With the full retail version set to release later this year, Gears of War 4 currently has an open beta available to Xbox Live Gold members which will be running until May 1, 2016. The beta focuses solely on multiplayer, offering two different game types to those curious enough to experience the still unfinished product. A standard team deathmatch mode pits teams against one another, with a race to eliminate the other team’s ticket count first. Each team only begins with a set number of respawns and once they run out, death is permanent. This means that if someone on your team is frequently dying, the rest of your team will need to become more aggressive in the hopes of wearing down the enemy team faster than they can repeatedly kill your teammate. Sticking together is an almost necessary tactic in this mode simply because the maps are not big enough to allow a plethora of two person combat. More often than not, if you do encounter a single enemy, one of their teammates will stumble into the firefight before someone falls.
The second game mode is Dodgeball which, as the name suggests, is very similar to a game of gym class dodgeball. Teams of five attempt to completely eliminate the opposing team with players only being allowed to respawn when one of their teammates scores a kill. It may seem like the mode will end quickly, but unless one team is significantly more organized than the other, the game actually lasts for a lengthy period of time and has many close calls. As you become a spectator while waiting to respawn, there are few things as intense as watching the last player on your team sneaking around a corner to score a kill or frantically trying to escape a two-on-one scenario. In one match I played, the last player on my team was stuck in the same room as two enemies but they were unaware of his presence so everyone was watching in anticipation to see whether they would find him or wander off and grant him access to a surprise kill. The tension was palpable, all of us hoping for the same outcome but completely uncertain of how it would turn out, followed by the eruption of excitement as both opponents walked away in opposite directions and we got another player back into the game. While it is possible to experience this level of tension in the other game mode when your team is out of respawns, Dodgeball allows this tension to be a constant element. There is no guarantee that your death will not be your last, so there is increased importance placed on every life you get.
Those who have played Gears of War multiplayer before will find themselves in familiar territory. The controls and mechanics are identical to those found in Gears of War 3, including features such as leaping cover to kick an opponent or pressing the left bumper to see weapons and teammates across the map. If you are new to the games, there will undoubtedly be a learning curve, particularly in the way your characters run. Still possessing the crouch-run of a gorilla, there isn’t an excessive amount of mobility while making your way speedily across maps, but fortunately the maps are still designed with this in mind. There are only a handful of sections where you may find yourself sprinting rather than cautiously moving from cover to cover. With the exception of the early moments of a match, you will not spend much time by yourself. Teammates and enemies frequently run through your field of vision thanks to fantastic level design. Spanning across several different heights and providing several areas which overlook a great deal of the battlefield, many players will stumble across strategic locations through sheer luck but more experienced players will know exactly how to navigate the narrow hallways while drawing as little attention to themselves as possible. Simply through watching how players move, you can easily determine who has spent more time with the franchise and who is still trying to learn the ropes. While this makes it easier for you to identify potential targets, stalking specific players across the map is near impossible because of the constant action and number of pathways.
Strewn across the maps in both game types are power weapons and grenades. Using your tactical vision you can determine which weapons are currently available and is a huge assistance in plotting your navigation, but can be quite terrifying if you happen to see a weapon go dark and none of your teammates are in that area. Making your way towards the devastating Dropshot only to take cover and see it is no longer available changes your approach drastically. Speaking of the Dropshot, this weapon has a massive learning curve attached to it. It is one of the most formidable weapons in the game, and in the hands of someone who knows how to wield it, can be a tide-turning weapon. Sadly, until you realize how to properly aim and fire the weapon, the result is generally dropping a mine 10 feet in front of your character and hoping not to suffer any damage.
The beta is relatively limited in terms of maps and game modes, but I still found myself losing hours of my life to the multiplayer. As someone who isn’t the biggest Gears of War fan and was handily destroyed in my first few matches, I was never dissuaded from playing. I only experienced one match which was completely uneven, which is fantastic in comparison to other competitive betas I’ve taken part in over the years. With near constant action, I was never bored, and the inclusion of the Dodgeball game mode caused me to feel more anxiety than I ever have while spectating a teammate. Players who do not have much experience with the Gears franchise may be hesitant to download the beta, but I strongly advise at least trying it out. The absolute worst thing which could happen is discovering that you don’t enjoy the gorilla running or being curb-stomped while trying to revive yourself, but you may also learn that the gameplay has become significantly more enjoyable since you last tried it. It may not result in you pre-ordering the game and you may decide that the beta is more than enough to satiate your hunger for Gears of War action, but there is a large probability that you will enjoy your time with the beta and maybe have a different outlook on dodgeball.
Eric is an Xbox editor for Analog Addiction where you can find all the latest gaming news, previews, reviews, and everything else that rhymes with those words. ‘Like’ Analog Addiction on Facebook to receive all of the updates as they’re posted.