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Gears of War 'Annex'

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[Following my Path]
Sep 24, 2006
Square Enix
Article and Description from 1UP

With all the matches being played on Live each day it sounds pretty strange to call multiplayer a "weakness" for Gears of War. But even the most avid of those players recognize that the basic team deathmatch variants available only graze the surface of the team-play potential of the game. This week Epic plans to release Annex, a new game mode that steps up in a big way to fulfill more of that promise. And we're not just saying that; we've played it, and afterward it left no doubt that once released this is the new mode of choice everyone will be playing.
This new game type follows the basic model of capturing and holding control points to score points. In this case, those control points are a small ring of light that forms around the weapon spawn points on the level. Because those spots are already part of the game, the new Annex mode works with all the existing maps, including Raven Down and Old Bones. At any time only one of them will be active, starting with 60 points. When a team captures it, they start scoring those points, one per second. Once that clock starts ticking, it doesn't stop until all the points drain from that site. If the other team takes control, the points flow to them, but regardless, when 60 seconds have passed it dries up, and a new weapon spawn point is randomly chosen as the next control point.

In practice, this forces your team to make quick on-the-fly strategy decisions as the clock ticks down on each successive site. After the mad rush to take a new control point cools, if your team fails to capture it there's a real sense of urgency to get it back over the first thirty seconds or so. Beyond that, you start thinking more and more about positioning for the next spawn point as the points remaining at the current source dwindle. Because that next spot gets chosen randomly, though, it's a risk-reward gamble. If your team takes that current spot with only 5 seconds left, you know you get 5 points, but betting right and getting a jump on the next could net your team several points while your out of position opponent has to regroup. Another tricky approach we used was to keep the heat on the defending team forcing them to stay at home to defend right up to the last second, and then ambushing them as they tried to get to the next control point with three of our team while the fourth went to grab then new site.

Check out this new video of Annex in action. Story continues below.

A couple of additional wrinkles keep the action virtually nonstop, and the battles fluidly swinging back and forth. First, as you expect from this sort of game, players get infinite respawns. These come in 15-second waves, with everyone coming back to life together. To prevent spawn camping each wave spawns at a new, randomly chosen spot, and you get a brief period of invulnerability. After so many Gears games of anxiously waiting to get to next round after being killed, having respawn alone makes Annex a breath of fresh air.

The other twist helps keep the battles from becoming too predictable. Once a team captures a control point, it doesn't have to keep anyone positioned within the ring to hold it. In fact, doing so makes you a sitting duck many times. What usually happens is that after taking control, your teammates flank out, covering the approaches. This also encourages each team to develop role players. Having a mix of long and short-range specialists gives you more options on how to handle each unique site. For one of our most successful stints we had a sniper moving for overwatch positions to cover us, two of us with lancers to defend or attack the perimeter and one shotgun soldier to get in close or hold last defense in the circle.

Also on the subject of little tweaks, during our matches it felt like the Lancer packed a little more punch. Sure enough, when pressed Epic admitted that some boost to its power would be part of the update as well. At the time we played the balance had been tipped just enough that if you saw someone doing a roadie run at you with a shotgun you could drop them before they got up in your face. Factor in an active reload, and Gear's signature weapon looks a lot better than it had. And that's not all there is to look forward to. Not part of this update, but coming soon, are four new maps. We played on one called "Subway" that was a two-level affair with a streetscape set in the governmental sector of the city with its classic buildings and an underground subway station. Action particularly heated up in the station where two entries, numerous columns, and a couple of railcars offered ample cover and firing positions. For those hoping to see new environments, while we didn't get to see it, we heard one of the other maps is titled "Bullet Marsh" which has us plenty intrigued.

There'll be plenty of time to learn new maps. For now, getting down the nuances of working together as a team, determining your tactics, and all the while watching the clock tick down on the current scoring site makes Annex pretty intense. Over the course of our matches the rounds went by in a blur. The default setup is first to 240 (4 x 60 seconds holding a site) wins a round, but you can set your own if you want from 120 to 480. Likewise, number of rounds to win the match is up to whomever creates the game. 240 points per round felt like a good fit with the pace of the game because it allowed enough time for the fights to swing back and forth, and let a team mount a comeback if it could, but if it couldn't they didn't drag out too long. That machine gun pace, and constant tactical flow from strategy to counter, always trying to think one step ahead -- what if the torque bow is the next spawn point? Are they guarding this approach high or low? -- puts Annex in position to become the definitive way to play Gears online.

Video of Gameplay: GameVideos.com - Gears of War 'Annex' teaser HD

Enjoy! (This looks pretty cool. But it only pertains to XBox Live players. =[)
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