Gears of War: Judgment (360)

By Chip Tamplin

Published on Sunday, March 24, 2013

Graphics: 9.00
Sound: 9.00
Gameplay: 10.00
Replays: 10.00
Gamelength: 9.00

In the way that Halo jettisoned the Xbox to the level of success it had, the same can be argued for the Gears of War franchise for the Xbox 360. Over the last seven years Epic Games has published four Gears of War titles. The trilogy, that opened up on 360 way back in 2006 still stands as one of the my all time favorite games. Two and three were fantastic in their own ways, but the trilogy surrounding Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad sadly had to end eventually. Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of the Gears universe. This is of course where Gears of War: Judgment comes in.

While the tale of Marcus Fenix is done, there is so much of the Gears left unexplored. When the trilogy ended you knew it was over, but fans were still clamoring for more and Epic Games and new developers People Can Fly (behind 2011’s vastly underrated Bulletstorm) listened intently. While this story sadly doesn’t start at the events of Emergence Day, it does pick up with – then Lieutenant – Damon Baird and Augustus Cole – both staples from the original Gears of War trilogy – led off a Raven in shackles. The camera then pans to two new squad mates: Onyx guard cadet Sofia Hendriks and former UIR soldier Garron Paduk, also in shackles. As guards lead you into a battered courthouse you’re greeted by Colonel Ezra Loomis, a by-the-book leader during the early years of fighting. You’ll soon find out the Loomis is leading an ill-timed tribunal against your squad for acts of treason. He proclaims, “The charges will be defined as I hear your testimony.” While you’re in this dark, decrepit courtroom, the building quakes from the explosions going on right outside the door. Kilo squad pleads with Colonel Loomis to take up the tribunal at another time, but Loomis won’t hear it choosing to, instead, begin hearing testimony from the members of Kilo Squad. This is how the main sections of the story are told. Each member of Kilo goes through the events, giving their testimony that leads into the story. With each players testimony you’ll play through their perspective, rather than being pigeonholed to one character for the entirety of the campaign. In flashback form, Kilo Squad sets out to stop the evil Karn, who, along with General RAAM from the first Gears of War game, would mastermind E-Day and the eventual war against the COG.

With a new installment of the franchise comes new weaponry. Newly added to the mix of weapons are the tripwire crossbow (you can create an explosive tripwire for enemies), breechshot (make shift sniper rifle, lacks scope), Markza (UIR caliber sniper rifle) and the Booshka (UIR grenade launcher). The majority of the combat style remained the same, though they did away with the use of the D-pad. Instead, opting for the more “traditional” shooter style, utilizing “Y” to swap weapons, and “LB” to throw grenades. Definitely might take some getting used to for seasoned veterans of Gears, but overall it makes it more accessible to those who aren’t as familiar with the Gears style of gameplay.

To keep the campaign fresh, People Can Fly added a star-grading system to the campaign. Based on how you play through each section you’re accumulate up to three stars and the more stars you get you’re able to unlock weapons skins and usable characters for multiplayer. You don’t just gain stars for killing enemies but also HOW you kill enemies. Headshots, close kills and collecting ribbons (for example: chain sawing three enemies in a row) help you earn stars quicker while being careless (going Down but not Out) will lose you points towards the stars. Also new to the series is the addition of Declassified missions during the campaign. Throughout each section of the game you’ll see the Gears of War logo glowing red, by clicking “X” you’ll pull up a menu asking if you want to play the mission “exactly how it went down in real life”. Clicking no doesn’t really affect the game, but it is tougher to earn the three stars. The declassified missions vary a lot depending on the circumstances. They can range from completing X objective in X amount of time or it’s mission failure to visibility being lowered by smoke grenades, completing sections where you start with no ammunition or only using a sawed-off shotgun and a pistol. The declassified missions definitely add a level of complexity to an otherwise linear campaign, but even though I enjoyed them I felt they took away from the overall pacing of the campaign. I felt they would’ve been better suited for an arcade section of the main hub, much like Gears 3 had.

Of course, most people play games like Gears of War more for the multiplayer than the campaign. The second installment brought new life to the multiplayer by adding one of the most popular multiplayer modes – Horde, where players played cooperatively against fifty waves of the locust horde. Three took the Horde mode and flipped it around, allowing players to play as various classes of Locust in an attempt to bring down the lowly COG. Judgment takes it another step further and combines Horde and Beast modes into a new mode called OverRun. Rather than the team you’re playing against being bots, you’re able to play against real people. Each game sees each team play once as the COG soldiers and once as the Locust horde. As the COG your job is to protect E-Hole covers so more locust don’t spawn, while as the Locust your job is to destroy the covers and push the COG further back. While the Locust portion is the exact same as Beast mode – in that you start as the lower tier of Locust – Wretches, Tickers, Grenadiers and Kantus – and accumulate points based off destruction of COG fortifications and killing and can then purchase bigger and better Locusts such as Serapedes and Maulers. While there wasn’t an overhaul to the Locust horde, there was a pretty substantial one to the COG side. There are four classes of COG soldier you’re able to choose from, each with its own individual perk that’s crucial to success. You’ve got four classes to choose from: Engineer, Soldier, Medic and Scout. The Engineer’s special ability is deploying turrets while wielding a Gnasher shotgun; their secondary weapon is a repair tool that allows them to fix fortifications. Soldiers come with the ability to throw ammo boxes to teammates while wielding a lancer and a booshka. Scouts wield a Markza and a snub pistol while being able to reach higher areas of the map to snipe. They’re also able to throw beacon grenades that show any locust in the area in red. Finally we come to the medic class. Wielding a lancer and a sawed-off shotgun the medics are equipped with stim-gas grenades that are able to heal any teammates who have gone DBNO. With each teammate working in tandem, it’s definitely a welcome addition to the Gears of War multiplayer arsenal.

Sadly, the only real complaint I have of Judgment is the loss of Horde mode, at least in terms of the way it was conceived and was meant to be played. There’s a new mode called Survival, where you fight through ten waves, but it’s not the same. Development cycle aside, I don’t understand why they felt the need to take out one thing to add another, but frankly that’s my only real complaint. I think applying the new classes to previous the Horde mode would’ve been unstoppable.

That gripe aside, People Can Fly did a phenomenal job with Judgment. They didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they did a great job of doing just enough to breathe new life into the franchise and hopefully leave us open to several more installments in the future.

Overall Rating: 9.00

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