The fourth entry into the Gears of War franchise will quite literally blow your mind – co-developed by Epic Games and People Can Fly, Gears of War: Judgment is set in the immediate aftermath of ‘Emergence Day’ which was the defining event of the very first Gears of War from 2006. Although the game will take you back through a period prior to the events of both Gears of War 2 and Gears of War 3, it has a variety of improvements that make this the most enjoyable and action-packed campaign yet!
The main protagonist is a young COG by the name of Damon Baird, who should already be very familiar to all Gears fans from being the sidekick to Marcus Fenix, but here in Judgment – Baird has a story of his own to tell in a series of flashback sequences used to tell the events leading up to why a small Kilo Squad are being judged in a military COG court. Having taken matters into their own hands and defying all orders to save the world from a new threat, Kilo Squad stand on trial and must face a Colonel Loomis to defend their actions. It is with the Kilo Squad telling their story where the flashback sequences come into play as you relive in-game each part of the Kilo Squads reasoning to Loomis. This is clearly why the title is ‘Judgment’ and you daringly pace through their testimonies putting your life on the line for the greater good – or so you believe!
In Gears of War: Judgment, the Kilo Squad is made up of a young team of trained COG army soldiers that are joined in their unanimity to protect themselves and the world from a terrifying threat on humanity. Although Baird is the main man through-out most of the campaign, you will face the attack and defence missions through the eyes of the other Kilo Squad members. This being Augustus “The Cole Train” Cole, the more comical character and another blast from the past games; Sofia Hendrick, a journalist who joined the army after Emergence Day, and Garron Paduck, a Gear Soldier in the COG Army who was previously a Major for another military force. The characters are united by their actions and defend their reasons with justified decisions that you will experience in the campaign, each character presents their own traits and discussion’s with dialogue that is classic Gears of War talk! If you were somewhat nervous about People Can Fly’s input into the Gears of War universe, you need not worry, the gritty war-torn landscapes and accompanying plot lines feel like the heart and soul of the Gears of War: Judgment story-telling and a real “Gears-experience”, it’s definitely a game for the fans as well as fantastic entry title if you’ve never played a Gears of War game before.
Judgment is not just a new story that takes place alongside the events of Emergence Day, but it’s a whole new arsenal of weapons and also a whole new way to play a campaign. The game is broken down into Chapters where each features the Testimony of each member of Kilo Squad; Chapters are also broken down into sections which vary between six to eight and at the start of each section you’ll see a glowing COG Emblem emblazoned on the wall where you will have the option to accept or dismiss a Mission Declassification. These Declassify missions completely turn up the heat with how you are expected to play the campaign by making it increasingly difficult, limiting in ammo, time-based challenges, and impaired vision amongst many other unique gameplay scenarios to test your endurance through-out the Chapter. Successfully completed Declassify Missions within the story will not only earn you extra rewards for both Campaign and Multiplayer, but they uncover critical information relating to the story as well as helping towards your Achievements. Should you inevitably die, or fail challenges another new feature comes to life. In completely taking away the predictability after a death and an enhancement to the challenges you face is the addition of a new Smart Spawn System for Judgment. Having seen this in action I can say that every game from here on in could use this great tool to make your respawns play differently since every spawn changes the type of enemies in play, the timing of their appearance and additionally their locations so that each encounter although in the same battleground feels a little different. It’s a like a new take on the environment so that you’re not complacent and this does add an extra layer of freshness because this is for both Campaign and Multiplayer – It really mixes things up a little for the better.
Gears of War, in my opinion was always the franchise that offered the best non-traditional looking weapons for a game with a feel about them that was dark, gothic and yet futuristic all at the same time. Many of the Gears classic weapons have returned such as the Torque Bow, Long Shot, BoomShot, Gnasher, and signature weapons like the Lancer and Hammerburst – but a range of new additions are out in force within Judgment that feel like a contemporary twist on some of the familiar types of weaponry. Embracing a Markza Rifle is like holding a Retro Lancer that has been enhanced for long-range shooting combined with a blade to hit near-by enemies for quick assaults. It comes across in combat like a less-powered LongShot, but deadly at close range. There’s also a Booshka gun which is similar to a BoomShot, but rather than see the ammo explode instantaneously it bounces and ricochets for a good few seconds before the explosion. Often found before an incoming horde of enemies you might catch the Tripwire Crossbow to grab hold of which unlike the familiar Torque Bow will embed its ammo into the ground or walls and detonate it upon the enemy walking nearby. New weapons offer a different strategic approach to the enemy where you can lie and wait for their presence or go all-in guns blazing, you might have had the opportunity to experience them in the Gears of War: Judgment Demo on Xbox LIVE?
