Gears of War 3: shotgun blues

, | Game diaries

I’m hunkered down behind a wall of packed dirt and loose stone. The bullets rip the air a few inches from my face. The wall behind me and the surrounding dirt and cobblestone path explode into bits of debris that rise to form a cloud of dust. A smoke grenade comes sailing in and I slide further down my cover to avoid being stunned. My enemies believe I’m stunned, and I want them to.

After the jump, I count on it.

Here they come, a Thrashball uniform-clad Cole and one of the newest additions to the playable Cogs, Anya Stroud. This particular Cole, with the handle “manbearpig69″*, likes to use the sawed-off shotgun and has already put me down with it a few times. Not this time, though. He charges, expecting me to be momentarily stunned, and finds the business end of my Retro Lancer ventilating his helmet. He’s downed within seconds and one more well-placed shot ends his Thrashball career for good.

I have about a third of a clip left for Anya, who lost a bit of her “warrior spirit” watching her buddy get shot down like a dog. She makes the ultimate mistake: she hesitates. In Gears of War, much like many other shooters, once you’ve committed to attacking, you’d better get to work. Surprise, even crappy surprise, is better than caution. The momentary hesitation keeps her in my avenue of fire long enough to knock her down. I quickly roll toward her and grab her to use as a human shield.

In Team Death Match for Gears of War, the teams are set to a maximum of 5v5, which makes for much smaller games than the average multiplayer. The teams may be small but the action is intense. The maps are designed on the small side, have very few choke points, and you only play until 15 respawns are used. At that point, the players left alive are permanently knocked out upon death. The match I described was close, coming down to two people on my team, me being one of them, alive and fighting off the 3 left on theirs.

This is Team Death Match at its best. The matchmaking feels right, not just because I killed a couple of players and I’m high on murder, but because these players are a challenge. I’d like to be able to say that I ran rampant over the corpses of those who opposed me, but I ate a lot of lead and Lancer blades in that match as well. This is one of two feelings that Gears of War 3 multiplayer imbues. The other is much more sinister.
I play a lot of games with my friend Chris. We have a couple of 360s set up in my gaming room for co-op and multiplayer mayhem. Earlier this evening, during a particularly trying match, Chris turns to me and says the one phrase I was looking for to describe the downside to the Gears of War experience.

“If we ever decide to make a game where the entire goal is to make you cuss, this should be our model.”

The simple truth of that statement is easily explained to the Gears of War outsider: there is no other game that controls or feels quite like this one. That’s good and bad. In the positive, I’ve never seen a game that has the sheer feeling of being in combat. With surround sound, it’s easy to get lost in the action, as the game has a pulpy, guttural feel.

However, the game seems to defy logic in many circumstances. The one cardinal rule to killing a lot of people without actually needing to be good at the game is this: roll and use the shotgun.

“But there’s two shotguns now,” you might say.

“Shut up, this is my story,” I would reply.

Since you can’t actually say that to me and I’m just imagining, I suppose the shotgun situation needs a bit more of a thorough go-over. You see, in the earlier games, you could choose between the Lancer, the Hammerburst, and the Gnasher. The Gnasher is a lever-action shotgun that has a ludicrous range and, if up close, can be a one-shot kill. This wouldn’t be a problem except that in Gears, every other weapon is the equivalent of shooting King Kong in the ass with a pump-action marshmallow launcher. Even at point blank range, that’s not horrifying. The average shotgun-toting psycho you play against in multiplayer Gears of War is going to do two things: run at you, and roll.

Well, I guess there are three things, because then he’s going to blow your face off with his shotgun.
This has always been one of my major complaints about the Gears of War franchise. If I fire 30 rounds from a combat rifle, into your face, you should die. I mean, not everyone is Bullet-Tooth Tony, right? Right? Wrong. In Gears of War you use the shotgun or you die.

Now, that being said, Gears of War 3 has introduced a few new weapons, one in particular to help stop the Cirque du Soleil-inspired madmen that want to ventilate your face. It’s called the Retro Lancer and at first glance it doesn’t seem like a good weapon. It doesn’t have good accuracy, and the range is pretty short, but it does ungodly damage. So, when you’re being charged, surround the offending party’s body with the aiming reticule and pull the trigger. More like than not, you’re target isn’t going to make it to you. On top of that, it comes affixed with a bayonet for old-fashioned charge gorings! For this, the Retro Lancer is awesome. That’s not opinion. That is fact.

It was with this information that I began to feel like I might be able to do some damage in this game. The army of Gnasher-wielding 14-year-olds will fall to my superior rifle skills! It almost worked out that way.
But for every step forward, there seems to be an equally baffling design choice. The other new weapon is the sawed-off shotgun. It’s the most damaging weapon in the game and it only works well up close. So now, instead of maybe dying when a dude rolls up to me out of nowhere, I will die. You don’t have to aim. You roll, pull trigger, gain levels.

Of course, the Retro Lancer works on these guys too, but they’re much harder to deal with. You don’t actually have to, I dunno, aim or anything for the sawed-off to work, so frantic rolling and charging are rewarded with a nice Kill/Death ratio. This is why we cuss.

Up next: more Gears 3

*I’m sad to report that this isn’t his actual Xbox Live ID, but it was close enough to be embarrassing.