Hands-on: Gears of War multiplayer

Today at E3, Microsoft offered the opportunity for select press members to battle for a half an hour in a 4 on 4 “Gears of War” multiplayer blowout. Having not gone hands-on yet with the single player campaign, this was a quick and violent introduction for me to Epic’s Xbox 360 “stop and pop” shooter some label as the next “Halo 2” and killer app for the console.

The similar yet slightly different small levels we played consisted of a single devastated street strewn with wrecked cars and battered ruins. As the match begins with an eerie silence, 4 members of the COG and 4 from the Locust Horde start at either end of the street and converge in the middle. This convergence is a careful balance of knowing when to take cover and when to take advantage of those taking cover.

In the first match, each player experimented with the controls with varying success. I found myself somersaulting forward from the start position with a press of the A button. Other members of my Locust team took cover on a nearby wall or sprinted forward in a crouch position ” also activated from the A button – into the impending fray.

This button is the lifeblood of “Gears of War”. It controls your character’s ability to take cover behind a wide range of objects and structures with a single press. Almost anything visible on the battlefield can be approached and used for cover including guardrails, columns and low half walls. From a cover position, shots can be fired either blindly over the head or by peeking out around a corner. The act of covering is used as frequently as, if not more than, firing.

A single firing trigger is used for all weapons ranging from sniper rifles to hand guns to single shot cannons to grenades. Weapons are swapped with a press of the D-Pad in the direction of the weapon desired. In the case of grenades, throwing them is two-part process. The first click of the fire trigger brings up an adjustable path line the grenade will follow when thrown. When the path looks good, a second click sends the grenade on its way. Madden fans will feel like they’re kicking a field goal while lining up lobs.

Most of us played it safe by taking cover behind large objects and firing from afar in the first couple matches. I found the analog controls a touch loose, making it difficult to accurately lock onto an enemy from these long distances. This is probably more a personal quip than a fault with the game that is easily adjusted in the menu.

As we became used to the controls it became apparent an enemy in a cover position doesn’t have the range of periphery vision he’d have while not taking cover. This false sense of security opens up the opportunity to sneak up behind them and hold the X button (with the machine gun only) to initiate a melee chainsaw kill. Once we discovered this tactic, players became more aggressive and the pace picked up at least two-fold.

When a player is gunned down they aren’t ready to head six feet under just yet. As in “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter,” a fallen teammate can be resuscitated with a press of the X button. Unfortunately in the 7 matches played I was gunned down twice and not once did one of my Locust mates bother to revive me from the dead. Instead, a COG soldier came by and put me out of my misery for good.

Another useful button action provides two distinct advantages in mere seconds. A quick press of the right bumper will reload a weapon – as expected in any shooter game. When this click is initiated, a light appears on the screen for a brief moment. If the button is clicked again before the light vanishes, the reload action will be completed much faster. In addition, the rounds in that clip will be twice as effective against enemies. On the flip side, if the second button press misses, the reload action will be slowed dramatically. This gamble can either pay off handsomely or leave someone caught with their pants down.

The full ”Gears of War” multiplayer control scheme is as follows:

  • Right Bumper: Reload/Fast Reload
  • Left Bumper: Objectives/Squad
  • Right Trigger: Fire weapon/grenade status
  • Left Trigger: Target mode
  • Y Button: Look at point of interest
  • B Button: Melee attack, hold for chainsaw
  • X Button: Revive team member
  • A Button: perform cover move/action

I don’t consider myself an expert shooter by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, more often than not I’m one of the first people to die in “Halo 2” or any Tom Clancy game. But in Gears I found much more success that is 100% attributable to the cover system. Because of this system that is always in use, “Gears of War” is a much different multiplayer experience than “Halo 2” and debatable as the killer Xbox 360 app because of this unique fighting nature gamers will need to become accustomed with. So please, lets stop the comparisons now and let Gears ride on its own merit.

We’ll be back with some great screenshots in a little bit.

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