Switching weapons in Judgment is also new – yes, now a simple press of the Y button will suffice instead of the traditional Gears way of using the D-pad left, right, up, down. Many of the controls have had an overhaul so that you have faster access to what you need, but if you’re a hardened Gears player then it will take a little adjustment to get used to initially. The newer control scheme is more likely due to Gears of War: Judgment being a more intense combat title than any other gears game. Throwing down a grenade is now a simple button press without a selection process, and it is a change for the better because it suits the faster gameplay to improve your experience – every second counts. One other noticeable difference with weapons compared to Gears of War 3, is the time it takes to perform a reload – if you do not manage a quick Active Reload then expect to wait a little bit longer than usual which poses a real nuisance when face to face with more than one enemy. In fact, death is likely the only outcome for not reloading well in the situations where you are bombarded with a horde.
If you like collectibles then Judgment returns the infamous fallen soldier Cogs scattered throughout many of the Chapters and adds a new batch of Ribbons and Medals to be unlocked based on your skill, or repeated gameplay. What also impressed me was the newer ability to unlock Prize Boxes that reward you for killing enemies, levelling up and obtaining lots of Ribbons. These grant you weapon skins, character skins and XP for your player record – you can also collect Stars which are awarded as to how well you play the Campaign and these unlock further rewards including a new Gears of War 3 Campaign Chapter titled ‘Aftermath’. So, if you really want to play the Epilogue Chapter to the main Gears 3 Campaign – then you’ll want to collect and earn those Stars! Aftermath does not require the main Judgment Campaign to be completed as it will use a separate Game Save placement and it comes across as a way of piecing the two games together.
Since I’ve touched on the subject of Gears of War 3, if you have questioned if Gears of War: Judgment is a simple “rinse and repeat” of previous games – it’s most certainly a no, as the whole Chapter designs seem to take a more multi-level route. Judgment takes a more military stance than a game filled with wreck and ruins and presents more alternative routes and internal areas for exploration. The location Sera in this outing is before the catastrophic events of Gears of War 2 and you witness vibrant cityscapes on the brink of destruction. Overall it has a more urban feel, more verticality environments with a heavy amount of close quarters combat action to get stuck into with all those shiny new weapons! For reviewing purposes the Campaign was played entirely in Solo, but there is additionally the four-player co-operative gameplay which is a familiar trait for the Gears of War series and in co-op mode, one player would take on the role of the main Kilo Squad member in their testimony chapter and the other players will be the other Kilo Squad members for assistance. You can still create Private games and join Public sessions for those wishing to pursue extra Achievements or help with the Insane difficultly.
Even when the Campaign has reached its climax, you’ll want somewhere to show off all those unlocks and Prize’s you’ve racked up and Gears just wouldn’t be Gears without a meaty COG vs Locust infested Multiplayer to keep you battering that controller for many more months to come. Keeping up with the enhancements and improvements to the Gears of War titles, Multiplayer has had its own fair share of tweaks that might actually cause a real life “jaw drop”. Thankfully the news of a new class-based multiplayer was put out there quite some time ago; you’ve possibly played the Early Access Demo, but whether you’re for or against that new style for Gears it’s not spread across all of the multiplayer modes. The class-based gameplay applies to just two of them, Overrun and Survival. Classes are not tied to character choice, but allow players in a set class to each have their own weapons and abilities. Engineers can deploy Sentries and use a repair tool to fix fortifications, Soldier’s deploy ammunition, Scouts can access their own sniper positions and reveal enemy locations to the team, whilst finally, Medics can heal others and revive themselves with Stim-Grenades that charge a healing energy over everyone close to its release.
There’s not a vast range of Multiplayer modes in Judgment with the menu’s separating it into two main areas of Survival and Versus Modes. Survival is co-operative multiplayer game for up to five players that combines Overrun from versus and the well-known Horde Mode from other Gears of War titles – it’s a fast, intense, class-based game mode and requires a survival against 10 waves of incoming Locusts. It’s really all about surviving a horde of enemies, but unlike the Horde Mode in other games there’s no building fortifications and the area’s that you protect as a team of COG’s is much smaller. As you’d expect the Horde of Locusts increase and become more difficult with each Wave.
