A great leap forward, not just over chest-high walls
©2011 Nicholas Laborde
The Gears of War series has become synonymous with the current generation of consoles.
Let’s face it: much or at least part of the reason we noticed Gears in the first place was the fact that it looked so darn beautiful when the first iteration started making news.
Never before had an entry in the interactive medium reached such a high level of graphical fidelity!
Here we are nearly half a decade later (can you really believe it’s been that long?), and Epic‘s space marine chainsawfest has reached its third and final entry [in the main series].
For the first time in the history of the company, Epic has decided to throw out a beta, undoubtedly a product of the delayed title. But how exactly does the end of the trilogy fare so far?
Fear not, for Epic has found a PERFECT middle ground in Gears 3. It’s just fast enough, but while still retaining that Gears feel and style. Along with minor gameplay improvements, the entire experience just feels completely fluid.
A perfect example would be when a player gets headshotted. In Gears 1 and 2, the player stood in a scripted animation when the head exploded, then typically dropped the same way each time.
Gears 3 fixes that and provides a completely dynamic experience. Running through a massive shootout and want to execute someone? It’s almost as if the button prompt isn’t there! Fluidity is something that Gears 3 has executed spot-on so far, and hopefully will improve even more by final release.
Another example of fluidity is the cover system. No longer are you pressing the A button seventy times more than is necessary. Now, you can roadie run into a wall and you’ll automatically snap into cover. It’s definitely one of the best minor fixes yet!
Accompanying the smooth gameplay is the visual style as a whole. As with the previous two entries in the franchise, Gears of War 3 is a technical masterpiece, showcasing the epitome of current-gen hardware, all at a silky-smooth framerate that rarely dips.
Beautiful vistas, lush foliage and altogether gorgeous environments make raising hell that much more fun. Along with this comes an improved (and heavily weighted) rank-up system that adds in things such as challenges, medals and ribbons.
And finally, the greatest achievement of them all: dedicated servers! They work like a dream, but we’ll tackle that later in the article.
For now, check out the detailed breakdown and analysis below.
- Marcus Fenix
- Dominic Santiago
- Damon Baird
- Anya Stroud
- Cole Train (Cole in Thrashball uniform)
- Savage Grenadier
- Savage Theron
- Flame Grenadier
- COG Leader, Unnamed (From Capture The Leader – possibly Prescott?)
- Locust Queen Myrrah (From Capture The Leader)
The first mode, Team Deathmatch, is a Gears take on an old classic. Similar to the Battlefield series, each team has a certain amount of “tickets” (15 in this case) per round. Each death on the team causes a ticket to be lost, and so on and so forth. Once the fifteen are up, a last ditch effort is made, with the five members of the team being given one last life to turn the tide of battle.
Mode number two, King of the Hill, is an improved version of what we saw in the previous two titles. A destination is placed on various points around the map, with the ultimate goal being to capture and hold it until the timer is up. Each second that your team occupies a hill, a point is added to the score. A total of 170 seconds is necessary for one team to win.
Finally, we have Capture the Leader, or just CTL. Capture the Flag is a stable game mode of multiplayer gaming, and Epic put that classic Gears twist on it. CTL is a conglomerate of two modes from Gears of War 2: Guardian and Capture the Meatflag.
Guardian had two teams of players, each with a leader. As long as the leader was alive, the team members could continue respawning. Meatflag was essentially CTF, but with the flag being an actual NPC, assuming the role of a Stranded soldier who didn’t like either side. He had to be knocked down, picked up [as a meatflag] and carried to a specific point.
Capture the Leader combines both of these modes into a wonderful middle ground. Each team has a leader, and can continually respawn no matter the state of their leader. The leader cannot be killed, only knocked down. The objective is for one team to capture the enemy team’s leader and hold them for thirty seconds.
It’s turned out to be my favorite new mode in Gears 3, which is some sort of miracle considering I hated Meatflag in Gears 2. Matches here can become VERY intense, and teamwork is essential.
First off is quite possibly the most unique map of them all, Thrashball. All respecting Gears fans know that Augustus Cole (also known as Cole Train) was a major player in one of Sera’s most popular sports, Thrashball, before the wars. A large, enclosed stadium embodies the battlefield that players will anxiously wage war upon.
It’s also a very unique map for its environmental touches. A large scoreboard hangs overhead, keeping the actual score of each team! After a certain amount of time, the dilapidated old thing drops down drastically, hanging on by a thread. Players who react quickly enough can shoot the final cable, causing the monolith to drop down and kill any unsuspecting players below it.
Next up is Checkout, which is based in the upper floors of a long-abandoned shopping mall. Shelves that can be knocked down litter the environment, and flanking routes are abundant. The fastest fingers truly dominate in this area.
Periodically, the fire alarm goes off. No one as of yet knows what this means. Cliff Bleszinski stated on his Twitter that it triggers a hidden weapon spawn, but of course we haven’t found it yet.
Third, we have Old Town, which is most definitely my favorite map. It’s a calm little town like you might find in the less-popular places of France. Bushes and greenery litter the area, with a huge oceanic vista surrounding the edge of the map to add a perfect aesthetic feel.
Lastly, the fourth and final map in the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta is Trenches, quite possible the most intense of them all.
