Beast Mode vs Horde Mode. Gears of War fans started batting around that concept even before Gears of War 3 introduced Beast Mode two years ago. Hell, some folks thought that's what they were getting in Gears of War 3.
"Everyone kept saying, 'Wow, why can't we do both of those?'" said Chris Wynn, the senior producer for multiplayer in Gears of War Judgment. "We asked ourselves the same question we just didn't have the ability to pull it off in Gears 3.
"That was one of the first things we discussed for Judgment, probably even before we knew what the story was going to be," Wynn said.
Considering what Overrun, the proper name of Beast vs Horde, has to rope together, the mode plays out in a very entertaining and balanced fashion. The two sides are class-based, pitting Kilo Squad from the main story (Baird, Paduk, Sofia and Cole) against a delightful crew of Locust baddies, in a sensible struggle that maintains the humans as a defending team and the horde as the offence.
Structurally, the mode pits the two sides at a series of three positions: two emergence holes, followed by a generator. Each team will play as both sides. While the winning side is the one that overruns the most positions, it is likely that the Horde will prevail at all three, so the tiebreaker goes to the side doing it in the least time.
If the COG does repel the horde at any of the first two e-holes, the mode immediately swaps teams, giving the winning side the chance to put the game out of reach by overrunning one more position than their opponents managed to take. Again, though this outcome is rare, I did see it happen twice in a multiplayer event Epic Games held two weeks ago. Once, the Horde were repelled at the first E-hole, which was just shameful.
In terms of classes, selecting Baird gives you engineer qualities — moderate firepower, and a welding tool that allows you to repair barriers (which all but one Horde class cannot bypass) or maintenance the sentry guns he's capable of placing, as a special ability. Sofia, as the medic, throws grenades with a healing area-of-effect (to her side only). This can be a useful tactic paired with Cole, the soldier class, provided Sofia is somewhere safe and contributing while her stim-grenade cool down runs out. Cole will pop out ammo crates to his teammates, and Paduk, the scout, can climb to elevated terrain, from which he may snipe at the Locust, or pop a beacon grenade, which gives everyone a type of X-ray vision, seeing what's coming around the corner.
The Locust have sort of the same spread of classes, with the Kantus corresponding most to the medic (his Hammerburst packs a nice punch for a support class, but the kickback keeps you from just sitting on the trigger.) The wretch is the Horde's scout, but you need to be good at melee, as he carries no weapons. He does have a shriek that stuns humans.
The charming Ticker is simply a bug that blows up, but it forms the effective "Ticker Train" strategy in which all five pick it as the starting class, and then send a rolling-thunder charge after the COG, one after the other. Small and fast, they're tough to shoot before they do their damage. Grenadiers also can kick them over barriers, or load another grenade on them, tactics I didn't really get the hang of in my time. The Grenadier, true to his name, tosses bombs, but his wind-up power takes a very long time to charge. He can quick toss a grenade but that's better done in close combat.
The Locust don't stop there; additional classes may be purchased with the XP you buy, and their cost can be steep. With good reason, too, for if a Corpser was infinitely available after an unlock, everyone would just load up on that beast, particularly as it may burrow under defenses. Serapedes are threatening but good mostly for taking down defences. Also, bloodmounts — featured in an early video about the mode — have been discarded in favour of berserkers, which have a one-shot rage-out option that deals a lot of damage.
Overrun's focus on teamwork pays a great deal of respect to this hallmark of Gears of War's multiplayer, and the concept plays out sensibly by swapping sides, rather than pitting COG on offence against Locust. The Locust's strength in classes (if not numbers) makes repelling them at any point (particularly defending the generator for the full five minutes) a real point of pride.
There will also be a mode that features no teamwork. Free-for-all will finally appear in Gears of War multiplayer, a mode that diehards had improvised out of King of the Hill with friendly fire turned on.
"Because Gears of War is traditionally a team heavy game, sometimes that's something daunting to our fanbase," Delhoyo said. "You go online, 'Hey, my crew isn't on tonight, eh, I don't really want to play, I'll get smoked because I'm so heavily reliant on team play.'" Free-for-all allows some one-off competition without the need to coordinate tactics among strangers.
Free-for-all will offer a range of loadouts involving one long weapon (a shotgun, Lancer or sniper), a sidearm, and then a grenade choice, which can be the aforementioned beacon or stim grenades as described in Overrun, to other offensive varieties. The skins I saw were the four members of Kilo squad, Marcus Fenix and Dominic Santiago; a male and female Onyx soldier, Anya Stroud, Alex Brand and Tai Kaliso in a jungle outfit.
There was also something referred to by the name of "Epic Points" on the screen, but it wasn't something Epic was ready to talk about yet. It may go by a different name when it arrives, but fooling with it, I was able to "buy" double XP for the round. I couldn't tell if this in-game currency could be freely acquired or would transaction based entirely. Again, Epic was mum on it.
But Overrun by itself makes Gears of War: Judgment look worth playing, and that's not counting free-for-all for those who get off on that. Overrun began as a simple, man-this-would-be-fun concept and, though I don't discount the work it took in making the modes play well together, Epic seems to have delivered just that.