Previews

Gears of War 3: A refinement or a rehash?

Amidst the lying gristle, a great shooter is being reborn

The competitive multiplayer in Gears 2 was, to put it delicately, imperfect.

For Gears 3, Epic Games have gone to great lengths to put versus multiplayer back into your gaming diet.

Design Director Cliff Bleszinski and Producer Rod Fergusson recently took the wraps off it at Epic Games' Raleigh, US studio, and we were there to be among the lucky first few punters to play it.

The first thing we noticed was that the gameplay felt faster and smoother than it did in Gears 2. New weapons and abilities modify the way you think about cover.

For example, the OneShot - a heavy sniper rifle - shoots through shields and cover for a one-hit kill.

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The Digger Launcher is a modified grenade launcher that fires a live creature, who proceeds to burrow into the ground and can go under cover to take out an enemy.

The Mantle Kick is a melee attack launched over cover that knocks back an enemy cowering on the other side, effectively breaking what would otherwise be a blind-firing stalemate.

These changes force you to stay on the move, and keep the pace intense.

Another new addition, the Retro Lancer, sits between the shotgun and the Lancer in terms of firepower but gives players the ability to Bayonet Charge (essentially a weaponised Roadie Run).

Landing one of these is ultimately gratifying, as you lift your eviscerated foe into the air and then slam him savagely to the ground.

The Sawed-Off Shotgun, yet another new weapon, can take out several enemies in one blast, but only works at extremely close range.

Changes to existing weapons, like turning the Gorgon Pistol into the Gorgon SMG, further diversify combat.

In action, weapons and abilities balanced each other out so that the skill of the player, and not some cheap exploit, decided the victor.

CHANGING GEAR
RPG-style progression has now become a de facto part of shooters. And taking cues from other big shooters of the day, Gears 3's multiplayer will feature a levelling system and robust personalisation options to keep you playing.

Ultra-violent execution moves, custom weapon and character skins and blingy medals are among the unlockable items on offer.

Completing challenges will deliver big chunks of XP, while points are earned across Beast, Horde and versus modes.

The biggest addition to versus play is Team Deathmatch, in which teams will draw from a collective pool of lives until they reach the bottom of the barrel.

It then plays out like classic Warzone, with no respawns. Epic is rebuilding the technical infrastructure from the ground up to address the usability issues that hobbled Gears 2, too.

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Dedicated servers and support for host migration will help smoothen online experiences, while redesigned menus and HUDs further streamline things.

Best of all, Epic will be running a multiplayer beta early next year to check it all runs well.

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