There are the new guns, for one thing. With the option to select a fresh load-out before every respawn, Gears 3 now offers variations on both the standard Lancer and Gnasher shotgun for you to pick between. The former comes in the shape of the Retro Lancer, a cobbled-together assault rifle with a bayonet taped beneath it. The gun bucks unpredictably when you shoot it, but that knife stuck below the barrel allows for a stabbing rush attack as a secondary function. A press of the B button sends you charging into a roadie run, and if you've built up enough momentum, you'll be able to gore enemies and fling them behind you: risky but enormously satisfying. Your shotgun options, meanwhile, expand to include a new sawed-off model. It's useless except in very close quarters and takes forever to reload, but it fires with a brilliant hollow blasting sound, and can turn up to three enemies into mincemeat at once if you use it just right.
As for the heavies, there's the One-Shot, which the team refers to as its elephant gun. The One-Shot's a sniper rifle that fires explosive shells. Yeah. The scoped sites and weight make it tricky to move around quickly, but it will turn a foe into mist with no questions asked if you manage to hit them. Then there's the Digger, which sends out an odd little projectile that burrows into the ground and chews its way under cover before exploding (or taking the left turn at Albuquerque). Again, it's relatively stately when it comes to firing, meaning that it's easy to avoid, but it ensures that enemy players have to keep moving, too.
Finally, the beta promises new modes, showcasing three of the final game's six match types. You won't be able to play the brilliant new Beast offering, which sneakily inverts Horde to see you launching Locust attacks on AI Cogs, but instead you'll be able to try out the new Team Deathmatch - in a Gears twist, both sides gets 15 respawns to work through each round, after which the game reverts to the classic last man standing set-up - alongside King of the Hill, which tweaks Annex from Gears 2 so that you can control areas without having to then stay within the glowing radius, and Capture the Leader, a new CTF reimagining which tasks you with tracking down the enemy side's captain and holding them as a meat-shield for a set amount of time. In a smart bit of detailing, the captain makes up for their vulnerability with an ability to see through map geometry and thus direct their team a bit better. It's classic Gears checks and balances all round, in other words.
On top of all that, the beta will be piling on the unlockables, meaning that even a five minute session will result in a shower of toast as you collect ribbons, grind for experience, and get closer to earning special characters and weapon models. One of each, incidentally - Cole in his Thrashball outfit, and a golden Retro Lancer - can only be unlocked in the full-game by first collecting them in the beta.
Best of all, though – better, arguably, than all the new maps, modes, and weapons Epic could cook up – is what's going on behind the scenes. Gears 3 sees its multiplayer content moving to dedicated servers – an expensive shift that suggests just how seriously Epic's taking the matter of host advantage and lag. That alone should give fans of Escalation and Mansion a reason to check out this short taster of the final game. That alone should give newcomers and veterans alike justification to pick up the controller and try out this brutal, strangely thoughtful, meat-grinder for themselves.