Yes, Gears of War 3’s Beast mode looks brilliant. As the Locust-themed counterpart to Horde, it adds layers of depth and replayability to Gears 3’s co-op offering. But what about competitive multiplayer? In Gears 2, it felt a bit rough around the edges, like it had taken a backseat to Horde. For Gears 3, the design team has not only added the requisite new maps, weapons and abilities, but also meticulously overhauled multiplayer’s infrastructure to create a more stable, streamlined and personalized experience. During a recent visit to Epic Games’ headquarters, I got to play the latest iteration of Gears 3’s competitive multiplayer and enjoy the many refinements firsthand. Here’s what I learned.
The arsenal is more diverse
You would not be crazy to expect new guns in the sequel to a popular shooter. Most of these have been seen already, but this is the first time we've been able to actually, you know, use them on each other. Another update: each weapon now also has its own gratuitous execution move.
The Retro Lancer technically violates official Gears canon, but after your first successful Bayonet Charge that will become utterly irrelevant (if you even cared in the first place.) The Bayonet Charge is like a weaponized Roadie Run, and is balanced by the fact that you need to take four or five steps to fully charge it up (a gratifying scream from your avatar lets you know it’s charged.) If you run into your target sooner, it acts like a basic melee hit.
Above: The Retro Lancer, aka the Pendulum Wars Lancer, floating in an inky void
The Retro Lancer, ironically, is also one of the best defenses against the Bayonet Charge. Damage is dealt more like a shotgun, increasing dramatically as your target gets closer. But unlike a shotgun, it has automatic fire (like a Lancer with a hell of a kick.) In practice it’s enough to stop a head-on charge, but from a flank or from behind, you're shishkebab.
The Sawed-off Shotgun is a risky proposition. It delivers a brutal one-shot kill but only at stupidly close range. It will also kill multiple enemies in that one shot, which is incredibly useful if they happen to, say, be huddled around an objective. The sawed-off shotty was especially effective for us in King of the Hill matches and for last-minute panic counters to people charging with the Retro Lancer or going for a Mantle Kick (the new move where you leap over cover and kick your enemy’s face in.) Pro tip: after shooting your load, switch immediately to your rifle and worry about reloading the shotty later. Unless you just took out the entire enemy team in one go, in which case, congrats.
The OneShot is a heavy sniper rifle that shoots through shields or cover for a, surprise, one shot kill. To prevent this from becoming a game-breaking super weapon, it has a very narrow field of view and takes forever to reload. Also, it projects a laser sight so everyone can see where you’re aiming. The OneShot was most effective when the team rallied around it in a defensible high ground. Otherwise, solo use was too risky.
The Incendiary Grenade explodes on contact like a Molotov cocktail, dousing everything around it in flames. This new grenade led to one of our favorite moments in the hands on: I’d just tossed an Incendiary Grenade into a group of Locust when a teammate charged in and landed a Bayonet Charge, skewering the burning baddie and lifting him up into the air. It was like toasting Locust marshmallows – delicious!
The Digger Launcher is a modified grenade launcher that fires a toothy little critter that burrows into the ground and then tunnels straight to the target, where he pops out and explodes like a frag grenade. It’s big plus was that it could easily take out enemies camped behind cover. There’s an especially gory animation if the Digger projectile hits your enemy BEFORE reaching the ground.
Everything old is new again
Research definitively shows that the burst-firing Gorgon pistol is far and away the least-used weapon in Gears 2 multiplayer. Gears 3 does away with the pistol in favor of the Gorgon SMG, an automatic point-n-spray weapon that can be used with a shield. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try this myself in my too-brief play session but in the demo it looked like a huge improvement over the ho-hum pistol.
The Hammerburst’s biggest change is the addition of an iron sights mode, so you can look down the barrel when firing. Though still semi-auto, we found that it fired faster than the old Hammerburst when fanning the trigger and overall felt like a much more useful weapon than it was in Gears 2. I was able to rack up a lot of kills thanks to the iron sights and increased rate of fire.
Next page: Bag and Tag, and more of the new hotness
The classic Lancer gets only a minor change, to the chainsaw. Now, there is only a small window during the initial rev-up during which you can interrupt the chainsaw. This makes it easier to get chainsaw kills, but don't worry too much about people running amok with saws raised above their heads. Its balanced out by the stopping power of the Sawed-off Shotgun and the Retro Lancer, not to mention the new Bag and Tag move.