Here's Why You Need To Play The Gears of War 3 Multiplayer BetaS

I played the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta. I executed other players by swinging the butt end of a bulky rifle at their Locust skull. I even chainsawed Anya. Xbox 360 owners, you'll be able to do the same soon.

Epic Games will release the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta in mid-April, with three game types—their own take on Team Deathmatch, Capture the Leader and King of the Hill—and four maps. Bulletstorm "Epic Edition" owners get it first, non-owners a bit later. The beta will offer familiar, but fun and chunky violence in improved five-on-five battles to the death. You're going to want to play it, Gears fans, to see its new weapons, its tweaked controls and its unlockable prizes that can be redeemed in the retail version of Gears of War 3, which hits on September 20.

Here's what we learned about Gears of War 3 multiplayer last night, what we thought of that delightful massacre and why you're going to need to log into Facebook this weekend.

The Maps

Two maps are already guaranteed to be in the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta: Thrashball and Checkout.

Thrashball, named after the fictional sport played by Cole, is a tight quarters map built in a compact, dilapidated stadium. There's a suspended scoreboard at its center, which displays each teams kills and can be shot down, crushing whoever is unlucky enough to be beneath it when it collapses.

Checkout takes place in a dirty, destroyed shopping center, filled with displays behind which the player can take cover.

View gallery »

Four other maps were on display during the beta preview: Overpass, Mercy, Old Town and Trenches. Only two of those maps, however, will make it into the multiplayer beta. You'll need to visit the official Gears of War Facebook page to vote on which ones you'd like to see. Would you prefer Trenches, with its sandstorm effects that turns the map into a massive dust cloud? Or would you like Overpass, with its high ground advantages and the fight for a deadly turret? Old Town has pumpkins and, according to Cliff Bleszinski, a "skewed and chaotic" feel. Do you like pumpkins in your deathmatch?

Check out all the maps here and decide for yourself. Make it quick. The poll ends Monday.

Unlockable Goodies

Here's Why You Need To Play The Gears of War 3 Multiplayer BetaS

Beta players, you'll be getting some gold and some Cole, if you invest the time. The only way to unlock a Gold Retro Lancer in Gears of War 3 will be to play the beta. First, you'll need to play 90 matches to unlock it in the beta. Then, you'll need to kill 100 players with it. Do so and it's yours when Gears 3 ships.

Maybe easier to acquire will be the Thrashball Cole skin. You'll need to play 70 matches in the beta to unlock Cole's Cougars uniform, then play with it 13 times to unlock it in Gears of War 3 retail. Why those numbers? They add up to Cole's player number, of course.

Guns & Active Reload

In the beta, players will have access to the standard load-out weapons, like the Hammerburst rifle, the Lancer, the Retro Lancer, the Gnasher and the Sawed Off Shotgun. The special weapons you'll have access to, the ones scattered about maps, will depend on which multiplayer maps you vote on. Weapons like the new Digger Launcher and One Shot, plus classics like the Mulcher and Mortar, will be accessible in the multiplayer beta.

Epic is playing around with how Active Reload works, changing the timing on some weapons to offer more strategic reloading opportunities. The Hammerburst assault rifle now has a late AR window, with an extended window of opportunity after the "perfect reload" mark. The Retro Lancer does the inverse, offering an AR window before that perfect reload marker. It's up to you to decide whether the trade-off of reload speed versus damage boost is better for your needs.

The Controls [Corrected]

Gears of War 3 features a few control tweaks too. Players will likely feel at home, but less frustrated with some of Epic's changes. Two buttons have tap and hold variations. Tapping X lets you pick up a downed teammate or grab a downed enemy as a "meat shield," holding for a second longer it lets you pick up a weapon or ammo. There's a mini-progress meter to illustrate that, one that moves much quicker than, say, a similar function in Fable III.

On the Y button, a tap will curbstomp a bad guy quickly. Holding Y performs an longer, weapon-specific execution.

And speaking of meat shields, players now have the option of using grenades while holding a body. Simply press up to pick a frag grenade, for example, and your character will jam it into the back of the meat shield's head, kick them forward and sending that exploding body at your enemies. It works with smoke grenade too, offering a chance to escape behind a puff of smoke.

The main reason you'll want to play the Gears of War 3's multiplayer beta is that it's wild, hyper-violent fun. We only got to experience Team Deathmatch during our hands-on, which flips the score in an interesting way. Instead of trying to reach a max kill count, each team has 15 credits. Each death takes away a credit, and when a team's counter reaches zero, team members can no longer respawn. That message "No More Respawns," adds a palpable feeling of tension to battles.

The other two modes, Capture the Leader, which gives each team a captain—a "meat flag"—with special abilities to view enemies on the playfield. Each team's objective is to capture and hold the Leader, a capture the flag mode with a twist. King of the Hill, from what we heard, sounds like your standard, well, king of the hill mode but with a slight twist. The capture point your team will need to occupy moves around the map at an unspecified interval, forcing teammates and enemies to scramble to control the point.

We'll have more from the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta soon.

Update: An earlier version of this story had inaccurate information about control changes to the X and Y button and unclear information on Active Reload windows. It has since been corrected.