Developer: People Can Fly / Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Gears Of War: Judgement Review (Xbox 360)
The fourth entry into the Gears of War franchise tries to add some new things to the series while holding onto the Gears DNA. It’s a difficult challenge to overcome, even more so in a franchise with such a vocal fan base. Gears of War: Judgement has finally surfaced, but has the collaboration between Epic Games and People Can Fly resulted in the definitive Gears experience? Or does it fade into the shadows of its predecessors?
With primary storyline of Gears of War over and done with Judgement goes back to the past, more specifically Baird & Cole’s past. The campaign kicks off in the aftermath of Emergence Day with Baird’s Kilo squad standing trial for disobeying orders. The exact reasoning for Kilo’s disobedience is initially unknown, but as each squad member testifies their flashbacks form the 6 chapters of the Judgement campaign.
The concept of telling a story through flashbacks is quite interesting, and is used moderately well by People Can Fly, however the story itself is rather flat. The plot is paper thin and rarely manages to build any momentum or create any interesting plot developments. Things aren’t helped by a rather weak cast of characters. Both Baird and Cole feel rather muted in comprehension to their personalities in the first three Gears games. The two new characters tend to fade into the background of the plot. It’s not that any of them have nothing to say, It’s just what they do actually say has little to no impact. The Gears of War franchise isn’t known for having a ”good’ story, Judgement’s comes off as fan fiction in comprehension to it’s predecessors.
People Can Fly’s work can clearly be seen in the integrated scoring system present throughout the campaign. Points are earned by pulling off various kills (gibs, executions and the like) with a set number of points achieving one of three star ratings up for grabs in each chapter . The scoring system could arguably be viewed as taking away a sense of immersion from the overall experience.
Even with a weak plot the campaign still offers a enjoyable ride. Four player co-op player is still featured and still works well in favor of the game. The core gameplay is still satisfying as ever, even with the odd tweak, but the addition of ”Declassified”modifiers adds a new layer of depth to the core of the campaign. In each Locust infested chapter are large omens painted on the wall. These omens activate ”Declassified” missions that add a extra challenge to a chapter. Declassified normally adds stronger enemies to a section or restricts players to using certain weaponry. It’s a nice feature that freshens up the gameplay from chapter to chapter. Each Declassified mission greatly helps players to achieving the maximum three star rating up for grabs in each chapter. ”Declassified” is merely a option, players are not forced into completing them but they do make the Gears experience that little bit more exhilarating.
The campaign does try to change it’s gameplay as often as it can (away from Declassified) by tasking players in various situations in which they defend a zone. These sections feel almost ‘Horde’ like as players tag grenades onto walls, place turrets and mines and position themselves for the wave on incoming enemies. These defending sections do provide a number of enjoyable moments, even more so on harder settings, but a lack of new enemy types makes them feel like already covered ground. The range of enemies in general is quite disappointing.
The established assortment of Locust are all present with only a few minor editions. The most interesting addition by far is the ‘Rager’. This Locust type carries the brutal new weapon the ‘Breechshot’, after taking damage the Rager drops its weapon and goes into a berserker like state, charging at the enemy. The Rager carries a great sense of threat due to its effectiveness at both long and short range, best of all it feels perfectly at home in the Gears universe.
Gears of War has always been known for it’s solid production values, Judgement carries on the tradition. The audio design is fantastic with each weapon creating a thundering crash when every they are fired. The sound effects remain as brutal as ever and allow each kill and execution to carry a sense of weight. The visuals do a decent job of showcasing the gothic-esque art style of the Gears universe. The visuals don’t dazzle however, but this is mostly down to the nature of the environments being rather dull.
Multiplayer has always been one of the areas where Gears of War has garnered a lot of praise. Judgement marks a change in direction with a number of elements either being taken away or radically altered. The pace of the multiplayer is noticeably faster and slightly more fierce, this is somewhat down to the lack of ”down but not out” situations arising. The days of shotgun duals all over the map have been replaced with players mixing and matching their weapon choice, adding a sense of variation into the general play of each multiplayer match.
Player’s load-out in multiplayer has been slightly tweaked with players now being restricted to spawning with one primary weapon and a snub pistol. One of the stranger changes comes in the shape of how the grenades are handled. Players are allocated a grenade to spawn with, the types of grenades on offer change depending on game mode. Both the frag & ink grenades are present, along with three support types. Smoke grenades make a return but are now accompanied with spot (highlights enemies in the grenades blast range) and Stim grenades (heals friendly units in the blast range), with the former presenting a slight balance issue.
The range of modes on offer in Judgement’s multiplayer is a disappointment. Old favorites have been cut, though execution has since been added via DLC, in favor of new modes. Free For All and Team Deathmatch are exactly what you’d think they are, and with the new pace of multiplayer the two modes work well enough. Domination takes the familiar rule set of claiming points in a map in order to hit the score cap and puts it into the Gears universe. The most interesting mode is Overun which challenges COG players to defend a generator from player controlled Locust. To it’s credit, Overrun offers a enjoyable experience that gives Judgement’s multiplayer some much needed variation. Playing as the higher tier Locust is undeniable fun, even if the game mode feels more favorable to the Locust.
The problem with Judgement’s multiplayer is the lack of content and depth. The multiplayer has a mere four maps (four versus maps, four Overrun maps) with a extra map being added via the before mentioned Execution DLC. The maps themselves tend to be too big and often prolong matches due to people trying to find each the other. This doesn’t mean the maps are particularly bad, but does mean the multiplayer experience feels slightly disjointed. The obvious issue with the maps lies within playing the same rotation over and over. It becomes rather dull to cover familiar ground so frequently.
The lack of modes does no favors for Judgement, the most glaring omission is Horde. The replacement for the fan favorite is Survival mode which is simply Overrun with the Locust being controlled by AI. Survival come off as a rather pointless addition that was put into the final product purely to make up numbers. Judgement feels like a step backwards when it comes to multiplayer purely down to the lack of modes and maps. It’s a great shame that a franchise known for its range of modes has now become such a limited offering.
Gears of War: Judgement is a adequate entry into the franchise, but it never rises to anything great. The campaign is saved from mediocrity by the Declassified challenges which provide a worthwhile experience. The core Gears gameplay is still solid and remains the best example of cover based shooting on the market today. The multiplayer is still fun but the sheer lack of game modes and maps leaves a lot to be desired. Judgement isn’t a bad game, nor is it anything particularly great, it is however merely adequate. Judgement fails to move the Gears franchise any further forward and instead comes off as filler. In a crowded market, Judgement fails to stand out, but does mange to service the hardcore Gears fan.
Gears Of War: Judgement Review (Xbox 360),