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Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta to hit mid-April

At its February Xbox Showcase event in San Francisco, Microsoft and its games partners unveil the biggest titles and add-ons coming in the next few months.

Gears of War 3 creator Cliff Bleszinski, left, talks about his new game at the February Xbox Showcase event in San Francisco.
Daniel Terdiman/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--Fans of the Gears, put a big circle around April on your calendars: the public multiplayer beta of Gears of War 3 will be opening up around the middle of that month.

At Microsoft's Xbox February Showcase event here today, the company announced the timing of the Gears of War 3 beta opening, as well as a slew of other game-related new items. Among them: that on March 15, the Halo: Reach "Defiant Map Pack" would go on sale; the availability of Halo Waypoint, a mobile stat-checking feature for the mega-hit franchise that will be accessible online or for Windows Phone 7; new add-ons for Fable III; the March 22 release of Crysis 2 3D; and much more.

Each year, Microsoft hosts a showcase event like this one to reveal the games and add-ons that it will be highlighting in coming months. With the Game Developers Conference set to start Monday here as well, one thing is clear: the video game industry is in full swing as winter fades away and spring gets ready to emerge.

Although Microsoft has sometimes used the Xbox showcase event in the past to release news about the console itself, today's event was entirely about games.

The Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta "will give fans a chance to experience three new Versus Multiplayer modes on four new maps," Microsoft and Gears developer Epic Games said in a release. The full version of the game is expected to be released September 20 worldwide, except in Japan, where it will hit on September 22. And Microsoft and Epic said that fans of the game will get a chance to help decide which maps will appear in the beta. They can do so by visiting the Gears Facebook page.

The Halo: Reach Defiant Map pack will introduce players to three new battlefields, the release said. "Set in the heat of the legendary Battle of Reach, the three new warfronts--Condemned, Highlands, and Unearthed--are primed for nonstop action in Firefight and all competitive multiplayer modes."

And since Halo is so crucial to the success of Xbox, Microsoft couldn't resist more news about the franchise. The Halo Waypoint will let players share all their game stats and let them "compare against friends from the palm of your hand."

Another big upcoming release is that of Lionhead Studios' Fable III, which will be available for PCs in North America on May 17. The game will bring players "back to Albion."

Other games and add-ons announced at the event included:

• Homefront, from Kaos Studios and THQ, which "asks civilians to stand united, fight back, and defend their 'Homefront." The game and all add-ons will be available on Xbox Live and in stores on March 15.

• Child of Eden, from Q Entertainment and Ubisoft. This is a "multi-sensory shooter from the mind of...Tetsuya Mizuguchi that will send players diving into a kaleidoscopic matrix of synchronized music and mind-bending visuals."

• Batman: Arkham City, from Rocksteady Studios, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, and DC Entertainment. Expected to be released this fall, the game follows on the original Batman: Arkham Asylum, "sending players into Arkham City, the new maximum security home for all of Gotham City's thugs, gangsters, and insane criminal masterminds."

• Age of Empires Online for Windows, from Gas Powered Games.

• Shift 2: Unleashed, from Slightly Mad Studios and Electronic Arts. This is the 17th game in the Need for Speed series, and according to Microsoft, this version features an all-new rendering engine as well as a full graphics overhaul. The game will launch on Xbox on March 29.