Previews

Gears of War 3 Beta: Gears grows up?

Hands-On: Xbox Live trial exposes a thinking man's shooter...

Gears of War is no longer the deathmatch of choice for the 13-year-old trash talker; it's the thinking man's cover shooter.

Going hands-on with the upcoming Gears 3 Xbox Live multiplayer beta last night, we discovered a Gears of War that's more thoughtful, tactical, inviting and... well, grown up than its predecessors.

Key to the chainsaw gun revolution is the new tactical button, assigned to LB, which allows players to instantly see where their teammates, weapon spawns and other tactical intel is located on the map.

You can even use LB to 'spot' opponents and flag them for comrades. Clever groups can then use this data to perform flanking manoeuvres, fire off a cheeky Digger shot (a gun that shoots critters underground) or if you're feeling particularly confident, unleash a devastating long range Mortar shot directly on to your flagged-up opponents' bonces.

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The aftershocks of one seemingly simple addition are apparent from the start; in one new map, Mercy, teams stay tight - always aware of their teammates' positions - and flanking tactics are swift and devastating.

Mercy is a wide-open arena set in Spanish-inspired ruins, with plenty of low cover. A Mortar gun lies at the highest point of the arena and teamwork is essential if you're to capture the most tactical areas of the map.

Epic's made changes to many of Gears 3's team modes and Team Deathmatch is no exception; in order to maintain the tension so often bred in its predecessors' survival-based scenarios, the developer's opted to have teams share a pool of 15 lives, which means matches often conclude in a frantic manhunt for the losing team's last surviving member.

After two instalments, Epic clearly knows what Gears is about - and this is just one example. Tweaks and refinements are everywhere, not least in the game's streamlined control scheme. For 3 Epic's opted for a 'hold' and 'tap' system which has you 'tapping' X to grab ammo and revive teammates, and holding to pick up weapons and perform lengthy executions (which this time reward bonus points).

Just like Halo, this differentiation in button commands creates less confusion on the battlefield and thus the fight flows better, with no accidental weapon switches in the middle of a firefight.

Three modes are set for the Gears 3 beta; Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill (which has been combined with Gears 2's Annex) and Capture the Leader, which is basically CTF with meat shields.

KILLING FIELDS
Mercy is one of six maps potentially set for the multiplayer beta. Two - Checkout and Thrashball - are lock-ins, while fans will have to opt for the third by voting on Epic's Facebook page.

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As the name suggests, Checkout is a supermarket interior with rows of tight, close quarters shelf shotgun action. To the centre of the map lies the Muncher mini-gun, which when mounted in front of an unsuspecting rival team can create a messy pile of rival body parts across the floor.

Checkout is bound to create some variety alongside Thrashball, which in comparison is a far more range-focussed arena, complete with a massive football scoreboard that actually displays Team Deathmatch points.

Another fantastic addition comes in good use here; the iron sight mode for the Hammer Burst gun, which allows you to pop off rounds Call of Duty-style with a press of the right thumbstick, works very well and introduces a new dynamic to the traditionally up-close combat the Gears series has harboured.

Another map, Trenches, gives us a chance to try out some of the third game's fresh arsenal. This arena is a dusty, multi-layered sandpit with plenty of cover and sharp corners, which means shotgun is king - especially a sandstorm arrives towards the end of a round.

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