September’s gonna be BIG!

I cannot speak for everybody, but I kind of fell out with Epic over Gears 2, I had annoyances with the campaign and I did not have the patience to ever get a match online. Having spent some time with the Gears 3 Beta this week I am happy to say my relationship with Epic is getting back on track.

We knew the franchise would be something huge even before we had our hands on a working 360, when Emergence Day did arrive the world pretty much stopped what it was doing and Gears of War took over. It was probably the first game that got me hooked with online play, it was fast, furious, violent, and I loved it. The multiplayer was something else, the rules and the presentation of the game made it a must have, even though looking back now it is muted in colour and could have been smoother in its execution.

Then there was the sequel, additions like Wingman mode, the invention of Horde mode and Bots for those of us that couldn’t get online. It was good, but never had the magic of the first game for me.

Now we are getting access to the Beta, regardless of your method of entry you will not regret it, currently limited to a small number of early access codes and soon to be unleashed to the masses that bought Bulletstorm. The game offers the things that we know and love, but adds the promise of so much more. With the Beta running for a number of weeks and with the levels of expectation so high I think we will need to revisit this post in weeks to come when we have seen more and experienced a wider range of players.

In the meantime I am going to run through a few simple highlights:

MAPS:

4 Maps I have experienced this week. A disused supermarket / store Checkout, a disused ‘Thrashball’ sports stadium, a Trench based map and a Mediterranean style ‘Old Town’. Of the four my favourite would be the Town map, a good mixture of alleyways, cover and open spaces. The other two both feel smaller and more symmetrical, the sports stadium is one big killing zone and it is quite common for a team to be wiped out quickly if they do not work together, whereas the store while not physically small can feel quite claustrophobic. The Trench based map can be confusing initially, it is nice to look at, but doesn’t feel particularly spectacular.

MODES:

Team Deathmatch: An execution variant where teams have a pool of 15 respawns that dwindle as players die, this makes for a fast and frantic game as opposed to traditional Gears multi-player where once you were down, you were out. The comfort of the extra respawns makes the game more fun and less tense.

Capture the Leader: A moving Capture the Flag variant, I have enjoyed playing this mode. Where the balance between protecting your leader and getting out to capture the enemy leader is a fine line, and sometimes ballsy aggressive players can turn the match while their leader is getting hammered back at the spawn.

King of the Hill: Capture a zone and hold onto it, think we’ve seen that before.

PRETTINESS:

Gears 3 is pretty, after the muted greys, blues and browns of the past this game has colour and lots of it. My first game online was in Old Town and to be honest it felt almost too bright, in a way that could make it belong to another franchise.

BOTS:

Yes, there are bots and in these early days when there is no community having  a team full of Bots to back you up is a comfort. They are capable, but not infallible I have lost a few matches where my stats put me well ahead of the AI team that seemed to be throwing themselves onto enemy fire.

UNLOCKS:

What’s a good multiplayer without reams of statistical data and a wide range of medals, ribbons and customisations for the player to unlock? Gears 3 is no exception, there is data for the sake of it and a whole range of Bad Company style medals achieved by performing certain actions. There are also awards that allow you to place a skin on your weapon or change camouflage. Standard stuff this generation, but a first in the Gears franchise.

PLAYABILITY:

It is Gears through and through, it is as expected although it feels faster than I remember, faster and busier. Even if you, like me have been away from the game for a couple of years, you will pick up the controller and be scooting around the maps in no time. It might be my TV angle, but the roadie-run  feels more jerky and can mean the difference between seeing the threat quickly enough to draw on her.

LAG and NETCODE:

The games I have played did not appear to show me any lag, the one issue so far was a crash thanks to a host disconnecting, but that soon righted itself. Of course with the currently limited population it is hard to tell, once the whole world is online it will be interesting to see how well the selection criteria hold up. The game also spins through a number of messages giving you some comfort that it is actually trying to find you the best match, rather than stare into space waiting for some indication.

CLOSING COMMENTS:

If this sample is anything to go by, I am going to have to forgive Cliffy B for Gears 2 and jump aboard the Hype Train, the game is bigger and better in every way. The enhnaced colour palette and that familiar Gears feeling can give even the most hardened gamer a warm fuzzy.

I recommend that you beg, borrow or steal a code and get access to the Beta before it gets taken down.

I also wonder if the annual Call of Duty franchisees are worried yet?

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