Gears of War Judgment is here and the gloves are off as we take on the role of Baird and company in our video review. With the game most likely to be the last on current gen Xbox, does the series go out with a bang, or is it simply familiar turf. Check out the video review and see what we thought of the game.
Gears of War Judgment review text version.
Judgment has emerged, and is the latest entry in Epic Games’ iconic Gears of War saga. We’ve already seen a trilogy released, so Gears of War: Judgment’s current-gen announcement came as somewhat of a surprise.
Under the watchful eye of Epic Games – PeopleCanFly, the developers of the underrated Bulletstorm have taken the development reins on Gears Judgment – with the aim of spicing up what is one of Xbox 360’s most iconic franchises.
Gears of War: Judgment has a lot to live up to, with not only quality, but the sheer breadth of content that Gears fans have come to expect. First and foremost Judgment is a prequel, and the story follows Lt. Damon Baird and Kilo Squad immediately following the Locust Horde’s emergence, and needless to say some questionable decisions were made to land Baird and Cole in hand-cuffs. The story is frankly a court-room drama where each member of Kilo Squad must give their testimony before the court, with this being played out through traditional flashback sequences.
This sees you throughout the course of play taking control of four characters for each of their testimonies – with the option of 4-player co-op still very much present. The gameplay therein offers up some of the most satisfying combat encounters throughout Gears of War’s prestigious history.
Like most court-room dramas, Gears Judgment’s story can be somewhat of a drag, and unlike past Gears games, it doesn’t drive to any significant, nor memorable point in the story. General Karn, the big-bad Locust boss of the game makes a few brief appearances, yet there is nothing really built up around his character, nor is there any significant scenes for you to grow to either despise or make such a character iconic – which is something the past games did deliver. If anything, it’s the COG’s own Colonel Loomis that serves as the villain, showcasing what looks to be Baird’s first trouble with authority.
Many of the campaign encounters with the Locust can be summed up as Horde-like battles; you’re given some time to prepare for an incoming wave, setting up all new turrets in some instances, and simply hunker down and chop down a wave or so of varying enemies – all of which is made even more intriguing, and challenging, with Declassified objectives.
This is essentially a mutator on the standard encounters, with the big glowing crimson omen on the wall indicating that there’s a battle ahead; going up to and interacting with this icon will detail the added challenge.
In Judgment’s campaign, Declassification could result in Wretches being swapped for the exploding kind, or it can be something much more dramatic – such as being hit by a sandstorm that greatly reduces visibility, or having to charge through an encounter in record time, and laying waste to all Locust before the Hammer of Dawn strikes down and obliterates all.
Gears has always been a visually striking series, and Judgment offers up some similarly strong visual delights – with some impressive vistas and lighting effects throughout. The big difference is the time-period, Judgment is set immediately following the emergence of the Locust, so instead of years of dusty, battered architecture, we’re seeing these environments shortly after they were obliterated, many buildings still fresh with lingering flames.
Judgment’s story-driven shortcomings aside, there is more to it than meets the eye. Aftermath; it’s an unlockable section of the story that takes place during the events of Gears of War 3, where Baird and crew left Marcus and Dom to their own devices; now you get to see what Baird got up to as he retreads some old ground from Judgment’s prequel campaign.
The core gameplay, which has undergone some tweaking, ultimately shines through with thrilling repercussions. The controller no longer has weapon swapping designated to the D-Pad, but rather the more commonly used Y button, with instant grenade tossing being made available via. a tap of LB. It’s much more seamless than you might expect, and given the general pacing increase it’s something that works remarkably well.
Not all changes are for the better, or at least not to the liking of long time and stubborn Gears fans such as myself. These are not present in campaign, but are exclusive to multiplayer – the active reload is gone, and a permanent aiming reticule is in; though perhaps insignificant, the latter can ruin some of that unexpected marvel as to whether or not you’re going to pop someone’s head off.
The fact it’s omitted entirely from campaign, and in for multiplayer, just wreaks of dumbing down something which would be better off left alone. On the plus side, long-time Gnasher users will be pleased to know that you can now start with your Shotgun of choice in hand, as well as other primary weapons – some of which are brand new.
The most significant change is to the Versus map design, it’s all gone rather vertical, and much more cover can now be mantled over, letting you drop down below on the enemy. The modes available include the all-new Free-for-All, delivering some frantic play; where as Gears classics, such as King of the Hill – now Domination, and TDM return and are reworked for Judgment; with each delivering a style of play that always keeps you in the action and never left on the side-lines.
The multiplayer aspect is off to somewhat of a rough start with only four maps available for versus play, though given the value that Gears of War games typically pack in, it’s also worth pointing out that there’s an additional four maps, which are specific, and tailored to the all-new OverRun and Survival co-op modes – though gone are the days where you can cram a Horde-like experience into a map originally designed for versus play.
The big focus in Judgment’s competitive co-op modes is all about Squad play. It’s no longer a gruelling Horde battle for survival, it’s now simply objective based, attack and defend.
While new modes OverRun and Survival are very much in the same; the difference is that Survival sees you taking control of just the COG as you’re on defence against waves of Locust and face much more A.I. enemies more frequently than you do in OverRun. The reason for this, is that OverRun is players vs. players and round based, where a squad of COG must again defend, while a squad of Locust are on the attack.
The objective is very clear-cut, the COG must protect the generator to stop the full might of the Locust from emerging, and the Locust must charge in to destroy it. This is where the squad-play mechanics come into play for both teams – with Engineer Baird being able to repair fences and deploy his own temporary sentry turret, to Cole Train – who can throw down ammo for his team (and himself), and make use of the much more powerful Booshka grenade launcher, to Sofia – the team’s medic who can throw out a grenade to heal and revive squad-mates, and lastly Paduk, the team’s Sniper scout, who can climb perched-up ledges to convey the area and throw out a beacon to highlight the enemies location for the rest of the team.
For every Squad member’s ability, the Locust typically have a counter of their own, with the Kantus acting as their own medic, to the the Rager – one of Judgment’s key new enemies in campaign, also makes his presence felt in OverRun, he plays like a traditional Drone for the most part, that is until you activate his ability, turning him into a more compact Berserker of sorts, easily laying waste to any nearby COG forces. As with Gears 3’s Beast mode before it, there’s a selection of familiar Locust forces at your disposal.
It’s a very different approach to the Gears Horde/Beast formula where you typically just gun down everything in-sight and hold out for as long as possible. It’s much tougher, with some actual strategy and communication required for players to decide what roles to play for the best odds of success.
It’s clear that Judgment’s campaign is unique in one respect, whether solo or for the co-op crowd; it’s going to be as every bit as re-playable as the all new attack and defend based co-op modes in OverRun and Survival. It’s however the competitive nature of multiplayer that ultimately shines through, and with all the fundamental tweaks to the core gameplay, and the added vertical nature, it’s without doubt – lacking content aside – the most unique part of Judgment’s offering, so much so that the already announced Season Pass isn’t so much an option, but a necessity.
Score 8/10 – Review by Wayne Julian