We've been covering the Gears of War 3 public beta since its explosive opening, and ever since we've been diving into the fray, emerging bloody and bruised but victorious. We've always been big fans of Gears, especially the multiplayer, but Epic had it all to prove the third time around. Gears of War 2 was plagued with online problems, namely sluggish network code and unwieldy balance issues.
But even its in beta stage, with more than four months left to go until its official launch in September, we here at Dealspwn have a feeling Epic is on to something bold, bloody and brilliant.
No Lag? No Problem!
Gears of War 2's launch was an absolute mess. The netcode ensuring matches connected and ran smoothly just wasn't intact. I distinctly recall waiting over an hour simply to find a game! Not to mention, once you'd squeezed into an actual match it was almost as difficult to play as it was to wait. Host-advantage was rampant, with shotguns either incredibly inaccurate and weak or absolutely devastating in the host's hands.
Epic took steps to rectify these issues, releasing patches every few months or so which slowly but surely plugged the gaping holes in the netcode. And while sorting out Gears 2 was important, their ulterior motive was testing the waters for the third game. Epic has gone on record in stating if Gears 3 has the same sort of launch as its predecessor, the franchise is doomed. They have to make it work.
So, does it? In short, yes. Gears of War 3 online is simple, swift and almost totally lag-free. Finding matches is a breeze, the games run silky smooth and host-advantage appears nonexistent. It's all thanks to Epic ditching the P2P systems in favor of dedicated servers. It had its hiccups, namely in the first week when Epic was first integrating them. And since the beta's population ballooned in size, Epic have had to increase their server count. And so far, it's been a triumphant success, which bodes very well indeed for when the final game rolls out in September.
Rewards, Rewards, Rewards!
It's not original by any means, but Gears of War 3's new persistent ranking and unlock system is wonderful. For each kill, revive, even death - if you're the first to go - you're rewarded with XP, which eventually fills a meter at the end of the round, drawing you ever closer to the next level. You're also treated to a flurry of Ribbons for completing specific challenges like blasting apart two enemies with a single Sawn Off round.
In fact, the game is so intent on rewarding you for your actions, it's sort of hard to keep up! Constantly the screen is alive with XP counts or little tickers alerting you of your progress towards a certain challenge. It's a brilliant hook Epic dangles in front of our faces, and we've fallen for it, hook, line and sinker. It's also surprisingly elegant for a system that's unfinished, and I can only hope Epic continue to improve it rather than resting on their laurels.
Along with passive rewards such as Ribbons and such, you're treated to camouflage skins for weapons - some of which, like the 'Flaming' skin, far surpass the ugly smattering of colour in the likes of CoD - and cracking character unlocks like Thrashball Cole or the Savage Theron. You know you're facing off against a formidable adversary when you see them sporting such gear.
Epic have made some choice revisions to the Gears formula in the beta, wisely increasing the speed from the sequel and ensuring the cover-system is as refined as it ever has been. Ducking in and out of cover is a breeze, and aiming is as precise as you'd expect from the former creators of frenetic shooter Unreal Tournament.
And it might just be the bloodiest game yet on the 360. Not content with cranium-splattering curb-stomps and eviscerating chainsaw bayonets, Epic up the ante with prolonged fist bludgeoning, snapping necks with the barrel of a shotgun and even ripping an army off a downed foe before battering them to death with their own severed appendage. It's almost like an anatomy class taught by Dario Argento.
And it's all so perfectly balanced. The Hammerburst, for example, is a beast at long range and even features an iron-sight function. But up close, it's unwieldy and imprecise. The Sawn Off is an absolute monster, one round capable of blowing away two goons, but its range is more shallow than Paris Hilton and takes an age to reload. In fact, the inclusion of the Sawn Off and the Retro Lancer balance out the carefully poised dichotomy of Gears' weapon palette, each offering its own particular take on death-dealing.
Gears of War 3 hits store shelves September 20th. If you want the lowdown on the beta, the new weapons and maps and the Capture the Leader mode, we've got you sorted. Why not tell us what you thought of the beta?