It’s time to dust off your chainsaw rifles. The Gears of War 4 multiplayer beta is here.
Set 25 years after the events in Gears of War 3, Gears of War 4 (out October 11 for the Xbox One) stars JD Fenix, who’s the son of franchise hero Marcus Fenix. The beta enables Microsoft developer The Coalition to test its backend technology and gather player feedback months before the big sci-fi shooter’s fall release. Along with Halo, Gears of War is an important franchise for Microsoft because it attracts hardcore gamers to Xbox consoles.
If you’ve played Gears of War: Ultimate Edition on either Xbox One or PC before April 11, you have early access to the Xbox One beta via emailed codes starting April 18. But if not, don’t worry. The multiplayer test is available for all Xbox Live Gold members on April 25. It runs until May 1.
I played a few rounds of the upcoming shooter at a recent preview event in Los Angeles. My five-person team (made up of journalists and YouTube personalities) fought against a group mostly filled with developers. You could tell how either side was doing based on how loud they were yelling. Gears of War games have always been really good at bringing that competitive nature out of people.
In the beta, you’ll have a chance to try out the same weapons, maps, and multiplayer modes that I played. It can seem overwhelming, especially if you’re playing a Gears of War game for the first time, so I wrote down a few tips to help get you started. Hardened veterans might want to skip to the next section to see what’s new.
Newbies should familiarize themselves with the basics. The beta has a training area where you can safely experiment with your weapons before going on to fight other players. Use this time to get a feel for the cover system. The first Gears of War game popularized cover-based combat in shooters, and hiding behind a low wall is just as important today as it was in 2006. Being out in the open for too long only makes you a bullet magnet.
You should also get to know your default weapons before picking up the fancier ones on the battlefield. Your primary gun is the Lancer, a rifle with a deadly chainsaw underneath it. It’s great at shooting enemies from long-range, and when they get too close, you can use the chainsaw to slice them in half — but don’t get too greedy.
It takes a few seconds to rev the chainsaw, leaving you wide open to attacks. And it makes such a loud noise that enemies will know you’re coming before they see you. Pulling off a chainsaw kill takes some patience, but it’s still one of the most satisfying things you can do in any multiplayer game.
For close encounters, the Gnasher shotgun is your best weapon, as you can easily take down both humans and mutated monsters with well-placed body shots. And if all else fails (or if your other two guns run out of ammo), you can use your Snub pistol as a backup.
I asked Gears of War 4 community director Adam Fletcher if he had any more advice for new players. Here’s what he told me.
“Find the gun that you think will work well [for you]. Gears has always been known for Gnashers. … But you don’t always have to use a Gnasher,” said Fletcher. “You can always support your team with the Lancer and use its abilities. The Hammerburst is also in the beta. You can change your loadout [before a match]. If you like long-range combat and want to support your team from a [distance], use the Lancer because it’s the best for that. The Hammerburst is best for mid-range combat because it has a good burst-fire.”
Active reload is also a crucial part of the gameplay.
“The other thing I’ve always recommend is using the active reload system,” added Fletcher. “The active reloads have always been huge in Gears. It’s a skill-based reload that you can time — you’ll see a bar when you’re reloading. Active reloads in Gears 4 is actually different [from before] because you can do an active reload with a full clip and it will add the [bonus damage] power-up to the full clip.”
Though the beta has fan-favorite weapons like the Torque Bow and the Boomshot, Fletcher said veterans should try out the new Dropshot gun as well. It takes some time to get used to the controls: The longer you hold down the right trigger, the farther your shot will go. When you let go of the button, an explosive drill bit drops down and tears apart anyone who happens to be underneath it. The Dropshot also comes with a new brutal execution where you pick up your dying foe and launch their body into the air as you decapitate them with the drill.
Fletcher also recommends using the beta to learn Gears of War 4’s new close-combat options (the training area will tell you how to perform these maneuvers). The Coalition hopes that these new moves mitigate awkward situations seen in the older games, when players on both sides of a wall resort to blind-firing their shotguns in an attempt to push the other person away.
One of the new attacks is the Vault Kick, a faster version of Gears of War 3’s Mantle Kick. Now you can smoothly leap over cover and kick your enemy on the other side without losing momentum. If you can stun an enemy with the Vault Kick, you have a brief window of opportunity to pull off a gory knife kill by mashing the Y button.
The appropriately named Yank and Shank is another option. When someone is hiding on the other side of a piece of cover, you can reach out over the wall and pull them over, which can also lead to a knife execution. Missing with the Yank and Shank, however, is dangerous because you’ll have to wait for your character to finish the grabbing animation. This leaves you completely vulnerable for a few seconds.
If you’re fast enough, you can counter both the Vault Kick and the Yank and Shank by pressing B right when the button prompt flashes on screen.
“The biggest thing I would say [to veteran players] is learn the new close-cover combat stuff,” said Fletcher. “But don’t over-commit! … . Check the surroundings, make sure that no one else is around. Don’t get tunnel-vision [when you try to do] the cool executions or anything like that. At times they’re great, but don’t over-commit.”