When you get right down to it, there is one definitive reason for why Epic Games is hosting a beta event for Gears of War 3 multiplayer: avoid the catastrophe that was the Gears 2 launch. That fiasco is now infamous, and the main reason why I abandoned the Gears 2 multiplayer component shortly after launch to instead focus on games I could actually log into. For the people out there that don’t know what I’m referring to, let me break it down quickly. Basically, Gears of War 2 launched and the multiplayer component was plagued with server connection issues that hindered players from logging in, grouping up with friends and outright playing the damn game. Hence a Gears of War 3 beta event was birthed as a preemptive strike by Epic Games to avoid history repeating itself.
Now this should be taken with a grain of salt, as there was a small percentage of people logged into the servers during Epic and Microsoft’s “Friends and Family” promotion, but it seems Epic learned their lesson from the Gears 2 shit show. Everything from logging in, grouping up and playing is much faster and smoother in Gears 3. I was able to turn on the game and get into a match within a matter of minutes, sometimes sooner. Granted, this could all change once the beta event opens up to a larger audience with everyone flooding the servers to get in on the Lancer action. But for right now, the mere fact that I can actually play Gears of War 3 online without any hiccups is music to my ears. It definitely helps wash out that sour taste in my mouth left behind by Gears 2.
I’m sure more maps and game types will open up as the beta event presses on throughout the rest of April and into May, but for right now we have four maps and three game types to work with. The three game modes are “Team Deathmatch,” “Capture the Leader” and “King of the Hill.” The four maps available are “Thrashball," “Checkout," "Old Town" and “Trenches.”
Let’s take some time to first go over each of the game types offered. As Epic Games detailed in a recent trailer, Team Deathmatch has a unique Gears of War spin on it. This isn’t a game where two teams compete to rack up as many kills as possible in the allotted time. Instead, each team has a life pool, which counts down as teammates are blown to bits. If your team works together, your life pool will stay stocked and you won’t have to worry about not being able to respawn. However, as more and more of your teammates die, the less likely your chances of respawning are, as your team’s life pool will continue to drain down to zero. Once it reaches that point, whoever is left on the map is all you can count on for a chance at winning the round.
King of the Hill, on the other hand, is handled exactly how you'd expect it to be. Two teams compete to hold down a specific location on the map, racking up points the longer they hold the point. After a certain amount of time the location of the control point moves, making the two teams hustle to get there first and plant their flag in the ground.
Finally, and what is probably my favorite game type of the Gears 3 beta is Capture the Leader. This is obviously a Gears spin on Capture the Flag. What’s special about this game type is that the flag is always on the move, as it’s one of the players. Basically, you have to take down the leader of the opposing team and hold them as a meat shield for thirty seconds. Whoever has the leader held captive is able to move around and use their pistol as defense. However, this game type becomes interesting because you can only “cap a flag” when your own team leader is safe. If your leader is captured, you’ll have to free him/her before gaining a point from holding onto the enemy leader. The reasons for this game type sticking out in my mind are simple: it’s fun, hectic and challenging, let alone that it forces you and your teammates to work together in order to win. I foresee Capture the Leader being the most popular game type throughout the Gears 3 beta period.
Once again, the four maps these game types are available on are “Thrashball,” a destroyed sporting stadium, “Checkout,” a dilapidated department store, "Old Town," a rustic European-style city block, and “Trenches,” a rundown sand bowl littered with industrial goods. All four maps have a lot of cover options, as well some mild vertically to keep firefights interesting. And in typical Gears fashion, all the maps are visually spectacular. But we all knew that would be the case already, didn’t we?
However, the maps Thrashball and Trenches really stand out due to the environmental events that play out over the course of a match. For instance, during the middle of a match on Thrashball you will be clued into a frayed cable holding up the massive scoreboard hanging above the battlefield. Shooting that cable will cause the scoreboard to crash down, hopefully crushing some of your enemies in the process. On Trenches it’s a bit different: there isn’t something in the environment that you have direct control over; instead, every few minutes a fog horn will cry out and the entire map will be blanketed in a thick dust cloud, making it nearly impossible to see anything that’s not directly in front of you. As you can probably expect, this slows down the frantic gameplay of Gears 3 considerably. Now everyone’s creeping around because they don’t want to mistakenly run right into an enemy holding a sawed-off shotgun and get turned into a bunch of giblets in a flash. And when that does happen, because sometimes you can’t avoid it, your heart will jump.
I remember Epic Games saying a while back that Gears 3 is a gameplay experience that resides somewhere between the slower, methodical approach seen in Gears 1 and the faster, roll everywhere gameplay of Gears 2. Make no mistake, Gears 3 is a fast multiplayer experience. And there is also no escaping the “shotgun rollers,” as I’ve already come across my fair share of them in the limited time I’ve been playing. But with that said, I do think Epic has found a nice balance between the gameplay of the first two titles for Gears 3. It’s fast, but it’s not hyper speed either, if that makes a lick of sense. OK, I’ll just say it this way: Gears 3 feels how a Gears of War game made by Epic Games should feel. Does that work for everybody?
The last thing I want to touch on actually happens before you ever enter a match. For Gears 3 multiplayer you’re not only able choose your player skin (COG or Locust), but you’re also able to choose your weapon loadouts. You can pick two primary weapons, ranging from different Lancers to different shotguns, as well as their paint jobs, which you unlock more of as you level up (same goes for character skins). You're even able to switch loadouts while waiting to respawn mid match. While this might seem like a small addition, the truth of the matter is that changing up your weapons in the middle of a match ensures that the gameplay stays fresh. It also cuts down on menu time, a nice added bonus.
All and all, the customization options are much deeper here in Gears 3 than they were in Gears 2. But let’s be honest with ourselves, they still don’t rival the breadth of options seen in Call of Duty. But at least Epic is giving its community some way to say “Hey, here’s my distinct style.” That’s got to count for something, right?
And that about wraps it up. What Epic has shown thus far is just a small taste of the overall multiplayer component to Gears of War 3. There is still plenty that Epic is holding close to their chest. However, from what I’ve seen thus far, I want to know everything Epic has in store for players -- both during the public beta and the final retail game. It seems Epic is back on track with Gears of War 3, as this small sampling has given me the thirst for blood once again. In many ways, this beta preview has reminded me how much fun the Gears of War franchise can be online when you can actually find a match to log into.
The Gears of War 3 beta goes public on April 25. However, if you bought a copy of Bulletstorm: Epic Edition on Xbox 360 you can get into the beta this coming Monday, April 18. If you’re planning on playing, I’ll see you on Live, just watch out for me sprinting towards your ass and trying to jam my old school Lancer up it. Yea, that’s my “go-to” move.
And if you want to see the Gears 3 beta with your own eyes, watch our latest Watch Us Play!