We loved the multiplayer mode in Gears of War. At first. It was great until people started finding ways of breaking it to help them win. Luckily though, Epic has been watching. It knows what went wrong has not only fixed them, but has improved the whole thing. We're excited about Gears multiplayer again. Very excited.
During a visit to Microsoft's HQ we saw how just a few minor tweaks has made Gears 2 a far more robust and fair game than the original. More on that later though, because we were also set loose on the game's brand new maps and we want to tell you about those first.
"The first mode we played was Submission (or Meatflag, as it used to be called) on a map called Security." If you don't know it, it's a sort of capture-the-flag scenario where the flag is a CPU-controlled bot that wanders around the centre of the map shooting anyone who approaches.
Shoot him down to his knees and drag him around like a meatshield back to your scoring area for a point. But with an opposing team trying to blow your face off before you get there, it's not so easy.
Especially not on Security - a map with a laser field surrounding the scoring bunker. The button to deactivate these lasers is in a small building on the opposite side of the map, and it only deactivates them for a few seconds, so you need to work as a team. One dragging the meatflag to the bunker entrance while another heads for the switch. Of course the opposing team should be guarding that button...
This is one mode that brought grenades into play as we began to realise that shooting at the guy holding the meatflag does very little damage. But a well-thrown grenade can blow your opponent off the flag. Thanks to a new concussive effect from the explosion, grenades now knock players to the ground, leaving them momentarily vulnerable as they clamber back to their feet.
From there we visited what became our favourite map of the day, River, in our favourite mode of day, Guardian. Like Assassination in Gears 1, Guardian gives each team a leader. While the team leader is alive, the other team members can respawn from deaths. When the leader dies, that team's respawning is over and all the opposition has to do is finish them off.
A marker points to the opposition's leader, so finding him is never an issue - it's getting past his mates while making sure your leader isn't ambushed that's the tough bit.
It's works perfectly too. A tense game of bravery, strategy and teamwork. And there's nothing more glorious than being on the losing side with your leader dead and managing to come back and kill their leader and mop up for an against-all-odds win.
As for River - what a map. A stream separates two stretches of land connected by a small bridge, the whole thing covered in a complex of stone walls, crates, cars and other means of cover.
Two run-down houses sit at either side of the bridge, with long-range weapons like the torque bow and sniper rifle on their upper floors, ideal spots to set up camp as they overlook the bridge area. It's a great map for team play and one we predict will be a crowd pleaser.
After River we were let lose in Wingman on the old favourite Gridlock map. Five teams of two face off in a more sporadic and chaotic team deathmatch-style scenario, with you only scoring points for killing both members of the opposite team. You stick together because survival relies upon you being around to revive your team mate when he's downed, but also because two guns are always better than one.