After announcing a heartbreaking five month delay, Epic brought Gears of War 3's Beast Mode along to the Eurogamer Expo... but more about that later. After quitting back to the main menu, I was delighted to discover that they'd left a pre-alpha campaign level completely unguarded... and without a rep in sight to tell me 'no', I figured I'd give it a whirl. Here we go, folks!
The mission started, as you'd expect, in vulgar and spectacular fashion. Marcus Fenix, Dom and a female squad member were embroiled in a desperate firefight against a squad of Locust backed up by a Grinder and a heavily armoured grenadier. After a fiendish enemy beat a hapless Gear to death with his own severed arm, it was game on. Plenty of handy walls littered the forest arena, and the cover mechanics have clearly been tweaked and sharpened yet further since Gears 2. Even on the normal cover mode, Marcus smoothly snapped into cover at the end of a roadie run without any hint of gliding, glitching or split-second delay.
Rather than starting out with a standard Lancer, Marcus was armed with a Pendulum Wars-era firearm (*not* a new Locust assault rifle as I initially assumed, thanks to reader Evaaaaaaan). While inaccurate, this weapon was tipped with a wicked knife blade that made short and simple work of any enemies that strayed too close. The lack of a defenceless 'rev up' time meant that it was an accessible close-range firearm... but the corpse of an unfortunate comrade soon yielded my beloved chainsaw-equipped Lancer. It still delivers the same monstrous mid-range domination, but the spread now markedly increases while moving (even while holding the left trigger to aim precisely). This will help to even out its importance in multiplayer, as you'll now need to hunker down to utilise the weapon effectively.
The Grinder and Grenadier were extremely resistant to bullets and even headshots, but a few well-placed grenades and a gratuitous chainsaw execution soon put paid to them. Continuing through the clearing, however, everything changed. The Lambent had arrived.
Blackened, twisted former Locust shambled and sprinted towards the team, frequently exploding into hazardous clouds when downed. The Emulsion within their bodies caused veins and exposed areas to glow under their carapace. More terrifying, however, were the new tentacled foes that would lob explosive luminous globs out of their waggling appendages much like a close-range mortar. Cover was therefore completely ineffective against them, and it soon became apparent that they needed to be taken down hard and fast. Luckily, their tentacular limbs could be severed with precise volleys of gunfire (which will be familiar to fans of of Dead Space's tactical dismemberment), rendering them harmless and vulnerable at long range. Terrifyingly, several of these beasts would also sling explosive spiders into the fray that required copious dodge-rolling and quick reflexes to exterminate.
A vacant Centaur Tank beckoned in the distance... but there would be no rest for the wicked. Two enormous bosses burst onto the scene, standing roughly 12 feet tall and armoured with a thick black hide that reflected bullets (making a metallic 'ping' on contact). Their attacks were extremely reminiscent of Berzerkers from the original Gears (as well as their general appearance; albeit with obscene spikes, protrusions and tentacles jutting out from their original frame), as they'd charge straight towards Marcus and demand a swift dodge roll to avoid. The Gears screamed for a Hammer of Dawn strike as my Lancer bullets ricocheted harmlessly off their steely armour.
The hammer of dawn pounded the distant metallic monstrosity into the ground, but my original nemesis was hot on Fenix's heels. Sprinting towards the gutted tank, the beast reared up and roared... and I felt the firm clap of an Epic QA rep on my back. That was that, then.
Much will doubtlessly change between now and Autumn 2011, but as far as I can tell, the campaign is shaping up to deliver more of the ludicrous action that we know and love. More is definitely the operative word, though- and I've no doubt that Gears of War 3 will provide a more cinematic and brutal experience this time around. It's just a shame that we have to wait an extra five months...
So, Beast mode then. Stay tuned!