Gears of War is back for one last hurrah before the next generation hits and People Can Fly is now leading the charge. Billed as a prequel to the original trilogy, Judgment focuses on a younger Baird and Cole along with the rest of Kilo Squad 15 years before the events of the previous games. Being set around the theme of “defiance” or “going against orders”, the game itself takes up this message by changing popular elements from the previous titles to create something fresh. Sporting new tricks up its sleeves while still maintaining that Gears feel, do these risks pay off or should it be sent to the scrapyard?
Full review awaits you after the jump….
Gears of War Judgment is a prequel of sorts, picking up a few days after Emergence Day on Sera. Marcus, Dom and the crew are out this time, replaced in favor of series favorites Damon Baird and Augustus Cole. Lt Baird and the rest of his Kilo Squad find themselves in a makeshift trial lead by Colonial Ezra Loomis as the war rages on around them. Being charged with treason, the player is initially left in the dark as to what happened and why they’re here. It’s through the campaign’s story that things start to unravel. The majority of the campaign takes place through a retelling by each character testimony with the last chapter being set in the present. I did enjoy how the story was told, but I wasn’t floored by the overall material. It wasn’t bad by any means, just not as memorable as the core Gears trilogy.
Gameplay wise, Judgment plays a bit different than what traditionalists probably are expecting. The campaign seems to be heavily inspired by Gears of War 3’s “arcade mode” where the object (outside of surviving) is to earn three stars in each chapter. You do this through a number of ways including earning ribbons, executions, headshots and so on. It’s an interesting system and one that adds a bit of tension to the gameplay as you’re constantly checking the meter to see how you’re doing. Ultimately though, the stars are a bit like points in “Who’s Line Is It, Anyway?”, they just don’t matter. It’s just a gameplay hook to keep you coming back.
Another way to quickly earn stars and one of the bullet points for the game itself, is the Declassified Missions. These essentially act as a modifier that earns you stars faster but introduce a usually tougher challenge in the chapter. You’ll face things like modified weapons, low ammo, a level timer, or even fog which obscures your vision. The declassified mission modifiers do help freshen things up a bit so I’d fully recommend doing them whenever you see them.
Overall, the campaign is an interesting change of pace and I like the way the story is told, but the level design in my opinion leaves a little to be desired. Instead of these long chapters full of checkpoints, the levels in Judgment are much shorter, usually resulting in entering a room and defeating a wave of enemies. In this sense, it’s almost like a segmented Horde mode. The levels are fairly short as there’s not a ton of walking like in a traditional campaign and once or twice through a couple chapters you’ll face a mission where you need to defend an area against multiple Locust waves. It’s an interesting way to mix up the traditional campaign structure but ultimately, I was left looking for more. Ultimately, levels typically played out by entering an area, surviving a wave or two of Locust enemies, and then moving on to the next chapter. It works for a while, but ultimately it got a bit stale due to the lack of gameplay variation.
If there’s one thing I would have liked to see changed, it’s with the new lead bad guy, a Locust general named Karn. Just based on his look alone, he’s an interesting character. He appears to be very imposing and even the COG seemed a little intimidated by him, ultimately, he has very little screentime. Not enough to leave a lasting impact unfortunately. I won’t spoil anything but I think he could have used a bit more to reinforce who he is and why he’s perceived as a badass. As it is, he has barely any time to build up and be antagonistic to the player.
Once you unlock it, Aftermath represents a new campaign segment (and separate mode entirely) that takes place during the events of Gears 3, when Baird and Cole went off to find supplies before as Marcus and gang headed towards Azura. The biggest thing you’ll notice in Aftermath is that it plays completely different from the Judgment campaign. Aftermath is more akin to a traditional Gears game campaign as the levels and chapters are longer and feature many checkpoints. Interestingly enough, it feels like DLC that was ripped straight out of Gears of War 3 as many of the elements in Judgment are removed here including the star system and declassified modifiers. It plays very much like a classic Gears chapter.
