The Gears Of War 3 Multiplayer Beta has just about come to an end, so here are my final thoughts on the maps and a few other things.
The first maps made available for the beta were Thrashball and Checkout. Thrashball is a fictional, American Football style sport in the Gears universe, and as such the map is based around a dilapidated stadium. The majority of the early action will take place on the debris-strewn playing field – that is, until someone shoots the huge, precariously dangling scoreboard enough to drop it right into the centre (squashing anyone unfortunate enough to be underneath it at the time). However, doing so will also block off access to the Digger Launcher or Torque Bow that spawns there – which may be a good or bad thing depending on how proficient you are with those weapons. Defending the stairs leading to the concession stands on the upper level is a good tactic, as it can allow someone in the ‘VIP box’ type area to use the Mulcher or Mortar there relatively unopposed. There’s also a side-alley which holds Frag or Incendiary grenades – which can be useful if you’re getting pinned down by the aforementioned heavy weapons. Overall, I found Thrashball to be a pretty enjoyable map that works well for any of the three gametypes in the beta.
Checkout, as the name might suggest, is based in a run-down supermarket, and there’s plenty of cover to be had – although some of it isn’t as durable as you might hope. You can grab an upgrade for your pistol in the toilets, but the rest of the weapons are spread out across the centre of the map. There’s a walled area with a Mulcher that also has Frag grenades nearby, while on the other side there’s a Digger Launcher or Longshot sniper rifle, and Incendiary or Ink grenades that spawn on a raised platform. There’s also the opportunity to set off the fire alarms and gain access to a secret room… so far, it only seems to contain a Smoke grenade, but maybe that’ll change in the final version of the game? The tight layout keeps things interesting and means you’ll need to keep your wits about you, so this is definitely another fun map.
Next up is Trenches, set in a Locust mining complex. A towering crane dominates the centre of the map, and there’s a Mortar underneath it on a raised platform. At ground level, you’ll find a Digger Launcher or Scorcher, and at the top of the hill opposite the crane is a sniper nest containing the ultra-powerful One-Shot. Such power comes at a price though – as a heavy weapon it’s pretty unwieldy, there’s a telltale laser sight, and it takes a little time to lock on to a target before you can shoot. Get that enemy in your crosshairs though, and it’s a guaranteed instant kill – apparently it’ll even shoot through Boomshields if you get a perfect active reload. However, there’s a weird bug where if you drop the weapon (or are forced to do so for some reason), it’ll disappear – hopefully that’s an easy fix for the final version of the game. Going back to Boomshields, there’s one near each team’s spawn point (although I never really see anyone use them), and also some Ink or Incendiary grenades in a small alcove nearby.
I like the interplay between the One-Shot sniper nest and the Mortar raised platform – the One-Shot gets a pretty good view of the battlefield, but there’s a suspended crate blocking the view of the Mortar spawn, meaning you need to control both areas for the best results. However, I found that in Team Deathmatch, it was too easy for teams to get pinned down at their spawn points with little chance of coming back unless they randomly happen to spawn on the other side of the map. The map fares better in the other two modes, but it’s probably my least favourite of the four levels.
Finally, there’s Old Town. Uncharacteristically colourful for a Gears Of War game, it’s set in an idyllic looking seaside town that’s yet to bear the scars of war… until now, I guess. Both teams have access to a Scorcher, a Boltok or Gorgon pistol, and an Ink or, erm, Smoke grenade (more useful than it looks in Capture The Leader, to be fair!), but the best weapons will be fought over in three central locations. The northern alleyway hides a Digger Launcher or Boomshot, the central marketplace has Frag or Incendiary grenades, and there’s a Longshot or Torque Bow underneath the bell tower to the south. The fact that the three central areas aren’t all directly interconnected makes for some interesting dynamics and flanking opportunities, making it good fun for any gametype. There are also chickens running around, which is a nice little touch – and yes, you can shoot them, you meany.
Also worth mentioning before I wrap this up are some of the other new features. The experience (EXP) system from Gears 2 returns, and while it still seems as arbitrary as ever compared to something like Call Of Duty’s system of unlocks, there are a few new things tied into it. For example, performing executions isn’t just for show now – you’ll get extra EXP for doing it. You can also unlock new, more vicious executions for the various weapons by getting a certain amount of kills with them – which in turn, will get you more EXP.
Ribbons are another new thing- completing certain tasks during the course of a match will net you a ribbon, which in turn will give you bonus EXP. This can range from simple stuff (getting 5 assists in a round), to awesome feats (winning a match with over 10 kills and no deaths), to consolation prizes for dubious honours (being the first to die in a match). The game keeps track of how many of each you obtain, although some seem pretty vague about how you go about unlocking them – for example, for the “have 5 kills stolen in a round” ribbon, how much damage must I have done to an opponent for my kill to count as ‘stolen’? Others just seem beyond ridiculous (25 kills without dying, anyone?), and some don’t seem to work properly – there’s one for killing your ‘Nemesis’ (someone who’s killed you three times in a round) that I’ve only ever received once, despite having done that many times.
Related to Ribbons are Emblems and Titles – which are persistent unlockables that track your progress over your career. There are various categories including winning matches, playing certain gametypes, getting kills with different weapons, and even some slightly more offbeat ones like killing your Nemesis with the face-punch execution. Reaching a certain milestone for each of these things means gives you an emblem, a title, and a chunk of EXP – there appear to be four tiers for each category, each with a shinier emblem and a more impressive title. If anything, I’d like to see some more of the unusual ones like the aforementioned Nemesis-punching – most of the ones in the beta seemed a little by-the-numbers.
Overall, I’ve had a lot of fun with the Gears Of War 3 Multiplayer Beta – there are far fewer of the frustrations that plagued the previous incarnations of the game, which in turn leads to more satisfying gameplay. I’ve definitely got the full game on my wishlist for when it finally arrives on September 20th this year.
Screenshots (once again) via IGN.com.