The first map that my three-man COG team (I played as the COG the entire time; I still can’t bring myself to play as the Locust.—DN) tackled was the Garden. The term “garden” just about suits this map, in the context of Gears’ post-apocalyptic art style, that is. Sporting more odd flora and fauna than Jurassic Park, The Garden is a sight to behold. Dense cover abounds, which is also parlayed with multiple atrium rotundas that break up this decently sized map.
The amount of natural light in the Garden is evident from your first step, which may surprise some Gears of War players for a bit. Once you adjust to the amount of light, you may also want to start paying attention to those wisps of fog that have a distinct green tint to them. In fact, this eerie cover isn’t fog at all, but a deadly gas, which is surely some type of over-engineered Miracle-Gro for the future. Enticing you into the fog-of-death are weapon pick-ups, but I found out the hard way that a plod through this stuff is instant death. To shut the gas off, you need to interact with a nearby control panel—only then can safe trespassing can commence.
The near-antithesis to Garden, Bullet Marsh was our follow-up map. A map can get no more dimly lit than Bullet Marsh; at one point I had to double-check to see if the LCD panel was still plugged in. Yeah, it’s that dark—on purpose, of course.
You’ll probably see about seventy percent of Bullet Marsh. The other thirty percent is nearly blacked out to keep suspense high around the structures, outdoor pathways and wetlands of the map. Did I mention there’s a deluge while you’re trying to see three feet in front of you? This helps cast a bit of a shadow on some of the environmental objects, but you still don’t want to be the soldier leading the brigade if you haven’t gotten your feet wet in the marsh yet.
I overheard one of the Locust players talking about taking out the generator. Once this old dog was taken out, the map—believe it or not—got even darker. The path I was on was nearly pitch black and not safe by any means. An experienced teammate told me to “Watch out for the…” but before he could finish, I was near a car, being decimated by the Kryll.
The Kryll lurk in the very darkest corners of Bullet Marsh, so you’ll definitely want to steer clear of those areas. If you wander into one of those spots, it’s almost too late, as once the shrieks kick in, it’s lights out for your soldier. Since I was lagging behind and trying to follow the footsteps of my teammates, there was nobody behind me to realize that I was down-and-out from this futuristic take on Hitch****’s The Birds. Without hearing gunshots, the team didn’t know I needed to be saved, which meant I just had to lay there until the adversaries made their rounds near our spawn point. They were nice enough to put me out of my misery, though. Yeah, thanks for the crushed skull, Gamertag XDK546328.
Then it was on to Process. We spent the least amount of time here, because it seemed to be the least favorable fit for our slightly smaller clan size (or maybe they were still working on a few things…it’s hard to say for sure). Process is short for “processing plant,” as in a subterranean Imulsion (a futuristic fuel source) unit still chugging along—or so it appears to be.
There’s natural light in Process, but it’s apparent that the plant is in the caves, so any bright sources are sporadic and from high overhead. The cave dwelling also makes the terrain very uneven, a mixture of traversble (earth) and impassable (water, toxic waste, etc.) areas. Connecting the passable and impassable areas is a maze of metal catwalks of varying elevations. Many of these catwalks are elevated, which help to bring a vertical scale to Gears of War that has rarely been seen up to this point. This allows accurate marksmen to excel in Process, while the narrow catwalks, at the same time, seem to take the edge away from the melee ballet.
One thing that everybody can benefit from in Process, however, is the use of stealth tactics, as quick movement on the metal grating of the walks is a telltale sign that something evil is literally afoot. It’s also safe to say that higher ground locations in Process, especially those with heavy cover in the form of plant objects (flutes, generators, pipes, etc.), are the best routes to victory. The cover in Process may be a bit more open than most Gears’ maps, but the trade-off here is that you can find peep spots through these lattice-like structures for stealthy shots.
The last and probably most impressive of all of the Hidden Fronts maps is Subway. The name couldn’t be any more self-explanatory (except maybe to commercial celeb Jared)—you’ll be battling in what looks like a modern day, but desecrated, subway station. This means that the once-bustling station is situated underground a good ways to make room for the mechanics of the rail system. Subway, therefore, possesses similar verticality as Process, albeit in a southward instead of northward direction.
The elevation changes in Subway are more gradual than in Process, but once you are at a certain elevation, the variance in height is greater. This means heading to and controlling the higher ground is of utmost importance in Subway—and also why this is the best Gears of War multiplayer map to date.
The built environment of the abandoned subway makes for some interesting combat moments. Multiple railways equal multiple trenches, which can be used uniquely for cover. If there happens to be a subway car occupying said trench, it, too, can be used creatively for cover. The abandoned subway cars not only bridge the gap of these indentations in the earth, but they also inspire heated melee combat, since they are so closed-quarters in nature. Some have only one entrance and exit way, while others continue right on through, which allowed for several occurrences of disgruntled COG Southbounder versus agitated Locust Northbounder.
Of course, there are the usual GoW cover items, such as chunks of concrete and various other rubble, that will keep you covered when not playing around on the trains. There’s also a fair amount of light that creeps through from the surface in Subway. Subway cars also throw off light for effect, and gaping holes in the ceiling allow in splinters of brightness that give this map that signature GoW “beautiful destruction” look.
Although I would have had more fun wasting a bunch of noobs—instead of being the noob—the Hidden Fronts proved their worthiness after only a few short minutes of gameplay. The look of each map carries on the aesthetic that Epic worked so hard at perfecting (and perfect it the development house did), but it’s really the chances that the studio took with elevation and variance of cover that pays off in the Hidden Fronts set. The usage of interactive environmental objects, such as the generator in the marsh or the gas controls in the Garden, pay the user dividends, too, by helping to carry out the concept of team throughout the experience (Annex and/or Assassination gametypes come to mind).