Gears of War: Judgment is a slight change of pace for one of Microsoft’s most popular franchise, as developers Epic Games and People Can Fly team-up to expand the storyline and gameplay of the trilogy. A few new details give the game a unique twist in comparison to other entries, but it still remains nostalgic enough to keep a Gearhead comfortable but not worn.
The story takes places years before the original Gears of War and follows Kilo Squad, led by classic characters, Damon Baird and Augustus “The Cole Train” Cole, as they fight to save the city of Halvo Bay, from the multiple swarms of relentless locust. The campaign depicts the Squad pleading their innocence before a court marshal, charged with insubordination and departure. As you hear testaments from each member, you play through their memories, allowing you to gain the perspective of each separate character. Though it’s a competent story, the campaign exchanges a coercive narrative flow for rousing combat challenges and none-stop action. It never achieves the dramatic heights of its predecessors, and this is partly due to the fragmented mission structure that isn’t very useful for impactful storytelling.
Each section only lasts a few minutes, with a star-rating awarded at the end, complete with leaderboards for comparing scores with friends and the Xbox Live community. Earning points to obtain stars depends on how you take out the Locusts. Standard kills, executions, headshots and explosives all increase your star-rating, while getting downed reduces it. The rating system increases the single-player campaign replayability and perfectionist (like yours truly) will strive to achieve a three star-rating as opposed to just slugging through to the end.
At the beginning of each section, you are given the option to activate Declassified missions. By simply walking up to the glowing cog marker on the wall, you will affix an additional objective, altering the action slightly, and making it more challenging — but who doesn’t love a good challenge? These additional variables could be anything from timed missions, to additional enemies or simple using a specific weapon. Successfully completing these actions allows you to speed up earning stars which in return unlock more gear, upgrades, characters, and another shorter campaign called Aftermath. This additional campaign feels similar to a deleted cut-scene that would play during the campaign of Gears of War 3, and although its not essential, it is still a fun tidbit.
The finely tuned cover system and distinctive controls are back, along with the gory chainsaw attacks and trajectory-lined grenade throws. Most of the enemies are guys that you’ve seen before, from Bloodmounts to Lambent versions of various creatures, and you’ll fight them with a slightly varied arsenal. You will also have a few new weapons at your disposal like the Marksa, a semi-automatic rifle with a decent scope as well as a few enhancements to classic weapons like sticky grenades that can be adhered to walls. The biggest gameplay change is the Call of Duty-ish weapon-switching. Instead of using the D-pad to switch between four different weapons, you can toggle between both with the click of the Y button, while grenades are dedicated to the left bumper. Grenades become a lot more useful now that you can quickly access them without a break in the action.
The graphics where persist, still portraying the bulky cartoonish look we know and love, yet realistic enough to make hacking up grubs all the more satisfying. The scenery is dark (dull) while characters are bright and colorful, filled with personality and catchphrases they like to throw in while killing locusts. Sound quality didn’t fail to impress as it kept gameplay more exciting and gave the player a better idea of what to expect next.
The two campaigns last about seven hours, so you’ll likely want to spend some time in multiplayer to get your money’s worth. Fortunately, the brutal and tense combat continues to thrive in both competitive and cooperative environments. The multiplayer is where Judgment does astonishing work. Aside from the original, competitive multiplayer modes, such as Domination, Free-For-All, and Team Death Match, Judgement brings two new exciting modes; Survival and OverRun. Survival mode will keep you busy as you strive to protect objectives from swarms of enemies or risk getting pushed back further into the map. If player v. player is more your forte, try OverRun, a COG v. Locust, objective based type, where one team (Locust) destroy cover and barriers, piece by piece, in order to make it to the the other team (COG) defend their (COG) generator. Not to mention the new and exciting, multi-layered maps players can choose from. each giant map layout brings an entirely new dimension to the game. With added features that allow you to jump off balconies and ledges from unimaginable heights, players have the option to attack from any angle, which in turn makes the game a lot more challenging.
Gears of War: Judgment provides everything expected, if not more – incredible multiplayer, a tactical and unique campaign, and hours of Locust slashing fun. The small additions keep things interesting, and any die-hard Gears fan will be pleased with the way the campaign fills in some story-gaps. All in all, if you liked the last three games, you’ll love this one.