April 18, 2011

Gears of War 3 Beta Impressions (Or Tales of Chainsaw Bro Assault)

Filed under: Features — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Brad Johnson @ 6:24 pm

Gears of War 3 Multiplayer Beta
I had the opportunity to get in on the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta this weekend, and after three days of chainsawing bros and falling victim to body-shattering shotgun assaults, I am now prepared to discuss the matter with you.

Gears, of course, remains ever-Gears: ridiculous wartime linebackers trudge heavily through the warzone, struggling to tame their wild, uncontrollable weapons in an effort to smash the bodies of the enemy soldiers and grunt approvingly.

It can be clumsy and it can be awkward; Gears is not Call of Duty, and you are not an unstoppable precision laser performing actions per minute approaching infinity. Instead, you are a brute. Certainly, this is not for everyone; Gears of War owns frustrating deathstreaks like no other—but there is undeniable charm in this brutal, uncontrolled frenzy, and Gears 3 continues to embrace that.

Gears of War 3 Multiplayer Beta
The beta currently features four maps. There’s Checkout, a close-quarters grocery store shootout; Trenches, which is exactly what it sounds like; Old Town, a fairly traditional Gears map; and Thrashball, occurring within, yes, a Thrashball stadium.

Gears 2 flirted with the idea of stage-specific hazards (I was swept away by that brutal avalanche many a time), and though it’s not immediately noticeable, this is something the sequel has taken to the next level in these new maps.

On Trenches, the map may suddenly become filled with a thick, oppressive fog—making shotgun ambushes even more dangerous than usual. Meanwhile, on Thrashball, a hanging scoreboard squeals obnoxiously as it comes loose from its moorings, and can eventually be shot down to crush unsuspecting enemies. There is also the One-shot, a stage-specific sniper rifle on steroids that can single-handedly decimate the enemy team.

There’s an array of new weapons, perhaps offering a fair selection for the first time in franchise history. In addition to the Lancer and Hammerburst rifles, players can now also choose the Pendulum Lancer (or “Retro” Lancer), which boasts high damage but dreadful accuracy, as well as a charging bayonet attack. On the shotgun side, the one-shot sawed-off can now be chosen, in addition to the standard Gnasher.

Gears of War 3 Multiplayer Beta
The Retro Lancer kicks like a wild animal, but its spray-and-pray functionality is excellent for close quarters, or for mowing down grouped enemies in a firefight. Alternatively, the sawed-off shotgun is basically a guaranteed kill if an opponent is at arm’s length, but functionally useless beyond that.

Despite this weakness, the sawed-off unfortunately aggravates the classic Gears problem of unstoppable shotgun assaults; shotguns rule the field harder than ever, and the power of the sawed-off will surely frustrate some players.

Additionally, a selection of new special weapons can be found within the maps, including incendiary grenades, and the preposterous Digger Launcher, which fires tunnelling grenade rounds that smash enemies behind cover.

There have also been a number of less noticeable (but clever) refinements. Enemy meatshields can now be turned into walking bombs with the application of grenades, mantling will now boot out enemies on the opposite side of the player’s cover, and overhead maps show the location of special weapons.

Equally, the game modes have been similarly adjusted; Meatflag has become capture the leader, where the team must hold the enemy leader for 30 consecutive seconds to win, while new to the franchise is Team Deathmatch.

TDM comes with a Gears of War twist; rather than there being a simple killcount to achieve, teams have limited spawns that gradually run out—at which time the team can be eliminated and the game won. It’s a solid addition to the traditionally slow-paced Gears of War gameplay; it speeds matters up and makes death a less punishing setback—though the knowledge that a respawn awaits made me a little reckless.

Gears of War 3 Multiplayer Beta
Gears 3 now incorporates a far more elaborate stats tracking system than its predecessor. Like many modern multiplayer shooters, it boasts a library of challenges and assigns a multitude of reward ribbons for actions of all kinds. These can range from the simple (be the first to die in a round) to the more demanding (get 100 assists).

I like that the game acknowledges player performance, even when it’s little things, though it’s worth noting that the XP gained from these rewards doesn’t really serve the player in any discernable way. Though there are a mess of character and weapon skins to unlock, none of them are actually unlocked through level progress; thus, the XP rewards and levelling system seem somewhat irrelevant. Still, it’s always satisfying to have a catalogue of accomplishments to browse.

Depending on how the beta rolls onward, I may return at a future date with further tales of Bros of War 3: BRO HARDER. In the meantime, you can rest assured that Gears 3 is shaping up nicely—if you enjoy Chainsaw BroWars, that is.

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