Funny thing with game delays. There was a time when a title was kicked back by more than a few months, people would question what was wrong with it.
Suppose it's true of today as well, but there are a few names that don't automatically run up the red flag when such a delay is announced. Grand Theft Auto is one. Anything with 'Valve' emblazoned on it is another. Third? Epic's Gears of War.
It's easy to see the reason behind the push from spring until December next year as Microsoft realigning its big-hitter for top spot come next holiday season. But aside from the obvious marketing potential of the title, you know Epic will be putting that extra time to good use, tinkering with every element of Gears of War 3. Not, as we know, because there's anything inherently wrong with the title. No. The extra time spent will be polishing a great game into an epic one. An extra ten-month window says: "its great, but it can be even better. You want to see perfect? Be ready to look come December."
It's the difference between signing off on an critically-acclaimed franchise with a bang, and signing off with a boom. And here comes the dynamite.
From the E3 reveal, we know this is is Gears does Apocalypse Now, dirt-ridden tunnels and Locust-infested cities replaced with lush jungles and humid heat. It's a sleeveless four-player cooperative Delta serving up fresh Locust meat from their converted aircraft carrier The Raven's Nest and into the island of Vectes. We make no apology for the overuse of the word "new" in the following sentence - blame Epic for upgrading the already cracking Gears gameplay. We've got three new female war vets joining the boys on the latest incursion, new monsters, new weapons alongside re-tweaked favourites, new execution moves and new gameplay modes stockpiled for every occasion and taste.
The Lambent, the mutating Locust that are Epic's answer to Halo's Flood have gained prominence as the main threat to humanity in the intervening time between the 2 and 3. Seen in the game's first teaser trailer, these multi-limbed monstrosities are a danger for any cover-seeking COG, able to thrust mandibles over walls and into your exposed flesh. Going sleeveless might have been a mistake.
All your favourite weaponry will return, and you'll get hands-on with a relic from the war with the Pendulum Lancer, the Lancer Rifle's great-granddaddy. No chainsaw fronting this fella, but a razor-sharp bayonet for gutting Locust shows it's far from being long in the tooth. The shotgun's been in for barrel-shortening surgery, making it a killer at point-blank range but about as accurate as a blind elephant any further back. Tossing a spanner in the works for cover-hunters is the Digger Launcher, an organic ass-chomper that'll dig through the earth and under your position before popping out to explode in your face. There's no more room for chicken-shits in the Gear's world.
Prime cut of the multiplayer gameplay modes is Beast, that Epic has kindly aired out to fans at conventions over the course of this year. You know the drill by now; a multiplayer mode that'll skin players as Locust looking for some human blood. The latter earns points for every kill, the accumulation will allow you to purchase a higher-ranking Locust soldier to play around with. You start with Tickers and Grunts, work your way up to more specialist classes like the Bezerker and the ally-ressurecting monk Locust Kantus. You don't like the odds? Jump back into Horde mode, that's making a welcome return, and be joined by Team Deathmatch and Capture the Leader, as well as slew of others.
Multiplayer as a whole feels more robust this time round. The levelling system has been tinkered with and expanded, and there'll be a series of awards unlocked as you progress. Similar to Call of Duty, these will mix between augmenting your abilities and more visually-satisfying unlocks like character and weapon skins. Epic has clearly learnt from the problems with its second entry into the series as multiplayer will now play out on dedicated servers.
Gears of War 3 is shaping up to be a pretty spectacular beast. It's definitely not lacking in renewed bite, but we'll need to get a proper lengthly hands-on to test its new tweaks to see if its going to take a bite out of the top tier games dominating Xbox Live right now. Still, it all looks bloody tempting.
Which makes that push back until next winter, coupled with whatever new reveal Epic will show for the game come this weekend's Spike VGAs all the more galling. You know Epic though - it's quietly polishing its trilogy finisher in its North Carolina studio, and that shit-eating grin is only getting bigger as the months go by. It knows there's an audience chomping at the bit to play, and its happy to make them wait.
It's great as it is now, that grin seems to say, and it's only going to get better. Come back soon.
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