Gears of War: Judgement (Review)[Photo]
In both games and films there seems to be a pattern emerging. If you want something to be big make it a trilogy. If that trilogy is super successful then you have two options. Either reboot it, or do a prequel. Gears of War: Judgement falls into the latter category. The Xbox exclusive Gears of War franchise told the story of a desperate war with the monstrous Locust that pushed humanity to the very brink of extinction. That tale was concluded in Gears of War 3, with no hint at anything to come after those events. Gears of War: Judgment just gives you an excuse to jump back into that fight, and I’ll happily take it.
The story is set only a few days after “Emergence Day” which is when the Locust first attacked the humans and the war started. The game doesn’t follow Marcus Fenix, the past protagonist, but instead follows two of his team members Damon Baird, and Augustus “Cole Train” Cole. They are both noticeably much younger than the previous games and are joined by some new squad mates Sofia Hendrick, and Garron Paduk, a former enemy from the recently finished human on human “Pendulam Wars”. They are being court martialed for yet unknown reasons, and the explanation of what got them to this point is the basis of the plot. For a game franchise that has already told you its whole story, I think this is a very good set up for an extra adventure in the universe. The missions are narrated by the different squad members, and you take control of whoever happens to be telling the story at that point. The narration dialog was welcomed but it was usually very short, only a few lines, and left the story feeling a little disjointed sometimes due to the much longer combat sequences where you wouldn’t get much context. But that just goes to show how much I liked the idea of having the story narrated since I just wanted more of it.
The actual game-play will be familiar to any Gears of War veterans, the third person cover based shooting in this franchise is the gold standard that other games try to emulate. Even after 3 games it’s still fun, but that didn’t stop the developers, People Can Fly, from mixing it up a little. You’ll run into sections where you need to defend a specific area, and you’ll find auto turrets and trip wire shooting cross bows to help you fortify it from waves of Locust attack. They’ve basically thrown the multi-player Horde mode from earlier games into the campaign and it works surprisingly well to mix things up. Almost all of the missions in the story can be shaken up with challenges, like having low ammo, specific weapons, poor visibility, or different and additional enemy types. This is framed within the story as “Declassified Missions” where the character telling the story will give additional details about that section which were left out of the original report. It’s just an excuse to remix each mission to give players an additional challenge and to me it’s the standout feature of the campaign. I played through the game and activated almost all of them just to see what crazy thing would be thrown at me next. Declassified missions are not the only changes to the campaign structure, levels are generally shorter than in previous games and come off as far more separate from one another than in previous titles. The older games would have levels flow seamlessly into the next which would make it difficult to figure out when it was a good time to stop playing. Judgment is very clear, when a mission ends you’re greeted with a stats screen giving you a rundown of how you did and rating your performance with stars. You can even elect to replay those missions right then and there, which gives it more of an arcadey feel. But again since what you’re playing is actually a story being told it kind of fits, and I didn’t really mind it after seeing it the first few times. Once you do reach the end of the 8 hour or so main campaign there’s a whole second one called “Aftermath” which takes place in the middle of the Gears of War 3 story, detailing what happened during a large section of the game where Baird and Cole were sent to gather reinforcements. You meet up with Paduk again from the main campaign and eventually find out what becomes of Sofia. I haven’t gotten as much enjoyment out of a single player campaign since the last Gears of War game and going through it again on harder difficulties with Co-op buddies is likely to be even better.
The Gears franchise didn’t get its reputation from its campaign mode alone, it has always been a big name in the online multi-player world since its debut. Judgment does some tweaking to the formula which should excite returning fans as well as anyone jumping into it for the time. One of the smallest tweaks is the change to switching between two weapons with Y and using LB for throwing grenades from having three weapons and grenades using the D Pad. This makes using grenades far easier but you are losing that 3rd weapon slot, on the plus side it makes weapon switching far faster and I think most gamers are used to this two weapon style than the older method. A bigger change is in the map design, you’re now able to drop off ledges were previously you’d be blocked by invisible walls or would need to do a dive roll to get over. This adds a new level of verticality that the matches have never had before and it’s welcomed. This could be a turn off for some old style loyalists but I take no issue with the change. The biggest new addition is the “Overrun” mode which is similar to Horde where waves of enemies attempt to infiltrate a base to destroy either a sealed off emergence hole or a generator that you and your team fight to protect. If you are unsuccessful your squad is pushed back further into the map and the Locust start spawning from the previous area. There are two big changes here, the first is that you select from four classes that have different abilities which can compliment one another. You can choose from an Engineer who can drop down turrets, a Soldier who can drop ammo, a Scout who uses a Markza rifle and can throw grenades that reveal enemy locations, and a Medic who can throw healing grenades. A well balanced team can do serious damage. I often ended up playing with guys who all wanted to be one class, then we all ran out of ammo and were screwed. Playing your role in the heat of the fight can give players who aren’t so kill crazy a lot to do during the fight that really helps get the job done. The second big change is that those attacking Locust are actually other players, and you switch sides between rounds as attacker and defender. For the first time you can play as more than just a bipedal Locust you can take control of Tickers, Wretches, Serapedes, even Grinders. If you’ve fought it in the campaign you can probably play as it in this mode. The Locust ranks are selected using a pool of points, the more powerful monsters cost more points so you won’t be able to just have a team full of Boomers annihilating the opposition. Just like the human classes, the different Locust classes can fulfill different roles that are useful to the team effort, and is a brand new way to play this very familiar game.
The other game modes are all standard fare but do away with the classes in favor of allowing you to create a custom starting load-out. You will no longer start a match with an assault rifle and a shotgun, you can only have one primary weapon, your secondary being a Snub Pistol, but there are a lot more to choose from than what was allowed previously. You can also choose a single starting grenade with variants like poison Ink grenades, Smoke grenades, or healing Stim grenades in addition to regular Frag grenades. There’s Domination, which has two teams fighting to maintain control of certain areas on the map, the more areas you control the more points accumulate, the team who reaches the score limit first wins. Team Deathmatch is self explanatory. Free For All is new to the Gears universe and for me is probably the weakest addition. It functions like you would expect a free for all game to, and maybe its just a case of been there done that, but any fans of playing online solo will be right at home there. There’s a section called Special Event, which appears to be a totally randomized match, I played a Domination match where all players were the Scout class using only Breechshots, which is a slow fire rate incredibly powerful rifle with no scope. It was great fun, and I’ll likely come back to it to see what other weird games come out of it. The final game mode is VIP, which is a pay locked mode that houses all the previous game modes but you get bonus experience points. That kind of thing doesn’t really sit well with me, micro-transactions are probably something you’ll see more of in games going forward, but it’s better suited for adding cosmetic things to characters, which Judgment does have. You can also unlock a fair share of character and weapon skins. For gaining levels and completing various milestones you are awarded “prizeboxes” they have different levels like “normal” or “epic” and award things like additional XP or skins. If you want to eventually get everything there is you’ll likely need to spend some real money, but ignoring anything you have to pay extra for won’t hurt you in any way.
The Gears of War franchise is practically a legend in the gaming world and for good reason. Its big budget blockbuster action style has been copied since its creation. The Gears of War trilogy wrapped up in an amazingly satisfying way, something a lot of other trilogies don’t actually do. Gears of War: Judgment opens up a closed box, but it’s a case where you got something really good out of it that you didn’t really know you wanted.