The Gears series has been a brilliant showcase for the Xbox 360 for a solid 6 years now, giving us classics like the roadie run, active reloading, cover to cover diving and most importantly the introduction of a machine gun turned chainsaw. Three games later and Epic have passed the reigns over to People Can Fly, who were responsible for the equally over the top action fest Bulletstorm. So what can we expect from Gears of War: Judgment other than more of the same?
Rather than the further exploits of Marcus Fenix we now have a prequel. Fresh from the Pendulum Wars, the COG army find themselves on the back foot following the sudden attack from the Locusts, an underground race that have started to rise up and claim the surface; with Judgment taking place a month after Emergence Day with humanity finally making a stand against this seemingly unstoppable force. We join the game right in the middle of the fight, with Kilo Squad before a courts martial for turning traitor. All is not clear what is going on at first, with the game then playing as a series of flashbacks, with each chapter a testimonial from each of the team on trial, Baird, Sofia, Augustus Cole and Garron.
The action is full on just like the previous games, with it throwing plenty of cannon fodder your way and drip feeding out an assortment of even more brutal weapons like the Oneshot, Tripwire crossbow, a massive cleaver and the classic Mulcher. The basic action has been relatively untouched, it is still a third person cover based shooter, diving from walls to cars to get into better position, with fire fights being very start stop with each area containing a battle that will stop progression until the area cleared, then moving into the next and though the action is a little samey, replayability has clearly been at the forefront of level design, not only with the return of the COG tags littered around the battlefields but also plenty of new ideas. The first big difference you notice is the star system, three large stars at the top of the screen that slowly fill up with kills. These stars unlock certain extras as you play, which includes levelling up your character and issuing Prize Boxes that grant access to plenty of customisation skins not only for your weapons but also playable characters and an extra campaign called Aftermath that links Judgment to what occurs during the events in Gears of War 3.
The other main addition to bring you back to the fight is the inclusion of the Mission Declassification events; these appear at certain points of the game, granting you the chance to increase the difficulty even more. These arise due to the nature of the story, with the four characters giving statements to the court martial these act as information that you can declassify as you see fit. If not already difficult enough these areas up the challenge significantly, adding restrictions like using certain weapons, visibility being reduced or a countdown to an unauthorised use of a Hammer of Dawn with you needing to clear the area fast before being killed by friendly fire. Though these declassified areas offer tougher challenges, the pay-out is worth it as it also allows you to earn stars quicker
To keep the action fresh the game throws different situations to keep you interested, like protecting a BOT, using sentry turrets for a little extra firepower when you are cornered plus there is also the introduction of a new game AI that really does alter gameplay, S3 (Smart Spawn System); with the fire fights changing each time you replay, adding different spawn locations and even swapping around the enemies you fight, a great idea that adds even more variety to replays.
In single player you are pretty much always accompanied by the rest of your team who will add fire support and also pick you up when bleeding out and for computer controlled characters they do quite well though if that is not real enough for you, you can always opt for four player online co-op, allowing friends and strangers to join your game. Of course Gears of War: Judgment is much more fun online, aside from the multiplayer modes there are also plenty of stats to compare with other players like a running score that will keep on popping up, showing you stats like how many head shots or executions you have compared to your friends list, which then filters through to the star system mentioned earlier.
Graphically Gears of War: Judgment is as gorgeous as ever, with the city of Halvo Bay not quite the post-apocalyptic mess that was present in the previous Gears trilogy, the devastation taking place all around you, Locusts tearing the cities beautiful buildings apart before your eyes, becoming the more familiar mess of rubble and scarred concrete. Judgment also has no problem throwing plenty of enemies at you, with boomers, grinders, wretches and lots of new enemies all sharing the same screen, the game never struggling with all of the action, it's impressive stuff that's made even better with the constant narration from whoever is giving testimony and the satisfying dirty rev of the chainsaw moments before burying into the neck of a locust.
Online will be where players will spend most of their time with a return of a classic plus an evolution of what came before. Team Deathmatch is the standard battle till only one team remains but we now also have a Free For All mode, with ten players all gunning for each other. Domination is another team mode, with 2 teams fighting to control rings located around the map. The final two modes offer the most changes to the Gears norm, first is OverRun, yet another team based mode but for the first time adding classes to the character selection. Alternating between COG and Locust soldiers you are tasked to destroy or protect objectives, slowly moving across a selection of specifically created maps. The COG classes consist of an Engineer who can create automated sentry turrets and repair fences, a Soldier that can support others by dropping ammo boxes, the Medic can throw stim gas that can heal and also revive downed colleagues and finally the Scout, who can use a motion tracker that shows all enemies in the vicinity and also climb certain structures, granting an advantageous sniping position. The Locust side is slightly different, with four basic troops available like the self-destructible Tickers, Grenadiers and the Kantus that can heal nearby Locusts. With each kill a team score then builds up to granting access to another four including the Serapede and the fearsome Corpser. The final mode is Survival, a mixture of the new OverRun and favourite Horde, with class based COG soldiers trying to survive ten waves of incoming locusts.
Though the action is not really any different from past games other than slight tweaks to gameplay here and there that is not really a problem when it's just that fun to play, with loads of extras to tempt you back not only to online play but also single player. There is clearly a rich backstory to mine in the Gears lore and hopefully we will see more in the coming years if they continually improve on the originals like Judgment has.
Words by Ash Buchanan.
(Version Tested: Xbox 360)
- Lots of replay options.
- Extensive multiplayer modes.
- An extra playable epilogue to Gears of War 3.
- Most intense action yet.
- Action-wise, it is more of the same.