E3 06: Gears of War: Multiplayer hands-on

After gushing over Microsoft's demo of Gears of War yesterday - it's one of the most exciting shooters we've seen for ages - today we finally came to grips with the game by bashing out some multiplayer action. Shepherded into a special room by Microsoft, away from the mad bustle of the E3 shop floor, we were set up in a 4-vs-4 deathmatch. And we kicked ass.

Developer Epic calls Gears of War a "stop and pop" game, because of the huge emphasis on taking cover from a constant stream of attacks. There's not even a crosshair in the game's normal view - you have to hold down the left trigger to fine-aim.

But if that sounds at all boring, it's resolutely not. We found ducking into and diving out of cover creates real tension, especially in multiplayer - your view is tight, which is good for looking forward, but you've got to check your flanks to stop yourself being taken by surprise.

Above: The game's dreadfully unattractive alien invaders are called the Locust

The level we fought over offered plenty of dense cover, but to make sure you don't get stranded, the game has a handy "point of interest" button. In multiplayer, this twists the camera into the direction of your nearest teammate, but in single-player it performs a number of actions, from tracking background events (like a support helicopter crashing down) to focusing in on a charging enemy group.

Gears of War is so solid we could have been playing a finished game. The aiming feels fluid and responsive, the controls are perfectly balanced and easy to grasp, and the visuals are utterly fantastic. But, frustratingly, the launch date is still unclear. Come on, Microsoft. This is the ultimate killer app for Xbox 360 and it's playing better than some stuff that's already hit the shops. We want Gears of War, and we want it yesterday.

May 12, 2006