By now, I expect quite a few of you have hopped on to the Gears of War 3 beta, whether with precious access codes of because you plumped for Bulletstorm: Epic Edition. However, if you're patiently awaiting the beta's official launch next week, maybe you'd like a heads-up on what you can expect from the first few maps to muck around in, and the slew of new weapons at your disposal?
What's that, you do? Well then, read on for a detailed overview of the new maps and weapons available in the Gears 3 beta!
First off, maps; namely, Checkout, one half of the two available in the beta. Set in an abandoned convenience store, replete with tills, shelves, and a particularly random sofa, the classic Gears motif wafts from invisible speakers like haunting elevator music. Checkout is a tight, dense map with ample cover and numerous vantage points, with each team spawning on either side.
The middle of the map is choked with aisles and an escalator blocking you from simply charging across to your foe on the other side. Instead, the action is funneled down either flank, which is where the map also hides its most powerful weapons, the Mulcher machine-gun, the Digger launcher and the Longshot sniper-rifle. Grabbing any of the three early can quickly swing the tides in your favor, with the Digger in particular wreaking almost unstoppable havoc.
It's easy to see why Epic plumped for Checkout as one of the two maps in the beta. It's a smart, small stage where you're never out of the action long. Not to mention its beautiful; in a grimy, monochrome way!
Thrashball is a larger map than Checkout, with the wide arena itself playing host to quite a few ranged battles across the debris of perfectly placed cover, a raised section to one side offering a lofty view of the entire map and a soon-to-be-bloodstained tunnel running adjacent. Above the arena, the colossal scoreboard hangs from a frayed cable, and can eventually be shot down to collapse on hapless goons underneath.
Each team spawns in opposing dugouts on either side, and with ample cover available from the off its a tense, tactical affair in the first few minutes as everyone races to their favorite spots or, in some brash cases, charges headlong to the opposite end in search of glory. Depending on what side you spawn on, the raised section and the tunnel will either be on your left or right. The Mortar can be found on a stairwell blocked on either side by rubble but accessed by charging up the steps and coming up from behind.
Personally, I favor Checkout over Thrashball, but that's not to say the latter isn't good. It's much more fun if you're looking for medium to long-range firefights, due to the ample sprawl of the arena. However, it lacks the elegance of Checkout, and the collapsible scoreboard is more gimmick than well thought-out feature.
Now let's concentrate on the new arsenal available, kicking things off with the Retro Lancer. Older brother to the original, it features a fearsome bayonet instead of a chainsaw, and packs more punch but kicks like an angry mule. If you hold B when equipped with the Retro Lancer, you'll break into a charge which can gore an opponent if successful. However, it's tricky to master and leaves you very vulnerable.
The Retro Lancer is suited to medium-to-close range, with the recoil a bitch to keep under control. The bayonet-charge is a brilliant tactic, but best employed when absolutely certain of victory. For veterans only, I recommend.
I'm aware the Hammerburst itself isn't a new weapon, having featured in all previous Gears games. But Epic have once again tinkered with the Locust' trademark weapon - which began life as an automatic rifle, before being retrofitted as a three-burst carbine - and now they've finally settled on a single-shot function with an iron-sights feature.
Personally, I think mastering the new and improved Hammerburst is the key to Gears 3 beta success. It has terrific range and stopping power, and the ability to aim down the sights in first-person allows for some precision aiming. Go for the head!
Set to be a adored and despised in equal measure, the Sawn-Off Shotgun is a tricky beasts. It has only one shot in the chamber, and takes around five seconds to reload. However, its spread is vast - seriously, the reticule is screen-wide - and if you get close enough you can splatter up to two enemies with one shot.
I'm still wrapping my head around the Sawn-Off, as every time I think I'm close enough for a successful shot, I hit thin air; yet when I panic and simply pull the trigger, I'm rewarded with a bloody, viscera-soaked kill. A bit of work is required, me thinks.
Ah, the Digger Launcher. A Locust weapon, of course - it fires a little critter strapped with explosives that burrows underground - the Digger is Epic's way of forcing players to do more than hide behind cover. As if you're facing off against an enemy rocking the Digger, it doesn't matter if you're hunkered behind a concrete slab. That little critter will tunnel underground then burst up at your feet at detonate in midair. It's terrifying.
Although I must admit, I feel the Digger is a tad overpowered. I've often raced away from a projectile, which has exploded a few feet away and still killed me. The weapon itself shouldn't change - it's wonderfully imaginative - but I think the blast radius should be toned down a mite.
Sadly, the One-Shot isn't available yet in the beta, as it appears locked to the Trenches map which goes live next week. However, we do know a little about Epic's so-called 'elephant gun'. Essentially, it's a beefed-up sniper rifle that can puncture through anything, be it a Boomer's shield or a chunk of cover. Like the Mulcher and Mortar, it's a power pick-up that leaves you slow and sluggish, but it more than makes up for this in stopping power.
True to it's name, it requires only one shot!
We'll have more on the Gears of War 3 beta as Epic rolls out the new modes and maps. Why not regale us with your experiences so far? Or catch up on our earlier preview?