In terms of controls, the game plays exactly as you would expect, only this time with a few new tricks including being able to toss grenades instead of having to aim first, a few new weapons and enemies, and also a new AI director that can change spawns and enemies types on the fly based on how you’re playing. It does make each playthrough unique and rewards people who like to replay segments. better yet, this adjustment on the fly also applies to player deaths. So if you die in the middle of a level, you’re probably not going to see the same enemies types assaulting you. It’s a brand new addition and one I hope they continue to use in the future.
Now we get to multiplayer and the first word that comes to mind is limited. Technically speaking, I’ve had no issues with it. I’ve been able to connect fine, experienced no lag or drops during my gameplay, and have had fun. With that said, the whole multiplayer side seems very light on content and I can’t figure out why. Gears 3 really set the standard for the franchise, giving players a wealth of unlocks, modes, and things to do. Judgment on the other hand seems to pull back from that. Out of the box, the game only features four maps and four multiplayer modes: OverRun, Free for All, Team Deathmatch, and Domination.
Players will also notice a ton of changes to multiplayer, some which may upset traditionalists. Players won’t be seeing “DBNO” (Down But Not Out), as it’s been scrapped completely. You’re also now only able to utilize two guns, a primary (rifle or shutgun, not both) and a secondary. Perhaps this is to limit the players who tend to favor the gnasher shotgun but it’s an odd choice, and one that may upset fans of the previous games. Different grenade types are also available from the frag, to the health effects of the stim grenade. Free DLC has already been pushed out to the game adding the game mode Execution and a new map, Haven. I’d imagine that if you want additional maps and modes, you’ll be waiting for DLC packs. Outside of that, you’re essentially stuck with the 4 modes and maps out of the box.
The big addtion and one that’s taken much publicity has been OverRun, which is a class based mash up of Beast and Horde mode. I was initially skeptical of this mode but after giving it a try, I found it to be a great addition and had a really good time with it. Players take turns playing as either the Locust (like Beast) or the COG defenders (like Horde), only this time the COG feature a class system. The Locust are out to destroy 3 different points around the map, unlocked in succession as the Locust destroy the first point, very similar to Battlefield’s “Rush” mode. Cole represents the Soldier class, able to use a grenade launcher and release ammo for teammates to pick up. Baird is the engineer using the gnasher and a welding torch which can repair defenses. Sofia is the team’s medic, able to release stim grenades, able to revive downed team members and using a lancer. Finally, Garron is the scout of the group, able to use spot grenades, the markza rifle, and can utilize certain elevated positions around the map. As a Locust, the more points you gain, the higher tiered Locust characters unlock allowing you to really do some damage. By the end of the round, things get pretty chaotic. Yes, the mode is stacked towards the Locust players, but it is entirely possible to win as the COG soldiers.
Fans of “Horde Mode” are now left with Survival which is essentially OverRun, only this time, you’re facing the AI and not human enemies. Personally, the mode is fine, but it’s a poor replacement for Horde. Players face 10 increasingly difficult waves of locust as they try to destroy the emergence holes and finally a generator that you’re protecting just like OverRun. Again, it’s a good mode, just not a good replacement for Horde. I managed to beat Survival by myself on casual difficulty in about 40 minutes. With a full group, you should be able to ram through in no time.
With that said, one element that I love is the “Prizebox” rewards. These essentially act as your “carrot on the stick” rewarding gamers for things like kills (Normal Prizebox), ribbons collected (Rare Prizebox), and leveling up (Epic Prizebox). They’re reward players with XP, weapon skins, and character skins. Basically fluff items, but it’s a strong motivator especially when you don’t know what you’re going to unlock.
Gears of War Judgment is an odd bird. On one hand, it displays it’s Gears heritage with pride, featuring familiar gameplay and enemies. The game is technically flawless, packing fantastic and crisp visuals, and fits well into gamer’s expectations going in. On the other hand, there are some baffling design choices and the single player campaign feels a bit short. That’s why this one is tough. Technically speaking, it’s solid but the problem I have comes with the actual content itself. If you’re a casual fan of the franchise, I might recommend doing some research before you dive in. If you’re a hardcore Gears head, even with some of the odd changes, you should find something to love here.