Next month, gamers will get a chance to hop into the Gears of War 3 beta and test out its multiplayer in advance of the shooter’s September 20th release. For those of you who just can’t wait that long for more Gears, I’ve returned from Penny Arcade Expo with some fresh impressions you. The third entry expands multiplayer matches to 5 v 5 and includes a total of eight different modes. Epic had a handful of maps available for play in either Death Match or King of the Hill variants on the show floor. Despite my efforts, I was only able to play the map “Thrashball” for both game types.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Thrashball (it’s actually a great map) but it would have been nice to spread the fun around a bit. The map is designed as an arena for the Sera sport that everybody’s favorite video game black guy stereotype was famous for playing prior to Emergence Day. It’s a smaller map that is mostly made up of the playing field in the center of it. The field is littered with pieces of cover that presumably fell off of the stadium at some point during the war with the locust. There is also a bottleneck corridor running along one side and a more open indoor concourse area on the opposite side. Also of note is how vibrant Thrashball looks. It isn’t Super Mario Bros. bright or anything, but it certainly has a brighter palette than Gears maps of old. The browns and grays that the series is famous for are still present, but the map feels slightly cheerier than picture of Gears of War multiplayer I had in my head. This is a good thing.
The real treat is the scoreboard that can be seen dangling by a single wire over the middle of the field at the start of each round. While the shotgun is definitely your friend in many situations on Thrashball, I began both matches by hanging back with my Lancer or Hammerburst drawn and waited for my opportunity. A single bullet netted me three incredibly satisfying kills both times as the wire snapped, sending the scoreboard slamming down on top of the other team. This was the most fun I had during the demo and I can’t wait to see what other ideas Epic has cooked up for using pieces of the environment as weapons.
Although I’m usually not the biggest fan of King of the Hill game types in shooters, I found myself having a surprisingly fun time playing this mode on Thrashball. Whenever the hill was in the middle of the field, it was total chaos. Neither side was able to keep control for too long since they had to endure volleys of bullets from all angles. This led to wild charges across the field towards the hill, as its defenders would frantically turn this way and that to try to get a bead on the biggest threats.
Conversely, things slowed down and became a game of chicken once the hill moved into the corridor. We took advantage of the enclosed area by placing someone with a shotgun behind cover at each of the three entrances while the other two team members reigned down shots on our enemies while they ran around outside trying to get to the hill. With this strategy, it was a breeze to keep control and catch up in the points race for the entire time the hill was there. At one point, an opponent clad in a Thrashball uniform and helmet tried to roll in and I proceeded to blast his face off with the shotgun the second he popped out of the roll.
In Death Match, most players ran between cover points out on the field while trying to constantly push the other team as far back towards their spawning base as possible. After some varied levels of success with this strategy, I decided to change things up a bit. After charging around to the right I ducked inside the corridor and emerged in flanking position slightly behind and to the right of several of our opponents. This made it easy to continually pick them off while they engaged the rest of my team in front of them. Keep this in mind when you play Thrashball in the upcoming beta or you’ll find yourself in a world of trouble.
It would have been great to try out some other maps, but I’ll just have to wait until the beta for that like everyone else. After the short play time with Gears, I’m now pretty excited to get my hands on the game again in late April. Hopefully the other maps and modes are as enjoyable as those featured in the demo.