Here’s what we thought of the Gears of War 4 beta

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It feels like home. That’s the initial impression I had after playing the Gears of War 4 multiplayer beta. I spent what could probably be called too much damned time playing the first Gears of War’s multiplayer on the Xbox 360. Many of the people I still call friends today I met playing Gears of War, and it’s at least one of the reasons you’re reading these words.

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And though I played the other games in the series, none of them really quite brought back that magic. Gears of War 3 came closest, I thought, very nearly capturing the same feeling. Judgement, the much maligned prequel took the series multiplayer in the wrong direction, removing the monster element and making the game play a little more like a bad fps.

Judgement was a big change in how Gears played – it was basically Gears meets first-person shooter,” Rod Fergusson said at a Gears of War 4 multiplayer preview. “It had first-person shooter controls, it had faster movement, human-vs.-human combat. It really felt like it was a move away from what was core to Gears of War.”

Whatever it is that’s core to Gears of War; the more intimate violence, the rush of the roadie-run-gnasher kill, the lancer fire from behind cover and the tactical flanking, that’s all back in Gears of War 4 beta, which opens today to those who played Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. There’s still the initial post-spawn rush for the power weapons, and the attempts to stop the other team from getting them. And a whole lot of violence. Have we mentioned violence?

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I spent the weekend playing it, and it was great – but it also left me feeling a little sad. I’ll get in to that a bit later.

The beta gives players access to three modes and three maps. The first mode, Team Deathmatch, is exactly what it sounds like on the tin, though even that has a twist that makes it a little more interesting. Team Deathmatch starts both teams with a 15 life pool. Each deaths strips away at that number until respawns are depleted, and then each player is on their last life. There’s more tension inherent than the standard “try rack up as many kills as you can within in a time limit” that most TDMs employ.

Here’s a look at the Team Death Match on Dam, which was easily my favourite map in the beta. It reminded me a little of Gears of War 1’s Fuel Depot, I suppose.

That “intimate violence” is perfectly embraced in Gears of War 4, bordering on the comical, especially when heads pop like balloons. Yes, the most satisfying headshot in all of videogames makes its triumphant return. The beta also introduces one of the game’s new power weapons; the dropshot, a sort of mining explosive that was responsible for more of my deaths this weekend than I’d care to admit.

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There’s another mode available in the beta that I didn’t get to try out as much as I’d liked thanks to the player pool being small right now, but from what I’ve played it’s fantastic. Called Dodgeball, it’s a fun play on the series’ value on a single life, taking the “execution” formula and changing it a little.

The lack of respawns in most of Gears’ modes has always been one of the things that’s drawn me to it, with the tension that creates making for some exciting, tense matches. Dodgeball brings that feeling back. Everyone has one life, but you can bring back a teammate back from the dead if you kill an opponent and stay alive for five seconds.

Another mode is made to help newcomers find their feet. Called Co-op AI, it pits a team of five humans against 5 bots, helping those who aren’t as used to the series lose to machines instead of suffering humiliation online.

Here’s a look at the maps (Click to embiggen)

But that all sounds fantastic, Geoff! Why are you sad?

Once again, we’re at the mercy of Microsoft’s Azure cloud. In the distant past, Gears of Wars games were hosted on a peer-to-peer system, where the person who started the game was host, and other players would connect to said host. It allowed for those of us who live far away from servers to play with little latency, because we were connecting to a locally based host.

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Yes, it did give the player hosting a host advantage (seemingly giving them godlike shotguns), but I’d take that any day over the 200-250ms of latency we have now connecting to the closest of Microsoft’s servers. That extra 200ms makes a huge difference, especially in a game like Gears of War where split-second timing is vital, and until we have local servers (something I’ve been assured isn’t happening any time soon), it means a degraded experience for those of us in South Africa. Unless you’re exceptional at compensating for lag, weapons like the Torque Bow and the Longshot are rendered useless.

As much fun as I had playing the Gears of War 4 beta (and by golly, will I continue to play it for the next week or so), it made me realise that we’ll never see the glory days of Gears of War in South Africa again.

Further reading

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Last Updated: April 18, 2016

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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