Overrun in Versus is the other class-based game mode that pits COG and Locust soldiers in a head-to-head battle of objectives where both teams’ alternate factions to defend and attack. Unlike Survival it is not Wave based, but you play on the same maps and defend the same objective. As COG’s you will protect the cover on E-Holes, and as Locust’s you’ll want to attack the cover. Both Overrun and Survival are great new additions to Gears of War as having a class based method encourages real communicated team work rather than just running around in a would-be-killing-spree.
But what about other game modes if you want the more traditional class-less approach to your killing frenzie? There is Team Deathmatch, an already known, tried-loved-and-tested winning multiplayer mode for Gears that returns, and is available for up to ten players where a Goal Score is the winning requirement. Domination is a new five versus five team-based effort to control three rings placed through-out the map. In a similar way that Annexe and King of the Hill required a team to change a single ring colour to gain points, Domination for Judgment requires three rings around the map named A, B and C to be controlled where team colour control will earn points. The first team in Domination to hit a points score of 250 wins the match. Both Annexe and King of the Hill are not present in Gears of War: Judgment, but Domination is much more addictive and you’ll likely not miss them at all. Finally the other brand-spanking new and very much needed and greatly loved by myself addition is a Free-For-All mode. You can now for the first time in Gears throw team tactics right out the window with this mode as it’s every man or woman depending on character choice for themselves with pure COG on COG soldier killing action. As the saying goes “if it moves, shoot it” but the signature down-but-not-out effect when a player is hit has been removed for Free-For-All – possibly due to no team mate being able to revive you, if you get shot enough you simply and rather sadly just die!
There are a total of eight multiplayer maps included on disc to play on, but each are assigned to the different game modes as the game allocates four shared maps for Overrun and Survival; and another four shared maps for Team Deathmatch, Free-For-All and Domination game modes. All modes can be played with bots for unfilled player matches that will still allow you to Rank up to aim for a Level 50 on your account. However, If you’re into customising then you’re in luck also as Judgment allows you to play and unlock players through challenges and gameplay actions, apply a range of Weapon Skins (Gears 3 style) that can be obtained with Prize Boxes or MS Points, and also choose a Character Skin for Multiplayer. Character Skins apply themselves to your character in the same way a Weapon Skin does for your weaponry – a range of unique designs that apply themselves over your armour can be obtained with Prize Boxes and MS Points from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. You can choose from Gold, Zombie, Cell Shaded, Animated Burning effects amongst others to make you stand out from the crowd. The menu and lobby system in place for Gears of War: Judgment is exactly the same style as Gears of war 3, so if you own that game then finding your way around Judgment will be very easy and feel familiar for checking your stats, unlocks and character choices.
Visually Gears of War: Judgment looks like it could easily have been a huge part of Gears of War 3, keeping in-line with the same tone, battered and torn environments, buildings, characters, combat arena’s – everything has a Gears of War 3 feel to it in both Campaign and Multiplayer showcasing once again the power of Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 and how it both beautifully and artistically creates the military sci-fi shooter to just look so damn superb. The Campaign felt way longer to play through than Gears of War 3 as well as more challenging even on Normal. With a powerful story of justifying a young Kilo Squads actions where it’s a situation of obey orders and possibly die, or “trust your guts” – this just had me engrossed in the action as well as the decisions each character took on their journey to reach their conclusion. Judgment is by far the most action-packed Gears game to date and many of the Chapters featured a Horde style defend and attack mission to intensify the gameplay experience further – it’s full of surprises and laden with improvements to enable you to keep up and involved with all the action. With the additional challenges that change how you play the campaign through Declassify Missions – I sure hope that this is a sign of future things to come for the Gears of War franchise. Multiplayer as always is a great way to keep the action and spirit of Gears alive; with Judgment, multiplayer covers everyone’s favourite terms of play from solo based competitive modes to a more interactive team based class-system, whilst keeping traditional team based gameplay intact and optional.
Gears of War: Judgment has just taken your favourite Gears games and turned up the heat – if you’re a Gears fan already then you have no excuses, for those sitting on the fence you best start wondering what it’s like to become a COG Soldier and get out there and own this! Although Judgment takes you right back to the beginning of the series in a whole new plot-line alongside Emergence Day, it surely can’t come to an end – not now!