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Gears of War 3 Horde mode preview: Cash, challenge waves and boss battles, oh my!


Epic has been waiting to reveal Horde mode for Gears of War 3 for quite some time. I was able to go through two different sessions, ten waves a piece, each putting me Lancer-to-face with some of the Locust horde's toughest enemies. Make no mistake: some of the tougher nasties from Gears of War 2 make a return, but now COG soldiers have to take down Berserkers and immulsion-infected Lambent Locust, too.

But that's not the biggest change. Horde mode is now held up by a cash system. Players earn skrilla by killing enemies and surviving waves. Cash goes into everything: ammo, new guns (save for the ones picked up from dead enemies, of course), barriers, decoys, turrets and the Silverback, a bipedal mech sporting dual chainguns and some rocket launchers (it was shown during the Microsoft E3 2011 press conference). Cash can also resurrect players, and can be shared with all teammates via a handy chest.

Gallery: Gears of War 3 (Horde mode) | 8 Photos

It's not a bad system and works, to be sure -- it's just an uninteresting and dated concept. Gone are the moments when there are a few enemies left, the last COG soldier fighting for dear life as his teammates either cheer him on or curse his very soul through the headset. Now you can just buy your way out of death.

Thankfully, the action itself is satisfying. A wider set of enemies mixes up the action considerably. Drudge soldiers -- Locust Drones twisted from Immulsion -- require an exact tactic to defeat: shoot their glowing bits and watch them explode. Sometimes they mutate into giant tentacles that slither along the ground, out of sight, ready to pounce on unsuspecting COG soldiers.

And then there are the boss waves, which occur every tenth wave, where Berserkers, Boomers, Maulers and Kantus rush you as hard as they can. Managing the flow of enemies and trying not to die is a tense experience, and it's satisfying when your team comes together and overcomes the seemingly insurmountable odds. But then again, if you die you can just part with some cash bucks to resurrect, so it takes a bit away from the experience.

Challenge waves also pop up every fourth wave, teasing players with more cash and ammo should they manage to meet the criteria. Chainsaw six enemies in one wave, clear the wave in under three minutes and use the turret to mow down seven Locust, are just a few of the Challenges I encountered. It helps to mix things up and is a good way to make a quick buck, especially if your teammates keep dying or you've got one weirdo on your team who wants to upgrade a turret to maximum capacity all the way on the other side of the level, away from your squad.

Spending cash is easy, but the objects you can buy in the game have a permanent place in the environment. You can't pick where you build a turret -- you simply head over to the area of the map with the large silhouette of the turret and if it's green, you can buy it. If it's red, you can't. If it's yellow, it needs to be repaired.

Horde mode is serviceable, for sure, but after inspiring a generation of multiplayer games, I expected a considerable evolution of the original formula in Gears of War 3. I expected ingenuity, not the exciting new world of post-apocalyptic capitalism.

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