Well, that was embarrassing.
My first gameplay experience with Gears of War 3 will not go down as one of my finer moments. My team, Something Awesome, was completely demolished. In our first battle on the map Trenches, we only scored two kills. In my feeble defence, one of those was a chainsaw kill that I scored on someone when their back was turned. For most of the game though, we were pummelled by mortar shells and on the receiving end of custom executions. It was so bad that I’m not sure if I should mention who my teammates were. They might want to remain anonymous.
Oh hell, I’m not going down alone for this. It was Peter Nowak from CBC, A. Brady Curlew from Play Till Doomsday, Erika Szabo from Toronto Thumbs and Bradley Pajuluoma from Retro Respawn. Boy, it’s awfully crowded under this bus.
Let us move on from the carnage. The beta tournament was overseen by Gears of War 3 Executive Producer Rod Fergusson, who had quite a lot to say.
Despite the wanton slaughter (or perhaps because of it), it was a good time at Microsoft in Toronto. Microsoft and Xbox Canada had organized a Gears 3 tournament with teams of community members and local journalists. While we waited for our turns to curb-stomp or get curb-stomped, we were having a great time posing with replica Lancers, including a 20 pound movie prop version.
Soon, the beta slaughter will extend to the public. “The actual beta will hit April 18th for BulletStorm: Epic Edition buyers, and April 25th for people who have pre-ordered with GameStop and Electronic Boutique,” Fergusson explained. “It will be running on dedicated servers. Four modes, three maps.”
Gears of War 3 was originally slated to ship in April, but the launch date has since been pushed back to September. Fergusson says that during that time, Epic will be busy.
“We looked at what we as a team can do to improve the game with the extra time we now have,” said Fergusson. “At Epic, we think of features like children. The more children you have, the less time you spend with each child. We want to polish [our features] up as high as we can. The more we add, the less attention each feature gets. So, rather than jamming more features in, we focused on polishing up the campaign, Horde and Beast modes and all that.
“Because we were already on track to ship in April, we were actually able to get our multiplayer to a state where we could have a beta. It’s polished enough to be a demo, because in the console world, betas are demos. At the same time, we still have enough time before we ship to use that feedback.”
As Gears of War 2 was to Gears of War 1, Gears 3 will be an evolutionary stepped forward, with tweaks and new features that smooth out and balance the gameplay experience. Since this evening was mostly about the multiplayer, we heard about these features the most. Fergusson says that Gears 3 is being designed in part with the noob in mind.
“We really feel like Gears of War 3 is the most accessible version of any of our Gears games,” he said. “Gears of Wars 3 is the right one to get in on. You don’t have to played 1 or 2. We’ve added a lot of features for new players to enable that. You can bring up the overhead map at any time during gameplay. Just press Back for the score and press B. You can see where all of your teammates are on the map. You can see where all the weapons spawn and get a sense of situational awareness, because you don’t have a lot of time to learn the map.”
For veteran players, Fergusson says they will find advanced techniques built on top of older, more familiar techniques. Experienced players will know about mantling over cover. Now there is the Mantle Kick as well.
“One of the things we didn’t like about our gameplay was when you have a piece of cover and people get on opposite sides of that cover, they just kind of silly blind fire at each other,” said Fergusson. “We want to award the aggressor. If you get in that situation where you’re on opposite sides of that same piece of cover, you can push forward and you’ll mantle over, kick the other guy and briefly stun them. It’s a long enough stun that if you have a double-barrelled shotgun, you can destroy them. It’s a great one-two combination.”
Fergusson also lamented the awkward dance attackers did as they tried to get around someone’s Meat Shield in Gears 2. Now, there’s a new hazard to approaching someone with a hostage: Bag n’ Tag.
“Now you can use that person as a weapon. By pushing up on the D-pad, you’ll take whatever grenade you have, slam the grenade in the back of your Meat Shield and kick them forward. They’ll blow up and sometimes take an enemy with them. If you don’t have any grenades when you pick up a Meat Shield, you’ll actually steal their grenade. That’s another one that you’ll probably want to take advantage of.”
So there’s a lot of new ultraviolence, and new strategic features to help you get around the battlefield.
“The left button is Tac-Com,” said Fergusson. “If you come to a new map and you don’t know where to go, you hold down the left bumper. It will tell you where all the weapons spawn, and it will also tell you where all of your teammates are.”
For those of you who feel like you’re leading the offensive alone, you’ll probably enjoy this new feature: Spotting.
“We created team communication without having to use a headset,” revealed Fergusson. “The online world can be a rough place sometimes, unless you like having your sexual orientation questioned. You can spot enemies for your teammates without having to do it verbally. By left trigger aiming at someone, if you get a red reticule you can click the left stick. It will put an icon over their head for a couple seconds and tell your teammates where an enemy is. Or where an enemy could be, if you want help fighting them or you’re just calling out the awareness of them.”
