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Gears of War 3 beta is a go

The third iteration of the hit video game goes into beta today. For the next three weeks, players will have a chance to try out new forms of game play.

Get ready, Gearheads--it's on.

The Gears of War 3 beta, that is.

Starting today and for the next three weeks, fans of the mega-hit franchise who pre-ordered the forthcoming game will get their first chance to dive into its third iteration. At a press event for Microsoft's Xbox 360 in February, Gears of War publisher Epic Games said that the new beta "will give fans a chance to experience three new Versus Multiplayer modes on four new maps."

More specifically, from today through May 1, beta participants will experience the new Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill modes on three different fields of battle: Trenches, Checkout, and Thrashball. From May 2 through May 8, fans will get to play Capture the Leader and access a fan-selected map called Old Town. And from May 9 through May 15, Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, and Capture the Leader will be available on all four maps.

The full version of the game is expected to be released worldwide on September 20, except in Japan, where it will hit on September 22.

But during the beta, Epic Games and Microsoft said in a release today, Gears fans can expect a series of "special events and surprises," as well as the ability to unlock a number of exclusive character variants, weapon skins, and medals. They will be able to take those treats with them into the full game in September. "For example, players can complete 50 matches in any game type to unlock Thrashball Cole during the beta," the release said. "Completing ten matches as the Thrashball athlete during the beta period will permanently unlock the character variant for the retail version."