Gears of War: Judgement was met with an appropriate amount of skepticism when it was announced last year. With the Gears trilogy proper having just wrapped up the October before hand, was it really necessary to give us a prequel?
Epic Games’ subsidiary studio, People Can Fly, took this challenge on and brought their own twist to the Gears formula. Can a competitive scoring mode and gameplay-altering challenges help Gears of War: Judgement feel fresh?
Gears of War: Judgement takes place in the early days of the Human-Locust War and centers on the antics of one Lieutenant Damon Baird before he was permanently busted down to the rank of Private. The story in Judgement is told flashback style with the conceit that each of the squad members under Baird’s command (including fan favorite Cole Train, but no Marcus or Dom) are giving their testimony at an ad-hoc military court. This narrative structure helps frame the new “Declassified” mechanic, which adds challenge modifiers to each level in the game by presenting a “here’s how it really happened” set-up. These modifiers allow you to earn points faster, and this helps you accrue more ranking stars (each level has a maximum of three stars you can earn, and the color of the star depends on the difficulty level you’re playing on. For example, Hardcore nets you Gold stars and Insane yields Onyx stars.).
The Declassified missions are not hidden, either; they’re big, obvious Crimson Omen symbols on the wall during the start of a section. The Declassified mission run the gamut of four types: environmental hazards, enhanced Locust enemies, weapon restrictions and timed sections. Of these, the environmental changes are my favorite, especially an earlier level where a basement gets choked with a thick blanket of dust and Theron Guards with cleavers run at you from every direction. The timed levels, especially on the higher difficulties, can be very trying, but it’s incredibly satisfying to earn those three stars each time, something that will keep you coming back to Judgement’s campaign.
Visually, Judgement is stunning, especially as we’re nearing the end of this generation. Most of the game’s impressive sights have to do with large, open spaces where you can see the whole of Halvo Bay (the city you’re running around in) basically going to hell thanks to the invading Locust. The draw distance seems to go on forever, and black Kryll clouds obscure the skyline. People Can Fly really put the Unreal Engine through its paces with this game, but the results are well worth it. Control-wise, Judgement is more or less the same as Gears of War 3. Speaking of, there’s a short “epilogue” of sorts where you can play as Cole and Baird during their side-mission to get reinforcements in the end game of Gears of War 3. It lacks the scoring system of the main game, unfortunately, but that doesn’t stop PCF from throwing Declassified-style level modifiers at you anyway.
While the story of Judgement is nothing special (and actually bears a lot of resemblance to the plot of the original Gears), the Declassified system in combination with the ranking stars makes the campaign a blast to play through. My recommendation is to grab a co-op buddy and play it on Insanity for the best results.
The biggest notable absence from Judgement’s multiplayer line-up is Horde mode, which has been replaced by OverRun and Survival. OverRun pits a class-based COG team against a player-controlled Locust onslaught, and Survival is basically that but with AI Locusts. It’s a pale imitation of the game mode that came to define a lot of people’s experiences with Gears of War, though. Horde 2.0 in Gears of War 3 saw the GamerSushi editors tucking back more than half a year after release, and it doesn’t look like Overrun will have those kids of legs. The one thing Survival has on its side is that it’s only ten waves as opposed to the sometimes daunting 50 that Horde 2.0 required.
On the competitive side, the fare is pretty slim, with four maps being shipped on the disc and the classic human vs Locust pairing is replacing with human on human. It’s a strange departure for Gears of War, even if the multiplayer is more or less the same game you remember mechanically. There’s really not much new on offer aside from a capture-and-hold mode, but if you’ve got the “Gears itch”, this will definitely scratch it.
The Declassified challenges in the campaign add a great level of replayability to Gears of War: Judgement, especially when paired with the ranking stars. Going back in to levels just to see if you can eek out a few more points and top your friend on the leaderboard adds another layer to the already fun, refined gameplay the series is know for. Combine that with the stunning view of Sera in the early days of the war, and you’ve got a real treat for Gears campaign aficionados.
While the multiplayer might be lacking in the breadth of its offerings, it’s still that same of Gears of War craziness you know and love.
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