs in combat. The hammerburst is widely considered on the Beta to be the mid-ranged rifle, with the lancer being long and the retro being close-ranged, however this doesn't deter it from being occasionally useful in close-quarters.
Another new weapon arriving in to the franchise is the Digger Launcher, its shots burrowing underground, cover becomes useless when faced with this weapon, istead the player needs to be completely aware of the shots tunneling beneath the ground and role out of the way. Whilst the gun is powerful, it features only 3 Shots and requires pinpoint accuracy for the shot to lift above ground before exploding. However, if the player is feeling lucky an accurate hip-fired shot will result in the pirrana like creature trapping in the enemies chest before exploding, incredibly satisfying.
Talking of satisfying kills, the Longshot rifle also makes a return, with the improved hit detection being simply fantastic and making the gun feel more consistant.
Another, yet rarely discussed new weapon is the Incendiary Grenade, reuiring a different approach from the frag grenades, the Incendiary's need to physically hit the enemy to achieve its kill, with the released flames rarely resulting in a kill (if the enemy has enough sense to roll out of the patch of flames. Its a welcome diffrence, with the grenades requiring a higher level of skill. The best way of describing the projectile would be to compare it to those found in Halo 3, yet slimmed down in fire release and ease in obtaining the kill.
Due to a lack of time I will swiftly move on to the final new weapon, the One-Shot. Again, the weapon is highly balanced, requiring a charge up time before firing. The gun adds a sense of tension to each match played on the brilliant "Trenches", with its laser sight waving through the map hovering close and the charged beeping acting as your only warnings. The gun needs to do as litle as skim your toe to achieve a kill, so beware...
G A M E P L A Y
Gears of War 3 has Dedicated Servers *Unnanoumous Cheering*, and such an addition is both applauded and appreciated. I can inform the worriers, Gears 3 has no lag. Or at least I am yet to experience any. And simply put, that's that, the game runs smoothly, there is little need to hang around on the topic of bugs or lag because as of yet, I haven't experienced anything noticable.
New additions to the gameplay include the brilliant "Bag and Tag", where by the player on picking up a meat shield is capable of slapping a grenade onto the back of their neck (which ever grenade is in your inventory), kick them forward, and watch the mayhem, the tactic is great when faced with a large number of opponents from in front of you and will be fantastic no doubt in the campaign of the title (as shown by Cliffy B at E3 2010).
Executions in Gears 3 are simply fantastic, offering many different ways of humiliating your downed opponent, but, now you are given the chance to execute for a greater purpose, XP, with the returning execution of repeatedly punching your opponent a few times returning, but now allowing for an additional few punches for 9XP a pop if the player has the time to do so, requiring the player to evaluate their surroundings before making his judgement. All executions apart from the curb stomp, punch (COG)/Arm rip (Locust) and meat shield now need to be unlocked by achieving a certain number of kills with each given weapon...
A new addition to the franchises brilliant cover system is the new Mantel Kick or Vault Kick, where a player behind a vaultable piece of cover is capable of kicking an opponent on the other side, stunning them for a second, the mechanic does well of Rhod's promise to "reward the aggresor".
V I S U A L S
Again, Epic have raised the bar as to what can be achieved with the Xbox 360 in the graphics department, yet again crafting one of the most beautiful games of all time, the God Rays will have you standing in awe, the landscapes are beautiful, the sandstorm on Trenches turning the scenery in to a murky brown, and nearby teammates becoming silhoettes in the sand, the rippling of the water in the grenade room on Thrashball. The game is simply stunning. The animations are again brilliant with the player feeling weighed down by the armor and weapons, moving in cover, cover to cover and over cover again feels fluid, kicking your meatshield and seeing him flailing desperately trying to detatch the grenade is a brilliant sight. I could go on all day about the look of the maps, but instead, I'll talk about their layout.
Each map offers something new, with Trenches offering 2 heavy weapons in the form of the one shot and mortar, shifting the focus in battles to the outer areas of the map in order to avoid their fire and making those holding the weapons prime targets, also at a random moment in the match a distant horn will be heard briefly before a blinding sandstorm breaks out, sandstorms being previously featured in Gears 2, but not to this extent, the storm forces battles to be fought blindly and adds a sense of variety to the game.
Thrashball features a dangling scoreboard in the centre of the map, with the power weapon being situated beneath it, mid way throught the game it is capable to shoot down the score board resulting in a huge chunk of the map being blocked off and making it dificult to see opponents on the other side of the map, breaking up the combat in a very fun way.
Old Town is beautiful, resembling the streets of an italian town almost, the mapincorperates the tight alleyways and the open courtyards and beaches, whilst all maps have some forms of destructability, this map also allows you to shoot... chickens. It adds life and character to the map seeing chickens run around without feeling too immature. Its all vey fun.
Checkout offers again open and closed combat, whilst primarily being a close quarters map, the tills areas are slightly open, with a Sniper or Digger Launcher depending on rounds being situated in the most open area. Small bathrooms can also be stepped into to pick up the rounds pistol and to wait for passing enemies, however, its the counter and behind the counter were primarily all the vault kicking and brutal combat takes place, and the ink/incendiary grenade's home offers a nice vantage point if you pick up the sniper of said combat.
C O N C L U S I O N
I could waffle on all day about the Beta, but I need to get back to destroying my opponents, for the fanatics of the franchise (including myself) it is a well progressed, balanced, utterly fantastic experience that also caters for the newer gamers to the franchise through its use of respawns. This is easily my Game of the Year, but as I stated earlier, I'm a Gears obsessive and have been since Day one of the franchise, but truly, Epic have created another masterpiece, and whilst betas are meant for players to find corrections to make, there aren't any major flaws to fix. My only problems are with teammates continuously stealing downs, which is not Epics fault, but could be fixed by increasing the amount of bullets a teammate has to shoot to take your down. And teammates skill, with me only recieving one death but having to deal with my teammates using all the respawns up and leaving me as the last man standing, but that doesn't prevent me from still achieving MVP on the majority of my games.
Please feel free to share your opinions of the Beta in the comments area and anyone who wants to know anything more about the beta that I haven't covered feel free to ask in the comments area, I will happily answer your questions. And, of course, if anyone wants to play a game with me on the beta, just PM me your Gamertag.