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The COGs keep turning in this multiplayer beta for the conclusion to Epic's trilogy...
Things aren't going too well for the COG. Eighteen Months after the fall of the final human city in Gears of War 2, a new danger has emerged which threatens to eclipse even the continued Locust onslaught. The Lambent is infecting the planet from within, and with civilisation in tatters and the remaining survivors in scattered disarray, it falls to Marcus Fenix and his comrades to make one last push for the survival of humanity. And end the series.
Don't sob into your hankies just yet fanboys, it's not really the end of Gears, just the end of the current story arc; Epic plans to keep milking this particular gilded bovine for quite some time yet. Gears 3 will simply conclude the trilogy as it stands, and with its launch now firmly pushed back, Epic is conducting a multiplayer beta to build interest in the game's online component and help hone it to perfection prior to release this September. The beta will run for four weeks from April 18th and allow access to the game's online multiplayer team deathmatch mode, featuring five-on-five third-person cover-shooting with a variety of vicious weapons and brutal execution moves. Four maps will ship with the beta, two of which – Old Town and Trenches – were selected as part of a Facebook poll which attracted some eleven-thousand votes.
Old Town is a remote seaside village, its winding streets and hidden alcoves ripe with ambushing potential; chickens cluck about aimlessly under the placid afternoon sun as blood splashes down onto the warm cobbled paths (sometimes theirs). Trenches is a Locust stronghold in the Seran Deadlands, offering tight lines of sight across the entire battlefield from behind its fortified sandbag bunkers; a central command tower offers a strategic vantage point, but defenders must remain vigilant against attack during the passing sandstorms which occasionally flare up, temporarily blinding everyone on the map. Thrashball features a dilapidated stadium which once played host to violent matches of Gears' fictional American Football inspired sport; now the empty arena has been transformed into a field of war, with sneaky vantage points available up in the stands to the sides, and a precarious dangling scoreboard threatening to fall down and crush idle bystanders should it catch a few stray bullets. Finally there's Checkout, which takes place in an abandoned superstore, its densely-packed aisles resulting in tense close-quarters combat.
A number of subtle refinements have been made to facilitate better map navigation and communication in Gears 3. The 'Tac-Comm' can be activated by pressing the left bumper at any time; this 'detective mode' view highlights team-mates and available weapons within your line of sight, revealing them even through cover or behind walls. You can also 'tag' enemies by pressing in the stick while targeting them; this marks them out for the rest of the team and is useful for directing a mortar strike or drawing a sniper's attention to a potential target. An overhead map is now shown at the start of each round and is also accessible during play, which helps to familiarise players with the layout of new areas, and indicates where the best weapons can be found.
And the game is certainly not short of weapons. Alongside old favourites like the chainsaw-edged Lancer and chaingun-aping Mauler, there's a new laser-guided sniper rifle that 'mists' enemies with a single shot, and a powerful close-quarters Sawed-Off Shotgun that can obliterate foes without the need to even take aim. The shotgun's effective range is extremely short (practically melee distance), and its reload time astronomical, but it can be a brutally effective weapon in the right hands; we managed to kill three enemies in a row at one point by hiding behind a corner during its lengthy reloads. A new Incendiary Grenade behaves somewhat like a Molotov cocktail; it can incinerate enemies with a direct hit, but is primarily used to lay down fiery barriers, preventing enemy progression and annexing-off critical areas. The new Digger Launcher fires burrowing rounds which travel beneath obstacles and under the ground, popping up on the other side to explode in mid air; although you can dive out of the way to avoid a tunnelling missile, suffer a direct hit and it will burrow up and explode through your head, Cerebral Bore style. A re-jigged Retro Lancer is also available, and features some hefty recoil; this cobbled-together weapon has a bayonet attached to the end of it, and you can charge across the map to impale enemies on it, tossing them aside like bales of hay. The Hammerburst has also been updated, and now features an iron-sights first-person-mode, which can be activated by clicking in the stick while aiming; it's not entirely intuitive aiming in first-person in a Gears game initially, but the added zoom makes persevering with the mode worthwhile.
In addition to Team Deathmatch, two further modes will be available in the last week of the beta. King of the Hill has teams occupying a series of key zones to gain points; incendiary grenades prove indispensable in this mode, allowing you to flush opposing players out of critical choke-holds as you push into the contested zone. Self-revive is now possible across all modes, and you can either finish off fallen enemies with bullets or use one of the custom execution moves available to each weapon. Downed players can also attempt to crawl to cover while at critical health, but self-revive takes considerably longer while doing so. A further multiplayer mode, Capture the Leader, randomly designates one member of each team as 'Leader'; the brief is simple: kidnap the opposing leader while simultaneously defending your own. It's possible to use a downed enemy as a fleshy shield by grabbing them with X, and if you can restrain the opposing leader in this way for 30 seconds, you win. The timer stops if both teams' leaders are captured, so frantic rescue missions are sometimes required right at the very last moment, and leaders can struggle by bashing B, causing slight damage to their captors.
In addition to the beta maps, we also saw the Mercy and Overpass levels; these didn't make the cut in the Facebook vote, but will presumably be included with Gears of War 3 when it launches. Multiplayer is just one aspect of the full game of course, which includes a four player co-op Campaign, updated Horde mode, and the brand new Beast mode – in which you play as the Locust army in a co-op battle against waves of human opponents.
The Gears of War 3 Beta will be exclusively available from April 25th for those who pre-order the Limited or Epic editions from GAME or Gamestation; owners of Bulletstorm: Epic Edition get early access an entire week in advance, from April 18th. The beta runs until May 15th and those participating will be able to obtain a slew of exclusive unlockable content, including various weapon skins and a 'Thrashball Cole' character model which can be carried over to the game when it finally launches this September.
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