Gears of War has been a mammoth franchise for both Epic Games and Microsoft, with three major iterations appearing so far this generation. With Gears of War: Judgment being the forth, some might call that a bit of over-saturation, but if it's any kind of saving grace, at least this latest one doesn't pretend to be a main series title. Instead, it focuses on the story of Baird and looks to build upon the stylised campaigns of old while offering a different take when it comes to the multiplayer.
Setting itself up as the first prequel in the franchise, Gears of War: Judgment places Damon Baird as the main character. He's joined by the famed Cole Train and two new characters (Sofia Hendrik and Garron Paduk), as they face a tribunal for their actions in the war against the Locust. Because of this, the campaign places you in control of the four characters as each of them recants their actions that led to them using an unsanctioned Lightmass bomb against the devilish Locust known as Karn.
It's a novel concept that's been used before, but it does allow for a narrative to take place without the use of too many cutscenes. The inclusion of "declassified" missions enhances this too, as these help to add an little bit of extra narrative to the different sections throughout the campaign.
As we've come to expect from the Gears of War franchise though, the story isn't too deep, and it's also on the short side. Most people will be able to get through it in around 5-6 hours without breaking too much of a sweat, and it doesn't stop being a disappointment no matter how many games it happens in. Still, with the structure used in Judgment, it does feel a little bit more paced.
Very little has changed when it comes to the gameplay of Judgment. If anything, things have been simplified to make the experience more streamlined. For example, you no longer have to use the d-pad to select different weapons, grenades and side-arms. Now, you can only hold two weapons total and a complementary smattering of grenades.
Aside from that, Judgment is your classic Gears of War game. There's a strong emphasis on cover, executions and teamwork and that all works fine. After all, if it isn't broken, why fix it? But that's exactly what was said about Gears of War 3. Very little has been done to try and improve any aspect of the gameplay and it's not something that should continue to be commended.
This also means that the four-person team system that was introduced in Gears of War 3 remains, warts and all. Yes, the game is designed to be played with three other humans to create the ultimate killing machine, but if you're stuck playing with the AI it can be a little bit annoying. As with Gears of War 3, if you're downed, the AI just doesn't seem to cut it.
As soon as you enter the downed state, one of the AI seems to be designated as the "reviver" and how they're picked it doesn't always make much sense. Even if there's a team mate who's closer, they will often just ignore you entirely. You also have to try and engineer yourself infront of the designated reviver, as they don't seem to be capable of turning around. This was perhaps a nit-pick in Gears of War 3, but it hasn't been fixed and there's no real explanation as to why, aside from laziness.On the positive side, the "declassified" missions help to make the whole experience more interesting from a gameplay perspective. In each section of the game, you'll find huge, red Gears markings on the wall. By selecting them, you'll be able to go through the next section with a handicap. These range from the rather simple "you can only use a certain weapon" to the rather difficult "you have almost no visibility".
You're also scored in each of the different sections based on your performance, and selection the "declassified" version helps to amplify your score somewhat. Again, this can be seen as a positive as it gives the game considerable replay value. However, something was implemented that does make this seem a bit redundant.
Every time you play the game, you will receive an experience that differs from the last. This is thanks to the new "smart spawn system" which alters the enemies you'll face, when they appear and where they appear. Why does this make the score system redundant? Well, because it makes the playing field rather uneven. Someone might set a very high score because they were facing a much easier scenario - that doesn't make them a better gamer, it just makes them a fortunate one.
When looking at the graphics and presentation, the voice work is top notch. It always has been in the Gears of War franchise and that remains the same, with a strong performance from Fred Tatasciore. The same can't be said for the music, takes a back seat in Judgment.
The graphics also don't seem to have changed a great deal and the same can be said about the enemies. Don't come into Judgment expecting to fight hordes of new Locust - there is only one new enemy, the Rager. Still, at least the campaign makes the encounters interesting enough.
You might also be disappointed to hear that Horde Mode has been ditched for Gears of War: Judgment. Instead, a multiplayer mode called OverRun has been introduced. In each match, you'll be able to play as a COG Defender, or a Locust Attacker, as they fight over a generator. There are numerous roles in each team, making it a very strategic game mode.
On the COG side, there are four roles: Engineer, Soldier, Medic and Scout. However, when you get to the Locust side, things seem a lot more interesting. Using systems implemented in other multiplayer games, you will be able to play as more dangerous Locust as a reward for doing well. There's a huge list of Locust here too, some of which are very dangerous. It's a whole bunch of fun and it glosses over the removal of Horde Mode rather well.
When looking at replay value, OverRun will provide plenty. There is also the Free-For-All multiplayer mode, which has removed the "Down, but Not Out" state and Aftermath, an additional story chapter that ties into Gears of War 3.
It seems that for all the good Gears of War: Judgment brings to the series, there's something that counteracts it and brings it back down to earth. The addition of "declassified" missions and score-based sections is a big plus, but some gameplay elements identified as issues in Gears of War 3 still haven't been fixed. There's also almost no attempt to try and drive the gameplay on again and it means Judgment will always been seen as a good game, rather than a great one.
|Fred Tatasciore's performance as Baird.|
|The campaign structure is a lot better now.|
|While good in theory, the "smart spawn system" seems to invalidate the leaderboards.|
|Issues from Gears of War 3 haven't been addressed.|
|Does almost nothing to further the gameplay expperience.|