Save game … What I’m playing right now

Crunch: the X-ray vision in Mortal Kombat in action.

Right, this is where I tell you what games I’m playing at the moment. I’ve got several sitting on my computer desk as I type this (Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters, Crysis 2, The Sims Medieval, Shift 2: Unleashed) but the two that have captured my attention for the past week are Mortal Kombat and the Gears of War 3 beta.

More on GOW3 beta later, but let’s talk about Mortal Kombat: up until now I’ve never had a love affair with Mortal Kombat. I’ve never played the series from the very beginning so don’t have any feelings invested in it. I can’t say “Oh, No. 3 in the series kicked the butt of the No. 4 easily” because, well, I didn’t play either No. 3 or No. 4.

But I’ve played the new Mortal Kombat – and I can sum it up in one word: Wow. I’m hooked.

Appealing to the inner animal in me

I’m slowly making my way through the Story Mode, where you start out as the cocky actor Johnny Cage, and while I’m still feeling my way around the controls (I can definitely see why an arcade stick would really benefit here), the action is smooth and the gameplay addictive. Mortal Kombat, it seems, appeals to the animal in me. The inner warrior – even when an opponent drives a blade through my left thigh and I see it in glorious X-ray vision. I shall be playing more Mortal Kombat this week.

News flash: I suck at Gears of War online

Right, let’s talk about the GOW3 beta which is now open for people who bought the Epic Edition of Bulletstorm. I had early access to the beta through the Friends and Family stage last week and while I hadn’t played an Gears for a good two years, one thing remained constant: I still suck at Gears of War multiplayer.

It took a round (and several deaths) to reacquaint myself with what each button on the controller did and how to make sure I got the chainsaw attached to my lancer working when up close to a Locust enemy. By about the third game, though, it all felt as familiar as waking up and having a homemade latte for breakfast.

The multiplayer beta has three main game types: Team Deathmatch (where you have to eliminate all members of the opposing team. Each team has limited respawns); Capture the Leader (where you have to capture and hold the opposing team’s leader while protecting your own); and King of the Hill (where you have to capture and hold objectives to score enough points to win the round). Weapons and character skins that you unlock during the beta testing will be available to use in the full version of Gears of War 3.

Four maps to get killed blown up in

The four maps in the beta offer both plenty of cover and multiple opportunities to ambush foes but you have to be on your toes so you don’t get flanked from the sides: Old Town is a small map with a medieval theme (chickens wander about) where tight confines, barrels and low walls provide perfect cover for snipers; Trenches takes place in the dusty Locust badlands, with swirling dust clouds that hamper your vision; Checkout takes place in the tight confines of a supermarket-themed environment dotted with dusty shelves and cash registers; and Thrashball is an American-football-themed map that has an electronic Jumbotron that can drop down on to the playing arena without warning, squashing anyone under it.

During the Friends and Family stage games were sparsely populated with “real” people so games were bolstered with ”bots” – computer-controlled characters – and it often took a while to find suitable games to join. In some matches, only two out of 10 players were ”real” given that there were only three people in our region playing the game.

Game stats slowly improving

After 13 matches, my game stats were slowly improving – as were my skills. At the time of writing, I’d made 101 kills (but been killed 143 times), made 26 executions (brutal finishing moves on a downed enemy), helped my teammates 124 times to despatch a foe, healed squad-mates several times and secured a Most Valuable Player accolade twice. While the AI (artificial intelligence) of the bots (both teammates and enemies) is pretty competent, every now and then it goes a little wonky: I’m sure one bot team mate spent the entirety of one round taking cover behind a sandbag barrier.

Gears of War 3’s multiplayer is brutal, bloody (with spurting blood and squashed heads) and fast-paced – everything that fans of the series will love. Played with friends it’s a helluva lot of fun. The chainsaw bayonet finishing move is as bloody as I remember it and the retro lancer’s finishing move – where you charge your opponent and hoist them into the air – has to be seen to be believed.

On April 26, people who pre-ordered Gears of War 3 from EB Games (why restrict participation to just those who plan to get the game from one game store?) will be able to join the beta, which runs until May 15.

If you’re playing you might see me online sometime this week (My Gamertag is Game junkieNZ)

Gotcha: two female Gears take down a Locust on the Trenches map of the Gears of War 3 beta.

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