So, the public Gears of War 3 BETA has been up for almost a week now and I can tell you that this game is simply amazing. Pure and simple, Epic have taken everything that was bad about the first two instalments and thrown it out the window, leaving what is arguably one of the most stable, tactical, fast paced shooters I have ever played on a console.
Having clocked up almost 9 hours with the BETA, not once have I experienced any form of lag when on the hosted servers. I say on the hosted servers, because there have been occasions when these have been down for maintenance and the peer-to-peer system of old has kicked in, which in itself has not been too bad compared to the likes of Gears 1 and 2. Lag switching, leaving maps, hacks and host advantage, all of which have plagued and rendered its ancestors almost unplayable, have been completely eradicated by the hosted environment, something which all other developers and publishers should take note of. What this also means for MLG gamers is that you will now be able to compete on a level footing with gamers all over the world, truly testing your actual skills and not your connection speeds with our friends across the Atlantic.
Gameplay & Feel
The game looks much like the second installment, but the characters handle in a much lighter way, turning and moving is no longer as laborious, allowing you to quickly manoeuver across the maps. The maps themselves are much brighter, but don’t start getting any ideas that this is Disney Land; simply put, the greys are not as pervasive as before. Old Town has resemblances to a Spanish village which has had the arse torn out of it by a locust horde; Checkout is a dilapidated shopping centre; Thrashball is a partially destroyed football stadium; and finally Tunnels is an open quarry with the occasional sandstorm thrown in. All the maps have strategic positions and choke points, which if used properly can allow your team to claw back much needed kills, or continue to dominate your opponents if they stubbornly insist on trying to make their way through. Almost all locations have alternate routes for flanking, which is where a communicating team will have a significant advantage over a collection of random mutes.
Ranked and public matches are available, with the biggest difference being that in a public match you and everyone in the lobby will simply transfer from match to match, with bots substituting for players who drop out along the way. “NO!!!!!!” I can hear you say, “bots are useless”; yes, they were…. but not now. Still no match for a veteran of the game, they at least behave in a more lifelike way, and can be quite useful when hunting in packs, which they tend to do quite regularly.
Team Death Match has been completely reworked, having two teams of 5 with a shared bank of 20 lives, it is the last team standing that wins. This helps improve the intensity of each game massively, whilst you will still benefit from playing tactically, you now have the option to rush in and sacrifice yourself for your supporting teamates to clear up from the carnage created by your little outburst. Again, this will only happen with coordinated teams, so don’t expect to find a bunch of happy to die team-mates come launch.
The originals are all there: the gnasher, lancer, hammerburst, torque bow, boomshot, hammer of dawn, mulcher and mortar but all have been tweaked slightly and for the better. Hammerburst is superior from further out, but the Lancer has a mahoosive clip size now, and with active reload – will tear down two enemies before needing to reload, the gnasher is now a longer range weapon compared to the new sawed-off, but is still deadly up close. And the retro-lancer is almost a rifle-shotgun hybrid, with a nasty spear charge.
People have been worried about the sawed-off in the hands of the CoD generation, but this gun is almost useless if they are not standing right on top of you, which if they are, then you deserve to die. With only a 4 shot magazine and reload that takes several seconds, if they miss their one opportunity you have time to unload 3 rounds into them before they could do anymore damage.
Executions have been developed from Gears 2, but will leave you exposed for several seconds if used in the middle of a game, but as the last kill ripping off an opponents arm and beating them silly whilst your team load them up with smoke grenades is still very satisfying.
The Beta itself encourages you to unlock characters, weapon skins, execution moves and unlockables to carry over into the retail launch through playing the game in its various modes which at present include King-Of-The-Hill, Team Death Match, and Capture The Leader. This is no CoD (thankfully) but is a nice touch to encourage people to play through each of the game’s available modes. Those of note include a gold retro-lancer skin and a Cole Train character for retail.
CoD has alot to answer for on this one, and was put to me whilst playing online. During the hours of Gears 1 & 2, if you downed an enemy he was yours to finish, and many would respect this even in an open lobby. What is becoming more apparent though during the Beta is that this rule applies no longer! Kills are stolen everywhere, by everyone, and with no remorse. The bottom feeding that has taken place on MW2 and Black Ops appears to have infected the minds of those in the Gears universe, with almost all appearing to swarm round and clear up downed enemies like a flies round s*@t. It’s dog-eat-dog, and everyone for themselves.
This game is amazing online. Having not played the single player, I can only assume that they have found a suitable story to complete the series….. or not. But one thing is for certain, this is going to be one of, if not the greatest online multiplayer fragfests of this generation. Nothing else I have played has hooked me so quickly, and even for non-Gears fans, this is a must buy, plain and simple. The dedicated servers make the whole thing come together and remove everything that was bad about the previous two titles in the series. The story could be balls as far as I am concerned, the online is simply amazing.