Monday, May 9, 2011

Gears of War 3 Beta Impressions

Gears of War 3

Xbox 360
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: September 20th, 2011

The trilogy is coming to a close this September, but Epic Games has been kind enough to offer a beta to tide us over...and work out those pesky glitches so we don't have another Gears 2 scenario. The beta opens up as follows:

April 18th - Beta open to Bulletstorm: Epic Edition Owners
April 25th - Beta open to anyone who pre-ordered Gears of War 3 from Gamestop
May 8th - Guest tokens awarded to players for certain actions to invite friends
May 15th - Beta concludes

  • First glimpse at Gears 3 with ability to carry over exclusive items
  • New weaponry mixes up your arsenal even further
  • Polished multiplayer improves overall performance
  • Dedicated servers are a big boost in providing a satisfying latency
  • Maps showcased leave a little to be desired
  • No real mode to go in and play around on your own
  • Kill ownership is still very much an annoyance
  • Questionable spawn points
The Arsenal

The weapons at your disposal this time around are varied a bit more. You still have your shotguns, lancers, and grenades you have become accustomed to; but you also have a few new goodies worth risking a few bullets to obtain.

The Retro Lancer is much like the typical Lancer you have played with before, but fires much more sporadically. In trading out accuracy, it hits much harder and has a bayonette attached to the end. This allows you to charge an unknowing enemy and impale him upon the end for a quick kill. This of course also leads to a new tactic of players charging all the time. Though it requires a running start, I found some instances of being impaled when a player was simply a few feet away. Still, it is probably the most welcome addition to the arsenal.

The Digger Launcher is an interesting new explosive weapon. The movie Tremors comes to mind as a tunneling explosive makes its way toward your location. It passes through cover, so it becomes a camper's worst fear. It fits nicely into the game, as a weapon that can be deadly, yet dodgeable if you can keep your eye out for it.

The OneShot is a heavy weapon like the Mortar launcher, but acts as a sniper rifle. It stays true to the name by allowing you to kill someone in one shot. It's sluggish nature and loud warning before firing off a bullet made it difficult to hit any sensible player, and I found myself preferring the classic Longshot's more silent approach.

The Sawn-off Shotgun fires slower and reloads incredibly slow when compared to the Gnasher. However, this thing is insanely powerful. Get the jump on an enemy with this in hand, and one shot will put em out of commission. I even managed to one-shot two enemies standing very close together. Which raised the this thing TOO powerful?

The Maps

Thrashball became the immediate favorite. An open stadium with small paths out to the side leading to additional goodies. The side passages offer close quarter brawls, with the winner gaining a vantage point over the stadium. The middle of the stadium is littered with cover for firefights across the field. There is also a scoreboard above the middle that can be shot down to squish unsuspecting scavengers. Out of the four, this was the most enjoyable map to play as it catered to every kind of player: ranged felt at home laying down cover fire, and the shotty lovers had sections to settle their differences.

Concession is a simple map whose shape is similar to that of a plus sign. The middle is blocked off but plenty of food racks and checkout counters act as cover to move around toward the enemy. While the layout is familiar, the overall map tended to evolve into a shotty fight. There is possibly TOO much cover, and being a fan of Lancer/Hammerburst fire, I found it incredibly difficult to hit anyone ranged.

Trenches is setup as a weapon race. Both teams start on either side of a middle section that contains an upper path to the mortar launcher/minigun or up an open field to the top of a hill where the OneShot sits. Obviously, this became a race to see which team could procure the OneShot faster. Every now and then a dust storm comes in, fogging the field of view for a time. This allows the team who is not perched up at a vantage point to charge in guns blazing.

Old Town comes in at a close second to preferred maps. This open market is complete with two side alleyways in clear view of the central market area. The open space provides much more opportunity for lancer fights, sniper fire, and alleyway bulletstorms.

The Gametypes

Team Deathmatch functions much like you would expect. Two teams battling it out and killing each other. The only twist is that you are given a set amount of lives and once that runs out the other team wins. The amount of kills someone gets may help with overall experience, but technically do not factor into actually winning. Survival and teamwork are key, as expected.

King of the Hill functions as it typically has for years; Each team secures a small section of the map for a set period of time before it is moved to a new location. No real mix ups to this formula have been made, but the mode is fun in its own right.

Capture the Leader proved a personal favorite gametype to spend time on. Each player has a leader on their team that has the ability to see where every person is on the map. Your goal is to down the leader, use them as a meat shield, and hold them as such for 30 seconds. If both leaders are capped simultaneously then a stalemate on the timer is held, and wont move until one is released. It's a clever "capture the flag" type game that requires teamwork, communication, and fast gunplay.

The Problems

Epic might have underestimated the Bulletstorm crowd, as dedicated servers were oddly absent in most cases to start. Playing Gears on Peer to Peer, is bringing back the same issues as before, with host advantage, host dropping out, and slight lag. I can only imagine the issue worsening once the actual purchasing crowd hits, but that's what these betas are meant to do.

The spawn points in Gears are not tailored to be away from the enemy. In multiple scenarios, I found myself charging to the other side of the map, swinging by the Locust spawn point to find four new blood-hungry players awaiting my arrival. You either spawn on one side of the map or the other, and rarely in-between. Though spawn-camping has yet to be a big issue, it is very much a concern. A simple option to choose where to spawn would have been a nice addition.

The new features are great, but you are only sparsely told what those new features actually are capable of doing. People were able to mark enemies and callout their position, yet I saw no real mention of how to do that until I read a load screen. When you pickup a weapon with new features, the most instruction you gain is a 10 second pop up window that ultimately results in you getting shot. A simple introduction video or slideshow on the main menu would have been nice in introducing these key elements.

Kill stealing remains one of those small irritating factors that never goes away. Sure, most of the score is give to you, but it is cringe inducing to see your kill stolen by someone else. It's like finishing your ice cream, but the dude next to you called dibs on the cherry. Sure I got the majority of the deal, but he gets the final satisfaction. Does this not ruin the whole premise of a Kill/Death ratio anyways? *shrug*

The Verdict

Gears 3 does the same thing Halo: Reach and CoD: Black Ops did for their franchises; It fixes the smaller issues, adds some great new features, but remains the same core game at heart. Though I would have liked to see a few additional improvements made to the overall gameplay and feel of the game, I walked away from the beta satisfied.

It's faster, more brutal, and incredibly satisfying to play. September can't get here soon enough...

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