Very soon, owners of the Bulletstorm Epic Edition will be able to go hands-on with the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta. The beta is currently slated to ship with four maps from the game, with the exact selection to be determined via fan vote on Facebook. Rather than wait for the download, we met up with representatives from Microsoft and Epic last night to sneak in a few rounds of early fragging and check out six different Gears of War 3 locations.
All of the maps on demo last night felt well polished and played out nicely. Map size varied from one to the next, with some rounds feeling incredibly claustrophobic while others were wide open. Of course, given the Gears focus on using cover, the more open the map, the more aware you needed to be of your surroundings. Flanking routes always seemed to be available, which resulted in some nicely organized teamwork plays. For example, one player would lay down cover fire, pinning an opponent in place, while another team member would flank to the side and then eliminate the opposing player from behind.
Encouraging the team play was the shared pool of respawns on each side. Rather than have unlimited respawns and a frag limit, every game we played had each side using a preset number of lives. When you died, you used up one of the pooled respawns. Once those were exhausted, deaths became permanent. The last team standing won.
Many of the classic Gears weapons were present and in use, though the lancer and shotgun were easily the most popular amongst our group. The lancer behaved as expected, performing accurately even with a moderate distance between players. If you've played any of the prior games, it'll feel right at home. The shotgun feels like it has been tweaked slightly, offering even more damage at the expense of range. At anything more than a few feet, the shotgun is utterly worthless, but when used at point-blank range, it is absolutely brutal. A smoke grenade, followed up by a quick dash and a shotgun blast was a surprisingly effective strategy. The only trick is not to miss, as the shotgun has quite the lengthy reload timer.
One bonus with the smoke grenade is that it can now be used as a quick way to eliminate shields. If you get caught in its blast while carrying a boomshield, you will drop the shield.
The Hammer of Dawn also saw some use — much to the chagrin of our E-I-C, who was one of the first to suffer its wrath. Avoiding the blast is easy enough if you keep moving and always stay under cover. Give your opponent a direct line of sight, however, and it's game over in the "nuke-it-from-orbit" sense of the word.
New to the game are the unique executions, which are based on each weapon. Whenever an opposing player is down but not out, you have your choice of finishing moves. If you're short on time, a few extra bullets are always good. The classic Gears curb stomp provides a good standby, but for those who require a bit more flair, weapon-specific executions are the only way to go. Swap your active weapon to show off a different killing blow.
Oddly, one thing we noticed over the night is that many players didn't bother to confirm their kills if the prone player lay still. Attempts to run were usually stopped cold, but playing dead and then mashing the A button to revive yourself after your opponent had run by was a slick way to exact revenge. Remember kids, always make sure dead is dead!
Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to dive in to beast mode or the single-player so details on the fate of Marcus, Cole Train and the rest of Delta Squad are still a bit thin.
As mentioned earlier, the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta is scheduled to include four of the six maps that we saw last night. Since the final selection has yet to be determined, we've included a quick overview of all six locations.
Checkout – Looking vaguely like a Space Invader when viewed from above, Checkout is a map set in a derelict store. Decaying signs hang from the walls, while empty shelves provide plenty of cover opportunities. Some of the cover here is destructible, so it's best not to hover in one place for too long. A large skylight lets in plenty of natural light during combat. Decently sized, Checkout allows for plenty of movement even when playing with a large group.
Mercy – Set in the courtyard of what could have been an old church, Mercy is more or less a large rectangle. Unlike Checkout, there are no spurs off the main area in which to hide. Everything here is front and center, with combat tending to favor distance and accuracy over close infighting.
Old Town – Small, tight and intense, Old Town is the opposite of Mercy and Overpass in terms of gameplay. It feels claustrophobic from the start. Toss in even a handful of players, and the action never lets up. Expect to see plenty of close combat melee fun here.
Overpass – A large map with a bunch of small areas in the center (perfect for cover), Overpass sometimes feels like two or three small maps all linked into one massive play area. This is important because spending too much time outdoors leaves you vulnerable to a Hammer of Dawn blast. One nifty feature on Overpass is the dam that breaks halfway through, resulting in a waterfall that floods part of the map.
Thrashball – Set in an arena, this is a medium-sized map that combines an open central area with a smaller side room. Spawn points are located in the team locker rooms (nice touch), which feed directly into the main area. Heavy cover abounds, though the side room cannot be ignored. Leave that undefended, and your opponent will flank at the first opportunity.
Trenches – Narrow passageways that funnel into a center area define this small map. Much like Old Town, playing on Trenches is always claustrophobic, with few places to hide. Team communication is extremely important here, as opposing players are around every corner. Smoke grenades are at their most useful, so long as you don't get inadvertently turned around.
Hit the gallery for full-size images of each map, as well as an overhead view. Then keep an eye on the official Gears of War 3 Facebook page to register your vote for the four maps you want to see in the beta.
Be sure to check back next week for more Gears tidbits. We've got an exclusive interview with Lester "Cole Train" Speight on deck as well as a chat with Cliffy B, where we grill him on map design, single-player mode and the infamous #dicktits Twitter hashtag.
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