Gears of War 3 Multiplayer Beta hands-on

Epic just put out Bulletstorm, but they’re already shifting gears (knowing wink) to focus on its next huge 2011 title. With Gears of War 3’s release date set for September 20, the only thing to keep rabid Gears fans sated until then is the promise of the fast approaching open Beta. Though no date for the launch has been made (rumors suggest it will start in mid-April around GoW3’s original release date), it was complete enough for Epic to invite the press to have an early taste of what’ll be include in the public multiplayer action. After GoW bigwig Cliff Bleszinski and Epic Games Executive Producer Rod Fergusson briefed us on the game, which included a fan-pleasing surprise appearance by the voice of Cole Train Lester Speight, we got down to business.

Above: Epic also revealed the box art last night

All the classic components of Gears gameplay were intact: a deliberate pace, lovely gore, diving for cover, chainsaw dismemberment, all of it, and it was only improved by the changes we saw, like the new match types. We sat down with the altered Team Deathmatch mode, as two teams of five blasted away at each other until all their respawns were depleted, which is when it turns into an elimination mach. The fresh settings added extra tension to the standard online mode, as instead of counting kills, your pool of lives slowly depletes, ratcheting up the pressure with each death.

Even if the gameplay’s core is the same, the new weapons littering the maps changed things very quickly. An early favorite was the Sawed-off Shotgun. Insanely powerful as long as you’re extremely close to your opponent, one blast is an instant, gratifying kill. Of course if you miss that shot you’re left with an especially long reload time for the weapon’s one bullet, which will leave you open for a Lancer chainsaw, as one of our opponents learned last night.

Above: Cole Train saving the day with the Sawed-Off

A little later we got our hands on the Digger, which launches an underground explosive that burrows, Bugs Bunny-style as Bleszinski put it, toward an enemy that might be in cover and explode all up in their business. We also came across the Incendiary Grenade which drops fire on your foes, the dreaded One-Shot that can reduce an unlucky target to pink mist, and our late favorite, the Retro Lancer, which replaces the chainsaw with a more low-tech bayonet.

Above: The Incendiary Grenade doing its thing

As you gain experience with those weapons, you unlock specific finishing moves that are amazing to see, such as cutting someone’s throat with the Retro Lancer’s bayonet, or ripping off the arm of downed foe and beating them to death with it. Another cool combat addition is the ability to tag a captured foe with a grenade and then kick said combatant at their unsuspecting friends.

Above: Cole Train and his Thrashball uniform/golden Retro Lancer combo are the unofficial mascots of the beta

Other new touches we detailed before were there too, such as the ability to place a marker on an enemy in your sights, which easily communicates to your team who needs a quick lead injection. We also appreciate the convenience of being able to change weapon loadouts while respawning, as well as more subtle differences, like the changing trigger placements during active reloads. Even with just an hour to play around with it, the whole thing felt simultaneously fresh and familiar, which is exactly what we wanted.

Read on for a rundown of the maps we played…

Henry Gilbert

Henry Gilbert is a former GamesRadar+ Editor, having spent seven years at the site helping to navigate our readers through the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. Henry is now following another passion of his besides video games, working as the producer and podcast cohost of the popular Talking Simpsons and What a Cartoon podcasts.