Gears of War: The evolution of multiplayer
Gears of War can be considered as a ‘Marmite’ game for most online gamers, you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it. There is no middle ground and if there was then it would surely be littered with limbs, guts and skull fragments of the players that tried and failed to see GoW for all of its beauty.
It’s not well-known that the first title in the series wasn’t even supposed to have multiplayer, it was just thrown in at the last-minute of development and nobody knew how it would be received. I picked it up because of the single player campaign. I actually bought an Xbox 360 for the campaign mode alone, not much was known about the multiplayer at that time but the fact that it fired straight to the top of the Xbox Live multiplayer charts said a lot.
Gears of War can be forgiven for many of its online glitches and there were a lot, Epic tried the best they could to try to prevent these glitches but as they squashed one, more would seem to take its place. Did this detract from the online side of things? Sometimes. Overall though, GoW offered something unique: a game that requires a lot of skill and, more importantly, teamwork.
Looking back, I used to spend around 4-5 hours every night with a team of guys. We used to work together as if the threat was real, we barked orders at each other, we set up traps for the enemy, we outflanked the other team at every given opportunity. This was a game that required the most hardcore of tactics to survive. We didn’t always win but the host shotgun always helped matters, but more on that later.
When news of Gears of War 2 being in development landed on the internet, everyone got excited. New maps, new weapons and new characters were going to bring a fresh look to the game but when it arrived it was a very dark day for Epic Games.
Looking back to the launch I stood outside GAME for an hour in the cold, queuing for my most anticipated title, I got it home, stuck it in my drawer and prepared to blast some noobs online, 10 minutes went by and then another 10, and then a further 10… Match could not be found. The matchmaking system was heavily broken. Unless you had a party of 5 players you were doomed to sit and stare at the matchmaking screen.
When we finally did get a game, we were heavily confused by the new ranking system and the overwhelming power of the host shotgun. Smoke grenades would knock us on the floor just to be chainsawed as soon as we rise.
It’s safe to say that GoW2 was utterly broken to its highest degree and Epic were aware of this. Over the last 2 years Epic have constantly released title updates to fix a range of issues. Not a lot of people know this but every update past the first update has to be paid for by the developer. How many other developers do you know that has such commitment to its audience? None. Some people would argue that they should have spent more time tweaking the multiplayer before release. Some people say they should have released a beta. The power of hindsight is an incredible thing is my reply. The fact of the matter is no matter how bad things got, Epic stood by us shoulder to shoulder. They have learnt from their mistakes and made the game an incredible experience online for those that chose to stay with it.
Another evolution that GoW2 introduced was Horde mode, I think this mode was created for the high volume of people that get their asses handed to them online by unforgiving players. It really helps you fine tune your tactics and gets you into the spirit of reviving fallen comrades on the battlefield. It helps you learn how to use each weapon without fear of being knocked down and then ‘raped’ by a pro. Horde mode really introduced survival game play on the Xbox with a unique setting.
Other game modes were introduced too, Wingman for people who like to pair up and try to kill 8 other players (or for fans of Top Gun), King of the Hill, Meatflag and new rules Annex. Nothing tops Warzone and Execution though. That is until Gears 3 arrives on Tuesday.
Moving on to Gears of War 3 and it’s clear that Epic have very much learnt from their mistakes. They introduced a beta so that everyone could test out the game mechanics prior to launch. Perhaps the biggest and best move they have made is to introduce dedicated servers. Dedicated servers are going to abolish host shotgun. Everyone will have the same power as everyone else and this was noticeable on the beta. Several times Epic shutdown the dedicated servers and I for one noticed exactly when this happened, one particular player would get a mammoth amount of kills.
During my hands on times with the beta I noticed that the maps have opened up more. Larger landscapes with truly balanced playing areas are available. The new weapons help open up the battlefield more with a carefully aimed digger launcher stopping any team from camping. It will still happen but with more danger.
Will Gears 3 re-invent multiplayer? I don’t know but I do know that fans of the series will be impressed. With Epic already announcing 3 DLC packs coming in further months, we will certainly be in for a treat.