A largely brown-and-bloom map not unlike what we’ve seen before, Trenches is probably the most varied in a design sense. Trenches are abundant throughout the map, but many elevated and lowered positions abound as well to flank these seemingly-safe cover areas.
At the very center and top of the map is, when I occupy it, what I like to call being “king of the castle.” Each round the weapon that spawns there switches between the Mulcher and the One-Shot Sniper. There are no entrances to this area except straight up the middle, and only one object blocks your line of sight on charging attackers.
This is a strategic area for CTL matches, and if you can take control of it as leader and have at least one buddy with you while up there, the round is yours for the taking. Just try to go easy on the poor souls below if you get the One-Shot.
- Digger Launcher
- Flame Grenade
- One Shot Heavy Sniper
- Sawed-Off Shotgun
- Retro Lancer
- Improved Hammerburst w/Ironsights
Each weapon adds its own flavor and style to the Gears universe. The one weapon I can never seem to master is the Digger Launcher. A little creature is launched from a weapon, which burrows underground through cover, and pops up on the other side, exploding to kill anyone near it.
My personal favorite new weapon has to be a tie between the Retro Lancer and the Sawed-off Shotgun. The Retro Lancer is a blast from the past; more precisely, the Pendulum Wars. This Lancer has no iconic chainsaw bayonet; rather, an actual bayonet. Holding the B button makes your character charge, with an already-iconic SHING noise deploying soon after, signifying the bayonet’s activity.
From a ballistics point of view, it’s stronger than the modern Lancer but has less range. It’s a very reliable close-quarters weapon.
On the other hand, the Sawed-off Shotgun fits the game perfectly. Designed as a one-shot-kill weapon, it only has four shells upon start and can only hold one “clip” per shot. The weapon has a ridiculous spread, and is extremely powerful. Aiming is not required.
The catch? You have to be VERY close to someone for it to be a one-shot-kill, else you’ll just wound them and leave yourself an easy target, because this raw power is offset by a very slow reload time.
Both of these weapons used in an offensive manner yields quite a deadly result, and my enemies never see it coming!
On a game somewhere around fifty matches into my beta testing experience, I got quickly killed by someone with a shotgun.
Immediately I became enraged (as I was the last person alive on my team in TDM) and blamed it on the infamous ‘host advantage.’ I then lost my momentary anger and realized something: dedicated servers are what run Gears 3′s online. There is no host advantage. I just wasn’t skilled enough to succeed.
If anything, it put me in my place! No longer will a single player dominate due to random network priority. It is finally a completely even and balanced multiplayer game, and it’s that much more enjoyable as a result.
My absolute best experience had to be a TDM game on Thrashball. I got eleven kills and zero deaths the first round of the game (20 lives in total consist of each team’s allocation per round in TDM). It came down to just me and three enemy players.
I was in the side area where the Flame Grenades spawn, and was waiting my impending doom. The first of the last three people entered my domain. Quickly, I blasted him away with my Sawed-Off. Immediately, I hauled it to the other end to keep an eye out on other intruders.
Seconds later another one came in, this time anticipating me. He unloaded his Lancer into me and I had to run back behind cover to survive the onslaught. Right as I heard the TICK of his empty magazine, I jumped out and pumped an entire magazine into him with my Retro lancer.
• Gears Of War 3 screenshots & art slideshow
As I approached, he whipped out his Boltok revolver, but I got him soon enough to prevent that. I took cover on the edge of the wall and peered out; the final enemy had a Mulcher machine gun and was propped up, waiting for me to pop out.
I fired off a few shots to get my Active Reload and waited for the perfect moment. Several seconds later, I pop out for a split second and land a headshot.
POP. – We win, and I was treated to cheering teammates.
Experiences like that are what I live for as a gamer, and no other game has given me such an adrenaline rush in a very long time. Thanks to the dedicated servers, it’s finally a completely even experience.
To sum it all up: I’ve never had this much fun with a multiplayer game in a very, very, VERY long time. And this is only scratching the surface of what is yet to come.
From its gorgeous visuals and perfect gameplay to flawless server stability and some of the best balance in multplayer out there, Gears of War 3 will cause a giant rift in your social life beginning September 23.
For now though, enjoy the beta, which went public today for Bulletstorm Epic Edition owners, and will be available for everyone starting April 25.
• Gears Of War 3 Beta screens & artwork
©2011 Nicholas Laborde
Filed under: 1st Party Titles, Console gaming, Game Impressions, Microsoft Games, New Game Information, New Xbox 360 Games, Xbox 360, Xbox 360 Game Reviews Tagged: | Anya Stroud, Augustus Cole, Bulletstorm, COG Leader, Cole Train, Damon Baird, Digger Launcher, Dominic Santiago, Drone, epic, Epic Games, Flame Grenade, Flame Grenadier, GameStop, Gears 3 Trenches, GEars Of War, Gears of War 3, Gears Of War 3 BETA, geasr of war 3 beta screenshots, Hammerburst, Kantus, King of the Hill, List of Gears of War characters, Locust Queen Myrrah (From Capture The Leader), Marcus Fenix, One Shot Heavy Sniper, Retro Lancer, Savage Grenadier, Savage Theron, Sawed-Off Shotgun, Thrashball