In anticipation of the third-person sci-fi shooter Gears Of War 4 being released for Xbox One on October 11th, Microsoft and The Coalition are holding an open beta for the game’s multiplayer modes starting April 18th for those who bought the Gears Of War: Ultimate Edition, and for everyone who has Xbox Live Gold status beginning April 25th.
To promote this event, they opened the beta up this past weekend for friends, family, and members of the media. Here are my impressions of the beta after playing for a few hours on the first day.
For starters, Gears Of War 4 has the same solid and intuitive controls of its predecessors. The buttons are configured the same as they were in the previous numbered installments, and both they and the sticks feel the same as well. As a result, hardcore Gearheads will feel right at home, especially after their sense memory kicks in.
The downside of this, however, is that they’ve reverted back to the weapon selection system of Gears Of War 3 when it comes to grenades — which requires you to use the D-pad to chose your grenades as you would any weapon — as opposed to keeping the more helpful one that was employed in Gears Of War: Judgment, in which you could toss out grenades by simply hitting a button.
Otherwise, the basic mechanics on display in the Gears Of War 4 Multiplayer Beta are largely the same as they were before. You can still use enemies as meat shields, can still hop over cover, still use active reload for a momentary power-up, still jam on the “A” button to get back up when you get knocked down, and on and on and on.
Which is not to say that everything in the Gears Of War 4 Multiplayer Beta will be familiar. For starters, you can now level up quicker thanks to “Bounties.” When waiting for a new match to start, you can go to a menu and pick from three available bounties that will reward you extra points if you, say, “Get a 1000 points in a Versus match” or “Win a match of Dodgeball.” Well, assuming you activate those bounties, that is.
The Gears Of War 4 Multiplayer Beta also features one of the game’s new weapons, the Dropshot, which is basically a grenade launcher but with grenades that have a slight delay timer on them. Otherwise, many of this series’ signature weapons — including the Torque Bow, Hammerburst, and the Snub Pistol — are still available and work as they did before. Gears Of War 4 even has an overpowered Gnasher shotgun and underpowered Lancer submachine gun, just like mama used to make.
There are also, supposedly, new ways to dispatch enemies who are on the other side of cover from you. Supposedly, you can reach over the cover, grab them, pull them to your side, and then shoot them. Or knife them, which is supposedly another new way to kill people. Though I keep saying “supposedly” because while it tells you that you do these things, and I’ve seen them done in videos, the opportunity to knife people or pull people over cover and then knife them never presented itself while I was playing the beta.
There’s also a change that is more of a subtraction. Unless they reinstate it, it seems they’ve gotten rid of the free floating camera you could use while waiting to respawn. Which is probably a good thing, since it gave players an unfair tactical advantage.
As for the modes in the Gears Of War 4 Multiplayer Beta, there were three available to play: “Team Deathmatch,” “Dodgeball,” and “Co-op TDM (Hardcore AI).”
Not surprisingly, “Team Deathmatch” works here as it did before (and doesn’t in other games). Each team starts with a set number of lives, and you can respawn as many times as you need to until all your lives are used up, at which point each player has one life left. The team that survives wins that round, and the game is won by the team that wins two of the three rounds. Not surprisingly, it was as much fun here as it was in previous games.
Then there’s “Dodgeball,” which is a new and interesting variation on “Team Deathmatch.” Everyone gets one life. But if you kill someone on the other team, it brings one of your team back to life. This really made things rather frantic, though I’m personally not a fan of multiplayer modes where you don’t respawn right away. I’m impatient like that.
Lastly, “Co-op TDM (Hardcore A.I.)” is basically “Team Deathmatch,” but instead of playing against other people, you and four of your friends play against bots that were set at the “Hardcore” difficulty. While it works well enough, it’s clearly more of a training mode than anything you’d play multiple times.
As for the maps, while they all have an industrial and Gothic feel, there is some variety. At least in the handful they’ve included in the beta. “Harbor,” as you might imagine, has you shooting it out on a mostly flat, rain-soak dock full of boxes; the similarly single leveled “Dam” seems to be a construction site at the base of a dam; while “Foundation” is an old city, full of steps and statues, that’s somewhat reminiscent of a European city in a World War II game.
Finally — and this is something that only applies to the Gears Of War 4 Multiplayer Beta, not to Gears Of War 4 itself — if you get to level 20 during the beta, which is no easy task, you’ll unlock some fun extras for the real game, including vintage weapon skins and a vintage skin for a new character named Kait. Just enjoy being at level 20 in the beta while it lasts, since all player progression will be reset when the real game comes out.
As much as I enjoyed my time in the Gears Of War 4 Multiplayer Beta, though, I did have some issues (aside from the grenade controls, the overpowered Gnasher, and the underperforming Lancer I mentioned earlier). For starters, I don’t know who the Swarm are, other than being the game’s muscular asthmatic enemies, but they didn’t look as cool as their lizard-men predecessors, the Locust.
Also, some of the text in the menus of the Gears Of War 4 Multiplayer Beta was small and somewhat hard to read, especially since some of type was grey and set against black backgrounds.
That said, some of these problems could be fixed before the game comes out. Granted, I doubt they’ll fix the grenade controls, but the Swarm could become more interesting as we get to know each other, both the Gnasher and the Lacer could be rebalanced, and there’s plenty of time for The Coalition to fix the small, hard-to-read type. Especially since they held this beta early enough so they could utilize, any feedback they may get.
In the end, it seems from the Gears Of War 4 Multiplayer Beta that the final game could have the same solid multiplayer as the previous games in the series. Though, obviously, we’ll have to wait until October 11th to know for sure.