GEARS OF WAR 3 Beta Shows New Locations
Epic Games is taking their upcoming release, Gears of War 3, out for a test drive and handed an early set of keys to its multiplayer beta to Newsarama. Like all multiplayer previews, some elements like locations and characters involved in the core story mode might be revealed, fair warning. From the jump, it is clear the beta is its own customized experience, a calendar on the main menu shows what is coming up as it gradually opens up to more and more players and your personal profile screen will let you know how many more matches you need to unlock character/weapon skins. The last of which, after at least 60 games played, is a possibly beta-exclusive skin of Cole in his Thrashball uniform that you can export into the retail release. As of writing, three team-type multiplayer games are available, each in either Player or Ranked mode. In addition to the usual differences between the two; in the former, matches start quickly with any open spots filled with bots while in the latter only human players are allowed. All of the games are also set as ‘best-of-three’ matches to determine the final victor. In Team Deathmatch instead of a timer and points system for deciding the winning them, here each side gets a set number of respawns to share. When the spawns run out, that team goes into sudden death, leading to every match ending with a single team member alone on the map with no backup against his opponents surviving team and their remaining bank of respawns. In King of the Hill mode, the standard “capture a point and hold it” rules apply, though an on-screen indicator will show how many points a ‘hill’ has left to give before it moves again, allowing for some degree of strategic thinking. The final mode is Capture the Leader, where one player on each team is re-skinned as the unit commander, including for the first time a playable Locust Queen. The goal of the mode is to down, then ‘meat-shield’ the other team’s commander for thirty seconds while protecting your own. If both leaders are in their opponent’s clutches, the timer will freeze until one is rescued. Being the leader has some special privileges as well, in addition to never actually being about to die, since being stuck waiting to respawn would actually constitute an advantage, you are giving an more powerful version of the “TAC/COM” button that sees an expansion of its usefulness in Gears 3. Tied to the left bumper, holding down the button will highlight, even through walls, the position of allies and weapons on the map. As the leader in Capture the Leader mode, you can also see the position of enemies in this view, giving you a sixth sense to avoid danger. Four maps have been made available for play so far, most of which offer a refreshing switch from the largely ‘urban decay’ feel that permeates the first two game’s core maps. Given that the game modes are so far capped at twelve players total, each map is fittingly on the small end of the spectrum. The first is Old Town, a sea-side fishing village with overturned rowboats, pushcarts and an overall Mediterranean look. The map slopes gently and the clustered stone buildings offer a lot of chokepoints. The Trenches map looks like dry, dusty WW1 battlefield and perhaps fitting with that theme, features a lot of dead ends. A ramp near the spawn point goes nowhere, but offers a good view of about a third of the map, a nearby door leads only to a bunker with a view of the central no man’s land, where the map’s most powerful weapon will spawn, but the razor wire topped sand bags cannot be mantled. The map clearly funnels both teams to a point where they can run into the large open area of the no man’s land, were there is little cover, or another raised platform that offers a small set of standard low walls. Randomly, with only a low horn as warning, a dust storm will envelop the map, revising visibility to extremely short range. The Checkout map is a fight inside a small department store. Taking cures from its theme, it features mostly short rows of shelving, and some unique architecture inside some sections of the store, like rows of checkout lanes and an electronics department that’s only directly reachable through the back room. In a contest for tightest, most hectic map, Checkout is a close second to the highly anticipated map, Thrashball. Since the first game, fans have wondered what kind of game thrashball was to produce a COG solider like Augustus "Cole Train" Cole. On the Thrashball map, the bulk of the action, after you fittingly spawn from one of two locker rooms, takes place on a ruined thrashball field, which resembles a turf covered hockey rink with two raised platforms near each end. Whether or not the concrete blocks you can use for cover on the field were also standard elements of the playfield is unknown. Action on this map can stay on the field of play, or divert into the very narrow ‘dugout’ tunnel along one side, or up the stands into the concession area. Stairs down from there lead to the best seats in the house, where the map’s most powerful weapon will spawn and give you great view of the field to try it out. Finally, giant scoreboards dangles form the stadium’s roof, and randomly the wires that hold it up will begin to weaken. When that happens players can shoot out the remaining cables and have it crash down onto the field, crushing the unlucky and changing the dynamics of the map slightly. Along with new maps come new weapons, the first of which is an Incendiary Grenade that will paint an area with flames. A new heavy-class sniper rifle called the One Shot earns its name with a powerful, armor penetrating attack. However the One Shot is very slow to reload and emits a visible laser targeting beam that will alert foes that they are about to die. A new Sawed-Off Shotgun fires both barrels at once for extreme damage at short range, but like the One Shot, needs to be reloaded after each shot. Finally there is Digger Launcher, a variant of a standard grenade launcher that instead fires a living projective that will burrow underground, and notably through cover, pop-up and explode. In between matches, an accounting will rate your performance and award ribbons and XP points that go to gaining levels, awarding badges and as mentioned before, unlocking skins. To this point, none of the unlocks are more than cosmetic, as all the available load-out weapons are available to all players at the start and there is no perk system implemented. So far the Gears of War 3 Multiplayer Beta is a fast and fun experience with little downtime between matches. Brighter and livelier than its predecessors, but no less brutal, it will be interesting to see how it grows and improves as more and more people are granted access.
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