I played the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta. I executed other players by swinging the butt end of a bulky rifle at their Locust skull. I even chainsawed Anya. Xbox 360 owners, you'll be able to do the same soon.
Epic Games will release the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta in mid-April, with one game type, their own take on Team Deathmatch, and four maps. Bulletstorm "Epic Edition" owners get it first, with the rest of you getting it a couple months later. The beta will offer familiar, but fun and chunky violence in improved five-on-five battles to the death. You're going to want to play it, Gears fans, to see its new weapons, its tweaked controls and its unlockable prizes that can be redeemed in the retail version of Gears of War 3, which hits on September 20.
Here's what we learned about Gears of War 3 multiplayer last night, what we thought of that delightful massacre and why you're going to need to log into Facebook this weekend.
Two maps are already guaranteed to be in the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta: Thrashball and Checkout.
Thrashball, named after the fictional sport played by Cole, is a tight quarters map built in a compact, dilapidated stadium. There's a suspended scoreboard at its centre, which displays each teams kills and can be shot down, crushing whoever is unlucky enough to be beneath it when it collapses.
Checkout takes place in a dirty, destroyed shopping centre, filled with displays behind which the player can take cover.
Four other maps were on display during the beta preview: Overpass, Mercy, Old Town and Trenches. Only two of those maps, however, will make it into the multiplayer beta. You'll need to visit the official Gears of War Facebook page to vote on which ones you'd like to see. Would you prefer Trenches, with its sandstorm effects that turns the map into a massive dust cloud? Or would you like Overpass, with its high ground advantages and the fight for a deadly turret? Old Town has pumpkins and, according to Cliff Bleszinski, a "skewed and chaotic" feel. Do you like pumpkins in your deathmatch?
Beta players, you'll be getting some gold and some Cole, if you invest the time. The only way to unlock a Gold Retro Lancer in Gears of War 3 will be to play the beta. First, you'll need to play 90 matches to unlock it in the beta. Then, you'll need to kill 100 players with it. Do so and it's yours when Gears 3 ships.
Maybe easier to acquire will be the Thrashball Cole skin. You'll need to play 70 matches in the beta to unlock Cole's Cougars uniform, then play with it 13 times to unlock it in Gears of War 3 retail. Why those numbers? They add up to Cole's player number, of course.
Guns & Active Reload
In the beta, players will have access to the standard load-out weapons, like the Hammerburst rifle, the Lancer, the Retro Lancer, the Gnasher and the Sawed Off Shotgun. The special weapons you'll have access to, the ones scattered about maps, will depend on which multiplayer maps you vote on. Weapons like the new Digger Launcher and One Shot, plus classics like the Mulcher and Mortar, will be accessible in the multiplayer beta.
Epic is playing around with how Active Reload works, changing the timing on some weapons to offer more strategic reloading opportunities. The Hammerburst assault rifle now has a late AR window, with the Retro Lancer sporting an earlier one. Up to you to decide whether the trade-off of reload speed versus damage boost is better for your needs.
Gears of War 3 features a few control tweaks too. Players will likely feel at home, but less frustrated with some of Epic's changes. Two buttons have tap and hold variations. Tapping X lets you pick up a downed teammate, holding for a second longer it lets you pick up a weapon or ammo. There's a mini-progress meter to illustrate that, one that moves much quicker than, say, a similar function in Fable III.
On the Y button, a tap will pick up an enemy to use it as a "meat shield". Holding Y performs an execution.
And speaking of meat shields, players now have the option of using grenades while holding a body. Simply press up to pick a frag grenade, for example, and your character will jam it into the back of the meat shield's head, kick them forward and sending that exploding body at your enemies. It works with smoke grenade too, offering a chance to escape behind a puff of smoke.