At a Microsoft media event here in Singapore we went hands-on with OverRun, one of two new multiplayer modes that Gears of War: Judgement is bringing to the table. How does it play? In a nutshell: You’ve played Gears of War before, but never in a fashion quite like this.
Truth be told, the OverRun mode is more or less a natural progression from the Beast mode and improved Horde mode introduced in Gears of War 3.
In OverRun, one team of five assumes a faction of Coalition of Gears (CoG) operatives, while the other team (also with five players) assumes that of the Locusts. This is an objective-based game mode, and that objective is a generator that the humans have to protect from the Locust swarm.
Teams will take turn to play as the CoGs and the Locusts in two consecutive rounds. The time limit for a typical round is six minutes. Whichever team can bring down the CoGs’ generator the fastest while playing as the Locusts, wins.
Unlike a standard Team Deathmatch setup, each faction is not a palette swap of the other; instead, both the CoGs and the Locusts have different classes. Heck, they even have different numbers of different classes.
On the human side, you pick from four: Engineer, Medic, Soldier and Scout.
On the Locusts’ side, you have a few more options. Like the humans, at the start of a round you can only pick from four classes. But perform well during a match, and you’ll eventually earn points that you can redeem to use four additional “power” classes.
Here, this video can explain the differences within the classes much better than I can:
By now you may have heard that there’s been some changes made to the control scheme in Gears of War: Judgement. Those control changes affect OverRun, too.
Most notably (or notoriously, depending on your perspective), the Y button now lets you switch between your two primary weapons.
It appears that in GoW:J you only carry two weapons instead of four – two primaries, one pistol, and a grenade – in past instalments.
Part of this change in control scheme is due to the developers wanting to shift the grenade command to Left Bumper, so that players can quickly lob one out in dangerous situations, rather than slowly fumble through the d-pad menus for a few seconds to bring out that grenade.
Essentially, the control tweaks take away a secondary weapon (so you have two weapon choices now instead of three), and remaps the grenade function.
While that doesn’t sound very limiting within the confines of single-player, in OverRun while I was playing as certain classes – such as the Engineer on the CoG team – I definitely wished for the ability to carry a third weapon. Because the Engineer wields a standard-issue shotgun, and a freaking blowtorch. And it’s not for melting your enemies’ face off, which given Gears of War’s pedigree, wouldn’t be that far off from something you’d expect to happen in this game.
Nope, no awesome face-melting shenanigans here. All you’ll do with that blowtorch, is to repair structures with.
But having played several rounds of OverRun with other members of the Singapore press corps, I have to say: repairing strucutres is easily the most important job on the CoG team.
Before the Locusts can get to the CoGs’ precious generator, they must first breach a number of defense mechanisms, which include spiked fences and other blockades.
Once destroyed, these defense mechanisms will never respawn again. And so the only way to keep them in place is to repair them the moment they take damage.
But at the same time, you can’t just focus on repairing structures; you will need some firepower to kill off the Locust players before they can focus-fire on a single structure and overwhelm you.
And while the Engineer does have some offensive capabilities – before you get down to repairing structures, you can set-up a turret to put out some cover fire (this command is mapped to the LB button, and replaces your grenade throw) – it’s not nearly enough.
For that you’ll need the Soldier and Scout players to do their job. The Soldier is armed with a Lancer assault rifle along with the Boom Shot and a “drop ammunition” skill to help your teammates resupply. Whereas the Scout is armed with a sniper rifle, a pistol, and a beacon grenade that can map out enemy positions, and intensify the damage those marked enemies will receive when shot.
You’ll need a lot of communication and teamwork to prevent that generator from getting blown-up; as we found out during the media preview session, it is possible to take cover somewhere and safely take regular pot-shots at the generator.
It’s quite clear that the Locusts have the advantage in OverRun, but that’s by design. You need to eventually give the Locusts enough firepower to break through the humans’ defense and destroy that generator.
In other words, as the CoGs, you’ll need to actively seek out Locusts and kill the ones who camp and take pot-shots, rather than focus on just a defensive strategy.
On the flipside, it may seem that you’d require less teamwork and communication when playing as the Locusts. And, once again, this is something we tried – as the Locusts it is definitely possible to bring down the generator fairly quickly even if every member on your team is pretty much running around doing their own team. That’s how powerful the Locust classes are.
But remember, folks, the clock is ticking. At the end of the day, winning or losing really comes down to how well you play the Locust team, really.
And that brings me to what I think is the most beautiful thing about Gears of War: Judgement’s OverRun mode: it is designed to appeal to both hardcore and casual GoW players.
The core Gears of War players will appreciate the intricate strategies that will unfold as they get better and better at shaving seconds off the clock, as Locusts.
As the humans, they may also develop communication and teamwork skills almost to the point that they may seem psychic to the opposing team.
But if you don’t really care about the competitive streak in games, it’s still a lot of fun to kickback, relax, and play a game of target practice as the CoG operatives, and a game of trolling your enemies while on the Locusts’ side.
And that’s just one of the new ways to play Gears of War. We haven’t even got our paws on the Survival mode (an improved version of Horde, with Judgement’s new CoG operative classes), or played much of the new single-player-slash-co-op campaign yet.
There’s a lot to look forward to, even if you think you’ve seen it all in three Gears of War games.
Gears of War: Judgement hits all good video game stores in Singapore March 19, 2013.
The M18 game will be sold for the standard retail price of S$69.
Gamers who pre-order before March 18 will be entitled to goodies such as a G.O.W. metal keychain and five in-game content tokens… but don’t actually wait till March 18!
Early-bird pre-orderers will also receive an exclusive GOW T-shirt absolutely free. So if you’re planning to pick this up day one, might as well go pre-order the game now.