Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gears of War 3 beta - first impressions

As of tomorrow, Monday 18th April, all those gamers shrewd enough to have grabbed themselves a copy of Bulletstorms' Epic Edition (if you haven't picked it up yet, do it, it's a great game in it's own right) will be enjoying a first taste of the Gears of War multiplayer beta and discovering just what Epic have in store for us in the final part of the Gears trilogy. It's one of the most highly anticipated beta tests in gaming history, in fact there's that much electricity in the air you could be forgiven for thinking the 18th heralds the full games' launch.

Well, here at Megabits we're lucky enough to have spent the weekend revving those chainsaws and getting our frags out as the real world took a backseat and the world of Marcus Fenix stepped back into the limelight. Here's a quick rundown of how it went and what's in store.

First things first then and a lot of fans are going to want to know if Epic has managed to get the two vital pieces of the Gears jigsaw to fit. Piece one, gameplay? Piece two, graphics? Well, cast your fears aside and worry no more because going off the hours I've already spent exploring this beta they've slotted those two pieces in perfectly.

The gameplay is exactly what it should be, fast, frantic, bloody, tense and within two minutes you'll be subject to more fun than most games can muster within two hours. It's classic Gears at it's best, the three game modes on offer may come at it from differing angles but at it's core it's the same ranged shootouts from cover combined with close quarters shotgun madness. Many heads will be lost and limbs severed and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Graphically the first thing that hit me was how much more vibrant everything looks, the over-riding brooding darkness we expect from a Gears title is still evident but it's been dashed with a smattering of colour and looks all the better for it. The attention to detail is superb as ever and both characters and surroundings look stunning. Considering we're still months away from being served the finished article it's already an incredible looking game, I fully expect to hear the sound of a million jaws dropping come September and a completely polished Gears 3 hitting our consoles.

Graphics and gameplay aside Epic have certainly served up a beta chock full of goodness, there's plenty to see and do thanks to the inclusion of four maps, three game modes and a number of unlocks.

Map wise the four on view here are by and large exceptional. Old Town, my own personal favourite, places us into a beautifully picturesque seaside town, it looks so good you can almost feel the sea breeze in your hair and taste the saltwater on your lips, just watch you don't get your head blown off while breathing it all in. The map is superb for teamwork and has a good number of key areas that a strong and cohesive side could use to their advantage.

Trenches is the dust and sandblown setting that to be fair at first glance seems maybe a little bland, but don't judge a map by it's cover because once the sandstorm hits, and believe me it hits hard, the whole place and the way the games being played change dramatically. Visibility is reduced to a few feet and under the cover of dust and sand it's time to get up close and personal and time to introduce the enemy to my little friend, Mr. Shotgun. It's a brilliant feature on an otherwise bog standard map and elevates it to wonderful highs.

Thrashball brings the combat into the stadium, except the once grand cathedral of sport is now a crumbling ruin. The playing field is littered with cover points and an old scoreboard hangs by a thread above the centre, a few well placed shots can bring it crashing to earth and if luck is on your side straight onto the head of an unsuspecting opponent. Thrashball offers a decent mix of ranged and head to head action and there's never a dull moment within it's arena.

The final map in the beta is Checkout and to be honest although I've done my weekly shop in worse looking supermarkets it's the only one of the four I don't relish playing on. It's the most full on and in your face battle wise but there never seems to be a place to get adequate cover to protect yourself and as a player that never ever shone in the Gears world cover is vital to my existence. Having said that I'm positive there will still be a lot of love shown to Checkouts' madness.

The three game modes vying for your attention are Team Deathmatch, Capture the Leader and King of the Hill. With Team Deathmatch it's as though Epic have answered my prayers for a deathmatch game with added respawns. Each team starts the match with a set number of respawns and when those are gone it's jangly nerves time as when your gone, your gone. The winning team is the one that depletes the others' respawns first and it's the most beautiful slice of edge of the seat fun I've ever had playing a Gears of War game, in fact I'm having slight withdrawal symptoms as I type this.

Capture the Leader is an entertaining little mode, entertaining that is unless you've been randomly chosen to be the leader or are the one foolis...erm brave enough to grab the leader of the opposition. The former of those scenarios generally means camping like your at Glastonbury weekend and the latter involves holding the leader as a meatshield and moving snail like while trying to hold off the enemy with your pistol.

Lastly King of the Hill is the same old KotH we know and love, battle for the ring, defend the ring and then repeat as said ring moves around the map, it's a mode that lends itself well to the Gears world and there's a heap of thrills and spills to be had here.

Of the new weapons on show particular standouts are the sawn-off, a one shot kill very close range shotgun with a very long reload, miss the first shot and you're in trouble and the retro lancer, the chainsaw gone, replaced now by the bayonet and believe me getting a bayonet kill is both bloody and deeply satisfying. There are other newcomers to the Gears arsenal here as well but I don't want to spoil everything so I'll let you get the pleasure of discovering them and witnessing their devastating impact first hand.

One very nice added touch in the Gears beta is the inclusion of a ranking system and the much sought after unlockables. All the unlockables from the beta can be carried over into the full retail version of the game when it arrives as long as certain criteria are met. For example playing 50 matches in the beta will unlock Thrashball Cole as a playable character but you'll need to play another 10 with him to carry the unlock over with you. Other unlocks include weapon skins, more characters and a very desirable Gold Lancer, seek and ye shall find is the rule here, all the unlocks are attainable so long as you mix up your game modes and gun use during the beta test.

As a final word I'll just say this, if Gears 2 left many fans disappointed and disillusioned then the early signs are that Gears 3 will not only rectify that it'll smash any uncertainty into a thousand pieces and rebuild them into a tower of gaming greatness. Roll on September!