The controls of Gears of War 3 have been remapped very slightly. They’ll now respond to tapping versus holding down. This will be a great blessing when you’re surrounded by context-sensitive stuff you want to interact with. No more picking up a useless weapon when you were actually trying to heal a downed ally. Fergusson says the really important things you need to do will require a tap, and the less common moves require you to hold the button down.
For example, executions.
“Every weapon has its own execution now,” said Fergusson. “If you want to do a custom execution, you have to hold Y. If you tap Y, you’ll curb stomp because that’s what you want to do quickly. If you hold down Y, you’ll do the longer execution.”
The new custom kills are spectacular. I saw one where a COG soldier was kicked in the stomach, onto his back. Then the Locust trooper chainsawed him right in the neck.
“The flamethrower is one of my favourites because you stick it in their stomach and flame comes out their mouths,” smiled Fergusson evilly. “If you can pull off a flamethrower execution, you should be proud of yourself.”
Speaking of weapons, they’ve also been tweaked.
“Our five starting weapons—three rifles and two shotguns—all have a different purpose now,” said Fergusson. “We used to try to make the Lancer and the Hammerburst have equality. This time we’re really focused on letting them be different and have a purpose. The sawed-off shotgun is really short range and very powerful. When I say ‘short-ranged,’ I mean really short-ranged.” He indicated a distance where you are practically standing next to an opponent. “It’s great for small maps like Checkout.
“The Hammerburst is now our long-range assault rifle. When you aim, there’s a zoom now. If you click the right stick, it will go into iron sights. You can be much more accurate with the Hammerburst over a longer range.”
There is also a new/old weapon. “The Retro Lancer is our new assault rifle. Very, very powerful. Very, very accurate. The fiction behind it is that it kicks like a mule. It’s an old Pendulum War-era gun. It’s very strong and it’s kinda like an anti-shotgun weapon. If somebody’s charging at you and you have the Retro Lancer, you can take ‘em down pretty quickly.”
The Retro Lancer has a new secondary attack. “If you hold down B, you’ll start to Roadie Run with the bayonet out,” described Fergusson. “If you have enough momentum, you can stab into them and throw them over your shoulder. A great technique is to throw down smoke and then charge through the smoke, pick people up like a bale of hay, throw them over your shoulder and keep going.”
Fergusson mentioned other weapons such as a one-shot sniper rifle. He said that if you see a red beam coming across the battlefield towards you, that’s your cue to GTFO. There’s also the Digger Launch, which causes grenades to tunnel underground. It’s a nice weapon for getting at enemies behind cover so you can “pop people’s heads,” according to Fergusson.
Fergusson says they are aiming to have all multiplayer missions take place on local, dedicated servers, although there will be Peer-to-Peer support as a back-up. The modes have host migration, so if the host drops out, a new one is appointed. Lobbies now have population counts, so you can see if there are lots of people waiting to play the same mode as you. Gears of War 3 will also have bot support. The game is now able to start a multiplayer mission with bots, then gradually replace them as more human players become available.
Fergusson says that Gears 3 has been designed with more customizability in mind. “Mutators can be earned and unlocked as you play the game. Mutators are a way of changing up the game. The Mutators are something that are only available in co-op.”
And look for special events galore. The main menu has a calender that shows you what events are coming up as far as six weeks away.
“Wretches with Shotguns, my favourite!,” he said enthusiastically. “And Blood Mounts with Flamethrowers. Cliff [Bleszinski] and I talk about it,” he said. “We want to be more of the dungeon masters, post release. That’s something were going to do a lot more of.”
Players will also be able to choose static and animated weapon skins. Medals you’ve earned will appear over dead foes. You can also earn titles and use them to identify yourself online. A lot has gone into making Gears fans happy.“We’ve got the biggest campaign we’ve ever done,” declared Fergusson. “We’ve got Arcade mode, which lets you play the campaign for score, so it basically turns the campaign into a sandbox. We’ve got Horde mode 2.0, which we’re talking about at E3. We’ve got Beast mode, we’ve got competitive multiplayer that is the most polished multiplayer that we’ve ever done. And we’ve had this extra six months of polish that we’ve applied to the entire game.
“This is the best Gears game that Epic has ever made.”
Gears of War 3 will be released on September 20, 2011.
For more on the Gears of War 3 beta, here’s Jose from The Electric Playground, including an interview with the Cole Train!
-Jason MacIsaac is the Executive Editor of The Electric Playground. Is anyone out there? Can you hear me? This is Jason MacIsaac. Can you hear me? What have you done?