As many of you are probably aware, Microsoft held a small event in London recently showcasing some of their upcoming game Gears of war: Judgment. I was lucky enough to have been invited and get some time with the game hands-on, and on a far more personal level than I had before having only played two rounds at last year’s Eurogamer Expo being watched by crowds of people I don’t know. Within minutes it is easy to see that People Can Fly have paid a lot of attention to keeping the core elements of the Gears franchise we know and love in there, while adding a nice few tweaks to make the multiplayer and single player alike feel, well, a little different as opposed to essentially being a full price piece of DLC.
Thursday arrives and I make my way to Bond Street; I manage to arrive nice and early giving me extra time to have a hamburger and some fries from McDonald’s. It has to be said, Microsoft chose the right building for the job, from the tube station to the building of the event, shops, stalls, standard modern London buildings, then, nestled in between all of these, stands a Victorian building with two huge stone pillars outside and a very large wooden double door leading you in, the most “Sera-esque” building I’ve seen in a while, and I do live in London.
I am let inside and led to the basement where the mood was instantly set. There I met some Twitter winners and some people from other Xbox news sites attending this special event, and had a brief wander around at the impressive setup and decor until we were all told to sit down for our introduction.
Led by none other than AceyBongos (XBOX EMEA Social Marketing Manager), we were all told we would be spending two hours with the game, 40 minutes on a single player level and the rest on multiplayer. We were given a small rundown of the campaign level and the multiplayer mode we would be playing, and off we went. I’ll treat this the same way we were treated and split this up into two parts, single player and multiplayer, so enough about my trip and what the place looked like, the important part, gameplay!
Campaign: Sadly, campaign was to be played alone which was a new experience for me, even as a fan of the franchise since Gears of War came out in 2006, I had never played campaign without a co-op buddy, but it did not matter. The scene was set with a lot of COGs gearing for war (heh, gearing… For war) and discussing a rumour of a high ranking officer becoming a war criminal in a matter of a week – Enter Baird and his squad being escorted from a Raven to what looks like a courthouse in a much less wore torn version of Sera we have ever seen without it being a flashback. This sets the tone for the mission, I can’t say the same for the rest of the game but the mission I played was entirely narrated by Baird while on trial giving a much more story-esque feel to everything. I have no intention of going into any detail of the story I witnessed, so I’ll focus on new gameplay elements that make campaign feel different as I previously mentioned.
First thing you’ll notice is the Gears of War emblem spray-painted onto walls around Sera, you can get close and activate it! With this it’s time to switch things up; complete an area in a specific amount of time before Hammer of Dawn strikes hit, or work though an area only using Locust weapons – every emblem you activate has a different completion requirement that additionally gives you a nice score multiplier. Next and most important for replay-ability, is the new “SSS” or “smart spawn system” that is in place. I can’t say if it’s a rotation of different mixes or completely random every time as I only replayed and area once, but both times I was greeted by completely different classes of Grubs, along with different weapons and changing spawn points giving every area a new feel for at least a few playthroughs. A mini version of horde mode is also present in the campaign; you will be told to fortify and hold down a specific area for a while until help arrives or people are moved. You have the ability to pick up a few auto turrets lying around and you need to place them where you see fit, but rather than being destroyed through a wave these turrets will simply run out of ammo, giving you the chance to go and refill them or take on the horde without the help.
As impressive as the new additions to campaign are, as always with Gears, multiplayer is where it’s at. I believe the mode we were playing was called “Overrun”, this is what beast mode SHOULD have been back when Gears of War 3 was released. As usual, two teams, one COG one Locust. The COG team are tasked with defending a power generator, set up fences like in horde and hunker down. You’re using classes this time so no running to grab a weapon before everyone else. Each class has different weapons and class specific gadgets, from healing grenades and ammo boxes to repair tools, bear in mind though, repair tools cannot rebuild a broken fence or turret, it can only repair broken ones. COGs spawn with low ammo so a team-mate with an ammo box is a must. You will have about 5 or 6 minutes depending on the map to defend the generator, if you fail the round ends, or on some maps moves on to the next generator in a different area in a way that reminds me heavily of Battlefield’s “Rush” mode. On the Locust side of things it is basically beast mode with slightly less grubs to pick. No Berserkers which may upset some at first, but when the round is over and you’re running as a COG, you’ll be pleased. That isn’t to say the Locust don’t have some heavy hitters, I didn’t test them all out but I had a LOT of fun playing as a Corpser, which can even add a slight stealth element if you do it right, the burrow ability gives you the chance to get behind enemy lines, under fences and pop up to hit some weak points for massive damage. Maulers have a new “shield spin” ability though I can’t say I saw a specific use for it. As expected you have the Kantus as medic, Tickers for living bombs and Wretches to stun enemies and stop them from being able to fire for a couple of seconds giving your team mates an advantage.
There are a few other classes, the ones you would expect like a Serepede and standard Drone, but I didn’t use them so I can’t talk much about them. All the firepower you get as a Locust may leave you wondering how the hell they manage to balance that out. Ammo guys being able to drop supply boxes at will and them having a Boomshot with potentially unlimited ammo really evens the odds, a medic near the said supply box to keep the healing grenades going and you have a force that even the most deadly Grub would be scared to face. The teams were mixed up every game (which usually consisted of two rounds, sometimes three) and my team never lost a single game taking the generator out within a minute and a half in one round as the Locust, while holding the horde off for the full time every round as COG, proving the combined strength of so many big, ugly locust can still be pushed back by a good team working together.
After a while the consoles were switched off and we were given our phones back to take some pictures now no screens were on (did I mention they took our phones away from us so we couldn’t sneakily record any footage? Well they did, I felt naked). Some photos of the setup and our surroundings were taken and were sent back outside to the cold streets of London, ever more hyped for next month when the world will finally be able to do what I’m sure many have wanted to do since beast mode was announced, play as some of the more dangerous Locust, and own some real people.
Get excited people. This is NOT to be seen as Gears of War 3.5 with a new campaign. Gears of War Judgment will make many Gears fans very happy.