We’re coming up on 10 years since the first Gears of War launched on the Xbox 360 and introduced many players to the wonderful world of cover-based shooting. I was one of those people.
Watching the stunning Mad World trailer back in 2006 convinced me that the 360 had enough of the types of experiences I wanted to warrant my purchase of the system. And, very quickly, Gears became the first console title I instantly restarted upon finishing; all slightly before spending many evenings playing the game's multiplayer online with friends.
Jump ahead to 2016, and even now in its beta form, the Gears of War 4 multiplayer feels like coming home. In my eyes, Microsoft’s GoW-focused studio, The Coalition, has done a fantastic job at reducing the franchise to its core, working out what made that first game’s multiplayer so great, and distilling that essence into an updated experience.
Included in the beta experience were three simple modes for its Versus playlist: Team Deathmatch, Dodgeball, and Co-Op Team Deathmatch (TDM) against Hardcore AI. The five-man teams were automatically filled by bots should there not be enough players looking for matches, and they were switched in and out as players joined and left throughout the match.
Of the modes, Dodgeball easily topped the list as my favourite. Taking the standard squad based combat of TDM, the Dodgeball mode makes it so deceased teammates only begin their respawn countdown timer when an enemy is killed -this made for not only a few quick rounds, but also some absolutely fan-freaking-tastic comebacks.
I had more than a few rounds where I thought we were done for, but with the entire enemy team barreling head first towards them, I’d often be viewing (and rarely be) the last man standing on my team as they managed to pull off an epic play, leading to an always unexpected, but completely welcome second chance at turning the tide. There were, of course, times when I was taking part in the rush to take out the final foe, only to be utterly thwarted in seconds, but you've gotta take the sweet with the sour, and that's part of what I think makes this mode so exciting.
Eviscerating foes at point-blank range with the shotgun, getting into a chainsaw duel after vaulting some cover, or brutally executing a downed enemy is just as much fun as it ever was, and each kill provides you with different scores based on some behind-the-scenes metrics.
It now appears there’s a new way to score additional points - Bounties. These appear to be unlockable cards that grant extra XP at the end of matches based on a set of conditions: get an extra 800 XP if you manage to get over 2000 points in a match, 50% more XP for winning, and many more. The tougher the request, the better the reward - a pretty neat way to help people level up faster, but what it will end up meaning in the final game, I’m not entirely sure.
Coming out of the beta, the only negative I really have is with the speed at which some people are able to zip around the map using the snap-to-cover button. Witnessing players zipping around like this at first seemed to be some kind of cheat, but really, it’s just a skillful use of a built-in ability.
In saying that, it is something I hope is fixed before launch. The distance from cover at which the snap kicks in feels like it's a bit far away, which is how some players are able to take advantage of double-tapping the ability in order to be quickly sucked towards the cover, but then stop the animation before actually getting in cover, thus making their maneuverability a little unbalanced.
While it may be an interesting use (some might say exploit) of the ability, it's technically IS something that anyone can do from the get-go, so with regard to the beta, it could just be that I'm a little jealous of how good some people are at performing it. However, as I said, I do hope this is tightened a bit before launch - I could definitely see players utilizing this with the shotgun being the reason newcomers don't stick around in what is otherwise a pretty fun multiplayer experience.
Now from those few paragraphs you might come away thinking this is an absolute nightmare, but really, it's only a few people who really take advantage of it – or, perhaps, are actually able to. The majority of the matches I played tended to have players sprinting to preferred spots for the power weapons (Sniper, Torque-bow, or Drop-shot), and overall doing their best to out-maneuver and utilize the cover as best they can to take the other team down.
I thought the three maps all played well, showed great balance, and gave a glimpse of a number of the titles diverse environments. Pulling more from the far wider colour palette of Gears of War 3, what I saw in the GoW4 multiplayer beta showed both grime and grit, but also areas of very vibrant colours - exactly what I want from a fictionally lived in world.
Players were randomly assigned their team and character at the start of the match, so player customization isn't something I can really comment on - but from what I did see of the skins, scuff marks, scratches, and little bits of wear-and-tear adorned all ten of the different COG and Swarm characters available. The only major complaint about the model or skin designs I'd be able to argue is that perhaps they looked too crisp and colourful, bordering on an almost cartoony caricaturish version of Gears characters - but I honestly thought they looked superb.
There was actually one other issue I encountered with my time playing the multiplayer beta, and that was that when I first loaded it up, I felt like my latency was quite high, and that my shots weren’t registering as well as I thought. I found myself having to perform leading shots (predicting movements, and aiming well in advance of enemies) that I haven’t really had to do since my days playing Action Quake 2 on the Paradise servers - back when everyone was on dial-up.
Turns out that despite my glorious fibre connection, I’d been defaulted to the dedicated servers in the United States, giving me a ping around 200ms. Switching to the Australia/Asia servers saw that drop to the much more reasonable 60-90ms range, drastically improving my dodging and aiming… which made my experience quite a bit more enjoyable. I highly suggest checking your assigned in-game region and choosing the one that best for you, it will make a world of difference.
Overall, I’d say that my time with The Coalition’s Gears of War 4 Multiplayer Beta was a lot of fun. I’ve heard some other takes on this from players, but my personal feeling was that it was an awesome return to form for the franchise, and I really enjoyed it. I’m incredibly excited to see what improvement they’ll be able to make to the game between now and the title’s launch this October.