Preview: Gears of War 3 multiplayer

I don’t even remember the last time I played a Gears of War multiplayer match. My hazy recollections of those multiplayer sessions include dark, gritty maps bereft of color, and claustrophobic to boot. No wonder that it did not take me too long before the Gears of War discs were shoved to the back of the cabinet in favor of the Call of Dutys and Battlefields. So when the chance came to preview the Gears of War 3 multiplayer, I redeemed the beta code with a fair bit of trepidation; will the clunky menus, the predominantly grey color palette and the small, crowded maps mean it will be a short affair again, or this time I would be around to stay longer and profess my love for Gears multiplayer just as millions of others do? Almost a month later and well past my deadline for this preview, I think I can safely say that this time, I will be sticking around a lot longer than I had anticipated. What brought around this change of heart? Oh there is a whole list of that!

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Gone are the dark, claustrophobic maps that I had so come to hate. Instead, what we have now are huge, brightly lit maps. Longtime fans need not lose any sleep though; the maps still retain the gritty look and feel of the older Gears. The beta comes with four maps – Thrashball, Checkout, Old Town and Trenches. The Thrashball map has you duking it out in the remains of a Thrashball arena, dominated on one side by the smoldering wreck of a downed Raven, with the scoreboard in the center. Checkout has you visiting a departmental store, shopping for some kills. With so many aisles, nooks and corners to take cover in, expect a lot of close quarters battles here. Of all the maps, Old Town is inarguably the most beautiful. Designed to reward the team players, going solo here will have you ending up at the wrong end of a shotgun in no time. The final map, Trenches, brings up the rear and is at the bottom of my list for the sole reason that it is a small, tricky map. Those who can get comfortable in this dusty map will find themselves trying to control the central platform and rain down mortar fire on their enemies.

Team Deathmatch, unsurprisingly, gets to see most of the action, especially with the players wielding sawed-off shotguns, one of the new additions to the game, and a pretty deadly one at that. Team Deathmatch is still pretty much good ol’ Gears; quick with the trigger and you will walk away alive. There is a new ‘life-pool’ system though, which means every time you re-spawn, you take away one from the fifteen community lives, thus encouraging a more tactical approach to the game. King of Hill, on the other hand, gifts you infinite spawn, your sole aim being to capture and control a regularly shifting ring of light. Again, vets of the series will be right at home with this one. Capture the Leader mode turns out to be the most fun. A variant of the ever popular Capture the Flag, this one has a flag that can defend itself i.e. one of the enemy players is the flag. The aim is to get your hands on the leader of the opposing team and hold him down for 30 seconds, preferably as a meat-shield, while making sure that your team’s leader is not suffering a similar fate at the hands of the enemy. Simple concept and tonnes of fun!

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Tool around the menu and you would end up with the now obligatory perks and badges. A completely new addition the Gears franchise, these perks and badges are not much different from those seen in the Call of Duty and Battlefield series. They’re nice incentive for those who like the XP system in their multiplayer games. Even without the unlockable perks systems, Gears of War 3 multiplayer turns out to be the best Gears multiplayer experience I have sampled so far. There are still lots of things that would drive you up the wall (see Kartik’s experience with the game below), yet the fun makes you want to stay back for just a few rounds more, and that is precisely what makes a great multiplayer game. With this still being the beta, Epic Games have enough time on their hands to spit and polish this into the definitive Gears multiplayer experience. In the meantime, we’ll keep ourselves busy with the beta hoping that the guys at Epic know how much we are banking on them to make Gears of War 3 one of the best games out there.

Second Opinion
By Kartik Mudgal

For Indian gamers, this is Gears of War 2 all over again. The matchmaking simply doesn’t work. The problem right now is that it’s exceedingly tough to find games with other Xbox Live players. If you do find a game, you get to play with the bots. Now, that’s not a bad thing at all because you can get experience, medals and level up your character even when playing with bots (level 16 here). It’s almost like Epic knew this was going to happen, and figured that if people are determined to play, they will do it one way or another. There are plenty of workarounds, like joining your friends, or adding Chinese players to your friends list. But that’s not really the point. The netcode seems to be much better than that of Gears of War 2, but the ping threshold is excessively low for us to find a game. If it’s increased, we can find games more easily, but the flipside is that the chances of getting laggy games are higher.

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It’s a lose-lose situation for us due to the lack of dedicated servers here. And why would Epic even bother with that? It’s a huge expense for them just to accommodate a few players. They won’t increase the ping threshold for us because it will affect the global community, and we are in the minority. If you’re wondering why the matchmaking and hit-detection issues can’t be rectified properly, it’s because of the Unreal Engine 3. You can totally forget about them overhauling their networking code at least this gen. If they even care about their fanbase in these parts, however small or insignificant, they should add a few servers in the region to compensate for their dated engine and provide an optimum experience for all players. But it doesn’t seem that the situation will improve any time soon for the Indian Gears of War community. We are just too minuscule for them to care.

Note: Abhinav is located in the US, and therefore did not face any of the matchmaking issues that Kartik did.

Gears of War 3 is scheduled for release on September 20 for Xbox 360.

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