Epic Games and Bulletstorm developer People Can Fly deliver the latest incarnation into the Gears of War franchise with Gears of War: Judgment. With Marcus Fenix and Dominic Santiago nowhere to be seen, it’s up to series co-star Damon Baird to step up as the main protagonist and lead his squad to victory. Kilo squad, under the command of Lt. Damon Baird, find themselves on trial for going above and beyond the chain of command. The game offers several brand new weapons to augment the Gears standard load-out while difficulty modifiers are strewn throughout the campaign to “enhance the game’s mission structure.” Players can jump straight into multiplayer with two new game modes, Overrun and Survival or complete the campaign to unlock Aftermath. Can this latest incarnation stand up to the trials and tribulations of its franchise namesake or will crumble under the prosecutorial weight of its “fanboys’ scrutiny?”
The first thing I noticed about the game was how young Baird and Cole looked. This prequel to Gears of War really shows in the look of the two returning characters as they are the only ones you will meet from the previous games. Pvt. Augustus Cole makes his triumphant return with series newcomers UIR soldier pvt. Garron Paduk and Onyx guard cadet Sofia Hendrik. Along with Lt. Damon Baird, these four make up Kilo squad, and all isn’t well. The four are placed in front of a military tribunal for disobeying direct orders. The trial is conducted by a Col. Ezra Loomis who seems more interested in convicting Kilo squad than fighting the Locust. The story plays out through the testimony, or more importantly the eyes of each member of Kilo squad. During their testimony, players will take control of that particular individual and play from their point of view through the different areas of the game.
Following a linear story through the eyes of different characters gives the opportunity to change up the gameplay and add something new to the mix. Although each Gear’s testimony is supposed to be different, it’s not. It all comes across as repetitive and straightforward, as if it were told from one point of view. Unfortunately, Gears of War: Judgment’s storytelling feels a bit restrained because of this. To change things up, they could have embellished each character’s testimonies and let the gameplay moments match their flamboyant or conservative attitudes. If during Cole’s testimony there were more enemies that just ran straight at you or there were fewer but tougher enemies in Hendrik’s testimony, that would be uniquely different. Paduk’s testimony, by contrast, could consist of environmental destruction for a change of pace.
Gears of War: Judgment adds some new and much needed weapons to the COG and Locust arsenal. The game introduces four new weapons which Paduk is very proud of. The first weapon players will encounter is the Markza semi-automatic rifle. It has a good size clip, a scope attachment and is good for medium and long range fighting. Think of it as a combination of the Lancer and the Long Shot. The Booshka is a three round grenade launcher where the rounds explode on enemy contact or ricochet off walls. The Locust equivalent is the Boomshot which makes you reload after each round is fired. Last are the Spot grenade and the Stim-Gas grenade. The Spot grenade is used in multiplayer and will highlight enemies through walls. The Stim-Gas grenade is used to heal and revive players and is found in the campaign and multiplayer. For me, the best weapon in the game is the Retro Lancer which has that large blade sticking out of its front. I don’t like its powerful kick but its got real stopping power, and there’s nothing I love more than running toward a Locust and impaling them on the end of my gun. It’s even more satisfying in multiplayer when I run someone down and impale them on the end of my weapon.
Weapon swapping is done with the Y button now and grenades are thrown with LB for ease of use. In previous games, four weapons were mapped to the D-pad. This meant players had to stop moving to switch weapons or toss grenades. Now swapping weapons and tossing grenades can be done while moving through the environment. This makes the gameplay move a little faster as multiplayer opponents and the Locust toss grenades more often without slowing down.
Throughout the campaign players will encounter glowing COG symbols that act as difficulty modifiers. They are designed to enhance gameplay and help uncover classified testimony. What they actually do is increase the enemy count, add tougher enemies to the mix, force the player to use specific weapon load-outs and so on. One particular modifier prevents players from healing over time so any damage that’s taken stays until the Stim-Gas grenade is used. I liked the addition of modifiers in the game and I’ve tried to complete every one. Although they add an additional element of depth, they aren’t particularly difficult. The only modifiers I had a difficult time on were the time-based ones. I constantly died trying to get through the academy grounds in under three and a half minutes with Boomers, Drones and Ragers in the area. Ragers are the new enemy Locust that, when shot throw down their weapons, bulk up and charge like Berserkers. Developer videos said to shoot them in the head before they change but I found that cutting them in half with the Lancer or impaling them with the Retro Lancer worked just fine for me.
Individuals like myself will choose to tackle the campaign before going on to multiplayer. Others will just skip the campaign and go straight into multiplayer because they could care less about the story and buy the game for multiplayer alone. This brings me to the two new multiplayer modes in Gears of War: Judgment, Overrun and Survival.
Overrun is a combination of Beast and Horde mode in which two teams of five, Locust and the COG, battle it out. Gears are given the task of defending the covered E-Hole (Emergence hole on their base while the Locust attempt to attack and destroy it. At the end of each round, the players switch sides and the defenders are now the attackers and vice-verse.
Survival mode has replaced Horde to the dismay of many longtime fans. In Survival, a team of five COG’s are given the objective of defending a covered E-Hole from the AI controlled Locust. The number of waves have been reduced to 10 but the Locust become increasingly harder to deal with. There is no comparing Horde mode to Survival: Horde forces players to stick together to survive the 50 waves. Survival mode is objective based so players have to split into smaller groups. Comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges. Survival is a great addition to the franchise’s multiplayer but is too dissimilar in form and function. Horde mode was its own game and needed to stay that way.
If both Overrun and Survival sound like they have similar objectives, it’s because they do. Defend the E-Hole from other players or AI. Lose one E-Hole and move further down the map. Lose another and another and soon you’ll be defending the COG power generator. Lose that and it’s game over. On the other hand, when E-Holes are successfully defended, then it’s a Hammer of Dawn strike against the Locust. If the similarities between Overrun and Survival turn you off as they did me, then there’s still the more traditional multiplayer modes, Free For All, Domination and Team Deathmatch.
There’s also Aftermath, which can only be unlocked after the campaign is completed. Aftermath is “a classic extension of the Gears of War 3 storyline.” Near the end of Gears of War 3, Marcus tells Baird and Cole to find reinforcements and meet them at Azura. Aftermath plays through that side of the story and shows what happened to the other members of Kilo squad after Gears of War: Judgment ends.
Is it Gears? Yes. Has it changed much? Not really. When Epic Games created Gears of War, they created something special. The franchise offers a compelling story with dramatic moments and an excellent multiplayer feature that has players purchasing the game for that alone. It wouldn’t be a good idea to change all that unless Epic planned to reboot the franchise like Crystal Dynamics did with Tomb Raider. Gears of War: Judgment plays just like every other game in the franchise. New and returning players will have no problem with picking up the controller and jumping right into the action. The controls are similar to other shooters on the market with left and right triggers used to aim and shoot along with a one button weapon swap. I was happy with the additional weapons added, granted each new game in the franchise added new weapons so there’s nothing different there. The addition of modifiers was a blast for me so still, no complaints. I’m not the biggest fan of multiplayer but it too was fun. I tried out Overrun and Survival and found them to be too similar but I do plan on going back. Gears of War: Judgment is a solid game and can stand side by side with the other games in the franchise.
Chris played Gears of War: Judgment on the Xbox 360 on Hard mode and took eight hours to complete the campaign. He put an additional five hours into the multiplayer to get a feel for the Overrun and Survival modes.