GAME NAME: Gears of War: Judgment
DEVELOPER(S): People Can Fly
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360
GENRE(S): Action, Shooter
RELEASE DATE(S): 22 March 2013
It’s been a mere 16 months since we’ve enjoyed the conclusion of Gears of War 3. That in return makes this entry into the series a bit less hyped than any previous Gears of War outing. Cliffy B has also departed from Epic Games and had absolutely no say in the final product. Instead it comes from People Can Fly, the mad people who brought us Bulletstorm. Can they fly the flag or should the people take them to court?
Like all great franchises these days Gears of War: Judgment (no, it’s not a spelling error. Stupid Americans…) has turned the clock back to almost 15 years before the events of the first game, to coincide with Emergence Day. It’s Kilo Squad and not Delta Squad who lead the way. There’s no sight of Marcus or Dom. It’s up to Baird (the cocky blond guy), Cole and company (Sofia Hendrik and Garron Paduk) to battle accusations of treason in a trial. The campaign mode sees you playing each person’s backstory, which means that these events explain just how they got there and that you’ll end up playing with all four the characters. The four-player co-op has returned once more, so should you play it with three other buddies you’ll continue through the story with your chosen character.
Those familiar with the Gears of War franchise will find that it’s generally familiar territory. Expect devastated sceneries of crumbled buildings and Locust-infected skies as far as the eye can see. You’ll still be searching for Cog tags, so keep your eyes open for the faintly sprayed Gears of War symbols on nearby debris. The action has been ramped up dramatically. Set scene after set scene of Locust onslaught will see Boomers, Drones, Kantus, Corpsers, Bloodmounts and a new enemy throwing themselves at you. The new enemy, the Rager, comes forth as a general foot soldier but once angered it morphs into something that can only be described as a mini-Beserker. Once he comes barging your way it’s best you open up with all ammunition, as he’ll let you have it if he gets within arms reach.
With new enemies come new weapons. The Booshka is a mortar-like device that shoots high explosive rounds that detonate a few seconds after landing or when directly impacting a target. What makes it potent is that it comes with an aiming meter – as used with grenades – and takes three shots before having to reload. Firing off a few rounds in crowded areas will leave the enemy in pieces. The Breechshot on the other hand is in essence a sniper-like Locust gun that lacks a scope but fires off fast rounds of powerful bullets, with the Markza being the human version with a scope.
New to campaign mode is Declassify. At the beginning of each chapter you’ll be greeted by an unavoidable Gears of War symbol on a nearby wall (large in size). Once selected you’re briefed with an additional challenge that forms part of your current objective. Should you accept and fail the challenge it’s game over. It’s a great way to increase the campaigns nine-hour duration and really makes the co-op a bit more frantic. In the background you’re trying to accumulate stars (awarded at the end of every chapter) to open up the best bit of the game as your main campaign (Judgment) is by and large a dull wash, rinse, repeat experience. Collect 40 stars and Aftermath is unlocked. Here you can play events that originally took place in Gears of War 3 but were never included as you were following Marcus and Dom’s movements. The hour it lasts is much more exciting than anything you will have played in Judgment.
What’s probably the most disturbing of the lot is that People Can Fly have changed a working controller layout. To change weapons you now press the Y button instead of the D-pad and deploying grenades has been moved to the LB button. Other than getting used to the new formula you’re now left with three instead of four weapon options at one time. For example: You either equip a Lancer and pistol, or shotgun and pistol, or Lancer and Shotgun. It can get very frustrating as you often find yourself in situations where you require a Long Shot but have the shotgun and Lancer equipped, meaning you have to backtrack in search of a Long Shot. The analogue stick sensitivity will need some adjustment too as you’ll find that you’re constantly over-correcting your reticule.
What are you multiplayer-only players smiling at? There are changes in store for you too. Down But Not Out and Execution modes have both been dropped. In their place are two new modes: Free For All and OverRun. Free For All sees players playing for themselves as lone wolves and that’s that. OverRun introduces the notion of class-based warfare to the Gears template, and plays like a straight asymmetrical 5-on-5 mash-up of existing modes Horde and Beast with a team play twist. Soldiers and medics can top friends up with ammo and health from afar with ‘benefit grenades’, while scouts can give everyone a heads-up on enemy movement with motion-tracking grenades and Engineers can place Sentry guns. On the opposite side live the Locust, who can help each other in similar ways. Feeding grenades to tickers creates extra-large explosions, while stockpiling points lets you spawn rideable Bloodmounts and almost unbeatable burrowing Corpser combos. Get the right crowd to play and the new mode can be loads of fun, but it does feel that something is missing. There is some good news in the fact that there are plans to bring the missing modes back via DLC.
Should you get to grips with the controller layout and face the fact that there are some missing modes the maps will redeem your purchase. The arenas are not too big but there’s always something to hide behind or plant a grenade on as the frantic action takes place. Some maps now have interactive elements like jumping on a helicopter that takes you on a trip around the level while gunning away from the mounted machine gun.
Gears of War: Judgment never promised to be a full-fledged sequel and it shows. It does however provide you with loads of enjoyment if you can looks past its obvious flaws and is just enough to keep you going until we see the sequel on the next Xbox console.