Back when the Xbox 360 first launched it was starved for a killer app. The system seemed nice, but without a Halo game, many wondered why they had bothered to upgrade. Those concerns quickly vanished when Gears of War arrived. The game was gorgeous, to say the least, and its brutal and innovative third-person shooter gameplay set the stage for many copycats to come. It wasn’t so much a Halo Killer as it was a totally different alternative that filled some of the gap left by that much vaunted series.

After a few sequels the Gears of War series might have lost a bit of its luster, but fans still yearn for more, and the franchise still delivers. Gears of War 4 seems ready to do the same, with a new storyline full of fresh characters, and a totally new enemy to deal with. While the campaign promises a lot of interesting content for fans to dive into, we’ve gotten a chance to check out the multiplayer component in the Gears of War 4 Beta.

Here too we see a bit of the new, but the story is really how well the team has stuck to what makes Gears of War work so well. Fast, brutal action with a tinge of strategy, as you still need to watch your back, work as a team, and take control of key areas of the map. This tiny slice of the game is a nice showcase for the upcoming shooter, giving players a glimpse of the classic Gears multiplayer, with just enough new pieces added to keep things engaging.

What the team at The Coalition seemed to focus in on were areas where the first few Gears games might have faltered. Cover plays an immeasurably important role in the series, and yet it hadn’t really been expanded on since the first game. That changes with Gears of War 4 and its new CCC or Close Cover Combat system. Now, when you and an enemy are on opposite sides of cover, you have more options then just popping shots at them, or hopping over and causing them to stagger.

Instead you can actually rip them out of cover, reaching over the barricade and pulling them onto your side for some up close fighting. If done correctly you should pull them over and stab them, finishing them off with ease. However, that would be too easy, so there is some way to counter it by the other player, resulting in a bit of a tug of war match to see who comes out victorious.

But what if you are heading into cover and spot an enemy already occupying the other side of that space? That’s where the new Vault Kick comes in. Without ever stopping or even slowing down you can initiate this move and hop right over the cover, kicking the enemy in the face. This is much faster and more fluid than the previous “mantle kick”, where you stop at the cover and hop over. It can also be countered, keeping things competitive between all players.

There are also some new weapons, with the Dropshot being a particular standout. This explosive weapon fires a rocket into the air, which will then drop its bomb onto any enemy underneath it. This can effectively take out an enemy who has turtled behind some cover. Like the Torque Bow, it is difficult to wield correctly, but ridiculously satisfying when done well.

These are the new things, but what about the core gameplay? After all, that is what has made Gears of War such a powerhouse of a franchise. It seems that The Coalition has taken most of their cues from Gears of War 3, leading to a faster, and more frantic play style than the first game. This isn’t bad at all, and should please longtime series fans, but if you were looking for something more in line with the first game, you might be disappointed.

Map control and teamwork are still key, leading to a very tactical experience all around. Teams who know where the power weapons spawn, get there fast, and take control, will dominate matches. With the standard Team Deathmatch that means they will deplete the other team’s respawn counter, and finally kill off their remaining guys. Being that last man standing is just as stressful as ever, though when you pull off a massive upset, taking out multiple enemies before finishing them off in an epic 1v1 matchup, it is true gaming bliss.

For those who want a more traditional, no respawn style match, the Gears of War 4 Beta won’t necessarily deliver. That mode will almost certainly be in the final game, with The Coalition promising multiple game modes, including some that focus on eSports. However, the only game modes in this beta are the standard Team Deathmatch, a co-op TDM with AI bots, and a new one called Dodgeball.

Dodgeball is definitely closer to that classic mode, but with an interesting twist. The game mode allows for comebacks, as each time you eliminate an enemy, one of your dead teammates can come back into the match. If you want to win, you have to swarm the other team, taking out multiple of their players before they can mount a comeback. The back and forth nature of this game mode is definitely engaging, and could lead to some truly epic gameplay opportunities.

Gears of War 4 Beta 2

In terms of maps, there are three available here. They don’t really offer up anything that unique between them, but they are fairly standard Gears of War maps. There are nice cover spots, and control points for teams to rally around, and while the spawn points are a bit close and out in the open, the few seconds of spawn protection make attacking them a bad idea for any team.

That’s all that the Gears of War 4 Beta has in terms of gameplay, but it also offers a glimpse into the technicals of the experience. The Coalition is promising 1080p and 60fps visuals for the final product, but admit that this beta is a true early access opportunity, so they aren’t there yet. Indeed, the presentation here is not up to the usual standards of this epic series, but with months left before launch, it shouldn’t be judged on these merits just yet.

Overall the Gears of War 4 Beta gives a great look at what the game is shaping up to be. The team has definitely stuck to the roots of the series, only straying in a few key areas that seem to make for a better experience. Some problems definitely arose during my time with the beta, but that is to be expected this far out. With some polish it looks like we could be in for some more great Gears of War action.