Gears of War 3

With the Gears of War 3 beta coming in April, gamers can anticipate tons of content. Last night, Epic and Microsoft showed off plenty of that new content to journalists, including the plethora of fresh weapons, arenas and costumes for returning favorites. And this is just a beta! This game has more content than most retail releases do. Damn skippy, that’s impressive—but with the nature of the game, Gears of War 3 has a lot to live up to, and standards are very high.

Good and bad, at the end of the day this new title is the same Gears of War you know and love, but there seems to be much more finesse to the game overall. Many of the new weapons exemplify this spirit. The Sawed-off Shotgun, for example, is an incredibly short-range weapon designed to take out enemies that are prone to charging. The weapon suffers from a slow reload time, but has been included to help balance out the game for newcomers. Other weapons fit this sort of over-power, like the OneShot, a sniper rifle held at the hip, or the Digger Launcher, capable of sending out a burrowing grenade that will bounce off the ground and explode.

Other new additions include the Incendiary Grenade, which can be awesome to use. If you’ve got a human shield, you can stuff a grenade in the neck of the dude, throw him forward, and have the grenade detonate on impact. My favorite new addition is a Gears of War throwback, the Retro Lancer. Designed as an old-fashioned version of the famous chainsaw Lancer, the Retro Lancer has a bigger kick and a sharp bayonet on the front. Instead of charging the chainsaw to use in the attack, Gears can now just rush forward in a charging kill. It’s rather impressive to behold, and all of the execution style moves for these new weapons are bad-ass.

The series has seen some gameplay modifications, as well. Controls are now slightly different from Gears of War 2, and those flashy executions give better experience points. Small changes like this really indicate a shift in Gears by making sure every small detail counts.

Even this beta is important to the retail release. Epic is planning on including plenty of unlockables, such as playing as Anya or the Thrashball Cole Train. There are even new Locusts to unlock. Even better are the unlockables, exclusive to the beta, that can only be played in the retail build once a series of requirements are met. For example, the golden Retro Lancer is the first of such unlockables. The final number is undetermined, but when players play around 90 matches, they’ll unlock the golden Retro Lancer to use in the beta, and they’ll have to kill around 100 enemies to keep it in the retail game. Apparently, this is not the final unlockable; players who have the Epic Edition of Bulletstorm with gain a flaming Lancer.

Six new stages were demonstrated, but only four will be released in the beta. The four that will stay will be voted upon by fans on the Gears of War Facebook page this week, with the official stages announced early next. Trenches is a larger stage in a ruined desert town, with lots of hiding points to exploit. A stage based upon a Thrashball arena looks particularly special, especially for someone playing as Cole Train decked out in his thrashball gear. There are additional stages based upon the green ruins of a church called Mercy, a shopping mall level named Checkout, small seaside towns, and more. At this point, it’s certain that the Gears multiplayer will offer the most variety of any game in the franchise.

On a purely visual standpoint, the games graphics match the superior quality of every other Gears title. However, it seems like Epic has used their time with Bulletstorm well because not only is the game beautiful, it’s also very colorful. Who would have expected Gears of War 3 to look this vibrant?

As someone who has never been the biggest fan of Gears of War, consider me impressed. It’s obvious that Gears 3 is built with fans in mind: Everything from the characters, the beta, the weapons, the stages, and the unlockables are made to please. When studios so often move in bad directions, it’s nice to see a company keep in the right.