Friday, April 22, 2011

Gears of War 3 beta impressions

The Gears of War 3 beta is now in full motion, and you're probably already murdering dudes with your bare hands. Great as that may be, your bloodlust might have blinded you to the changes Epic has made to the system. Not sure what I'm talking about? It's alright, Gearsheimers has affected a great many and I'm here to make it all perfectly clear.

Some of the changes present are fairly obvious, so forgive me if I delve into a couple of items the Gears-deprived are ignorant to. Now, where to start? Ah, who could forget the wonderful...

Dedicated Servers


  A locust depicting the stranglehold that 'host' connection had on the community.

Arguably the most tremendous addition to the game, the Gears franchise has an infamous history of that heinous thing called 'host advantage'; when the person hosting the game also holds a greater connection and thus inflicts more damage, has greater accuracy, and pretty much everything is better for the host. In Gears of War 3, host advantage doesn't exist, and it's incredible. You see, now no-one has to worry about that sole guy who can take on the entire team with only a pistol, craggy game connections are extinct, and silly things like the room being dumped or host migration have vanished. The servers stand tall and proud, basically making Gears a lag-free endeavour, something that the series has needed from the start.

This has also affected joining games. Unlike the twenty-minute wait everyone had to endure during the launch of Gears of War 2, Gears 3 makes this process seamless and fast. Players will also be able to join your game on a whim when someone else unexpectedly quits. If no one is there to take the place of your former comrade, Epic's 'gear bots' jump into the mix. And, no, they aren't as asinine as the last ones were. Don't you remember the behind the back, no look, Boltok headshots?

Menus, Ribbons & Unlockables


  See this here? He too could one day be yours to play as. Maybe.

When Gears 2 released a couple of years back, the menus were something of an afterthought. How bad was it? Well, let's just say that there was no option to even quit the game. In order to do so you had to jump back to your dashboard and boot the game again. Thankfully, Gears 3 sees a departure from this shoddy programming, and goes the extra mile by throwing in unlockables, and special awards that Epic are calling 'Ribbons'.

I really don't care about achievements, trophies, medals or ribbons, unless they net you something worthwhile in the game itself. Surprisingly, Epic has implemented a system that does just that. By completing tasks such as killing twenty-five enemies with the Retro Lancer, or performing a certain number of Executions, not only will you grab Ribbons, but you'll also net add-ons like weapon skins, characters, and unique executions for specific weaponry. In Gears 2 all the weapon executions were open, but if you want all the unique ones in Gears 3 you'll have to work for them.

More about Ribbons; they'll have a direct impact on how fast you'll 'level up'. Once again, a Call of Duty-esque experience system strikes into the heart of another shooter, and it works well for Gears of War 3. Depending on how well you do and how many Ribbons you've achieved, your experience will be bolstered tenfold. Since you pretty much get a Ribbon for everything you do in the game (including being the first to die), doing well and Ribbon-mongering share a symbiotic relationship. Progress is tracked in real-time during a game, like in Gears 2, but you can also observe what you've done on the main menu screen.


  Violence really is the spice of life; a spice which costs $59.99, and is available from September 20th.

The thing that's seen the most tweaking in Gears 3 is probably the way combat unfolds. Sure, the new Team Deatchmatch mode has respawns with lives, which is slightly odd, but I'm really talking about the other major mechanic: rolling. Since the start, you've only ever been able to roll forward, backward, left, and right, frozen-rope style. In the new game, if you hold up and a little to the left while rolling, you guessed it, that's where you're rolling to.

This subtle tweak has changed much more than how it appears on the surface. Rolling with accuracy allows you to hit those tight corners you otherwise might have missed in the previous games. It also allows you to move about more erratically when fleeing for your life, or maybe even when you're chasing someone down. No more rolling in place gents, it's a skill roll now.

You also can't forget that stopping power is still in effect. When someone is shooting you, it means evasion is a necessity, as you won't be moving forward at the standard rate. Remember, Gears is a cover-based shooter, and Epic clearly would like it to remain as such. When it comes to cover, you also have to remember that if your enemy is present when you hop over some cover, landing inevitably on top of them, you'll kick them right in the face, causing disorientation and setting you up for an easy kill.

Oh and before I forget, if you're standing next to a teammate, you can now actually swap weapons with them. That's important because that novice with the Torque Bow can now give it to someone who isn't absolute rubbish with it. Thank you.


I won't say it. Really, I won't.

Practically all of the standard weapons make a return in Gears 3, but some new ones and old favorites have surfaced with a twist. Take, for instance, the Gorgon Pistol. Now subtract 'Pistol' and add 'SMG'. That deadly dual-stream of bullets from the second game is now a constant stream, and it's all the better for it. The Hammerburst, along with the Lancer and Retro-Lancer, can all be selected any time you die during the match, to switch with whichever one isn't working for you. Whilst the Retro-Lancer is powerful but highly inaccurate, and the Lancer is largely the same, the Hammerburst is the most accurate of the bunch and can even zoom into a first-person view. Despite the apparent incompatibility of a first-person view in a third-person game, it's actually quite awesome and is a great unique feature of the Hammerburst.

Smoke Grenades are now useful, funny as that sounds, and can change the tide of a fight in a split second. Upon throwing down your smog-inducing spherical device, it'll explode, causing a concussive blast that stuns surrounding foes. The stun still allows enemies to move, but for a short period they cannot fire. Also, the Gnasher works again (thank the gaming Gods). Plus, the Lancer can only be interrupted if you're shot in the revving process. Don't believe me, believe Rod Fergusson:

I'm particularly fond of the fact that the Lancer chainsaw can only be interrupted when it's being raised. Like me, once it's up, it's on!

Active reloading is also a bit different. Veterans won't balk at the standard Lancer and Gnasher shotguns' active reloading, since nothing's really changed, but the other weapons you're used to may tell a different story. Take, for instance, the Hammerburst. Instead of increasing in speed, the Hammerburst takes you off guard by going at a steady rate. This might not seem like much, but in the midst of battle, having varying speeds at which your weapon reloads can make or break the fight. The new sawed-off shotgun is the epitome of this practice. Miss that active and you wont be shooting for a while, but land it, and things are gonna get dead quick.

Whether you've noticed them or not, the Gears 3 beta has given us plenty of minor and major changes. All hasn't been revealed yet, but you can definitely expect much more when the full game hits this September. Also, remember to submit some feedback, over on the Gears of War 3 beta forums. Epic wills it.

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