It's the last round of a particularly brutal bout of Team Deathmatch. Our life-pool has been depleted, and my remaining teammate has literally fallen to pieces under a hail of bullets. Hunkered down behind a crumbling couch, I sight two Locust drones advancing on my position, gleefully aware of the odds. Gulping, I retrieve the Sawn-Off Shotgun from my back, the weapon I so despise with its shallow aim and decades-long reload.
They're almost upon me, slavering at the mouth and muttering baritone threats. It's now or never. I pop up from behind the couch, the Sawn-Off's screen-wide reticule unfurling across the two Drones as they open fire. The screen fills with red, just as I pull the trigger and unleash a concussive blast from my gun. Gore obscures my view. When the red mist has cleared, I am, somehow, still alive. My Locust foe? Dead. Mulch. It's over. We've won.
Welcome to the Gears of War 3 beta. It is, for lack of a better word, breathless.
So what can you expect from the beta's first week? Well, for now, you'll have to be content with two maps - Thrashball and Checkout - and one mode, the newfangled Team Deathmatch. You can also expect to muck around with the new Retro Lancer, the Sawn-Off Shotgun, the Digger, the One Shot and Incendiary Grenades, along with a host of cosmetic and contextual upgrades.
But I suppose you're wondering, how does Gears 3 play? If you've been around for the past two games, you'll notice the beta fits snugly between the two. It's not as fast as the original, but nor is it as sluggish as the sequel. Running and throwing yourself into cover feels natural rather than artificially balanced, and the general pace is much faster than Gears 2.
Your choices are bolstered by the new weapons on offer. The Retro Lancer, for instance, packs a serious punch but kicks like a mule. It also features a fearsome bayonet attachment, and you can throw yourself into a headlong charge to gore hapless enemies. It's fantastic when pulled off, but don't expect to be skewering folks like a master chef just yet. It takes timing, practice, and a generous dose of luck. The Sawn-Off Shotgun is a monster, capable of dropping up to three enemies if they happen onto your path. However, it has awful range, one shot in the chamber and takes an age to reload.
Time To Execute
Fast becoming a ubiquitous feature in almost all shooters nowadays, Gears 3 features a persistent leveling system, with ranks to ascend, challenges to complete and ribbons and medals to earn. At the end of each match, the screen is festooned with awards, each awarding XP and filling your meter towards the next level. It's not revolutionary by any means, but the presentation is clear and concise and its decidedly addictive.
With each rank earned or challenge completed, Epic is quick to reward you, be it with a new skin - I particularly like the Hammerburst's 'Flame' skin - or a weapon execution. Unlocking executions is one of Gears 3's key features, and every weapon - from the Lancer to the Gorgon Pistol - has a specific execution animation. Early on, I reckon fans might like the Retro Lancer's finisher, where you stab a downed opponent in the ribs, then perform a sweeping coup de grace across their throat.
The newfangled Team Deathmatch mode is like any other, except with a decidedly Gears of War spin to it. Each team starts with a pool of fifteen lives, and for every teammate offed, a life is removed from the pool. Once you've depleted all your lives, you can no longer respawn, resulting in a terrifying last few minutes. It's a brilliant new addition to Gears' usual selection, and promises to be a fan-favorite come September.
We'll have much more for you on the Gears of War 3 public beta in the coming weeks, including detailed overviews of each map, reviewing the new weapons on offer, and taking a look at the new modes that Epic is staggering across the month-long journey!