Review: Gears of War: Judgement
After the popularity of the original Gears trilogy, it wasn’t really a surprise to anyone that a new Gears game was announced at E3 last year. This time round the game is being co-developed by Epic Games and People Can Fly, who are well known for the titles Painkiller and Bulletstorm. Gears of War: Judgement acts as a prequel to the original Gears of War, and even comes with a free digital copy of the original title, if you missed it the first time.
Damon Baird is the protagonist this time round, the game follows him and his team of COG soldiers named, Kilo Squad. The game opens with Baird and his band of merry men at a tribunal headed up by his commanding officer, Colonel Loomis. As Baird explains his side of the story it’s up to you to play out his story in a series of flashbacks – the game swaps and changes between the different members of Kilo Squad as they recount their different viewpoints.
The single player campaign will take you about 8-10 hours depending on the difficulty etc. There’s six chapters in all with about 7-10 sections within each chapter. These sections are basically encounters with the Locust, at the start of each section you’ll come across a giant Gears logo on the wall which will allow you to enable the Declassified missions, if you so wish. These missions will basically make the game harder, which in turn reaps bigger rewards.
You see, each section has a three star ranking, as you play through them, kill locust and so on, the ranking will go up. As you get more stars you’ll unlock more goodies to use in multiplayer and the like. For example, if you want to access the Gears of War 3 – Aftermath mission then you’ll need 40 stars. If you activate the Declassified missions then you’ll boost your star ranking, making it a lot easier to get stars. It’s very tricky to get three stars in a section without the Declassified missions.
Each section usually lasts about 10 minutes or so, although that depends on if you’ve activated the Declassified missions or not. The Declassified missions can be anything from a time limit, extra enemies, tougher enemies, limited ammo, no ammo, restricting you to certain guns and so on. One of the worst ones I came across was turning on a fog that covered the whole section making it very, very hard to see anything more than three feet in front of you.
Whilst this is great in terms of re-playability and challenging your co-op buddies, of which you can now have up to four players, it isn’t possible to turn it off as far as I could see and it can be a bit of a distraction on the story-telling side of things. This is mainly because the game is stopping after each section and telling you your star rating, how many enemies you killed and so on – it’s much like the Echoes mode in Bulletstorm.
Gameplay wise, not much has changed apart from a quick controller reshuffle. Y now swaps between weapons, LB will throw grenades – you don’t need to equip them first this time round – and Up on the D-pad replaces Y from the previous Gears games. Of course, a new game wouldn’t be complete without some new equipment – there’s four new guns, one new Locust and a couple of new grenades. The new guns come in the form of the Marksa, which is a scoped, single shot rifle and it’s brother the Breechshot, which is much the same gun but without the scope and a smaller clip. Then there’s the Booshka, which is a human grenade launcher – lastly, the tripwire crossbow, this works like the Torque Bow except it lays down a tripwire and if you trip it, it explodes.
The new Locust is named the Rager, it comes equipped with a Breechshot and when it gets low on health it transforms into a raging beast, think of it as a mini-berserker. The main new grenade is the Stim-gas, this is basically a healing grenade, which comes into it’s own in the Survival and Overrun modes. On the whole there’s not a lot of change, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it. One nifty new feature, if you can call it that, is the new spawning system of enemies; basically the enemies you get attacked by are produced at random so if you die and retry the area you may get attacked by a completely different set of foes.
Of course, the main stay for Gears has always been the multiplayer and there’s quite a few changes on this front. Horde mode is gone, as is Beast – Horde’s been replaced by Survival whilst Beast has been replaced with Overrun and they’re both quite similar. The aim in both is for the Locust to destroy the COGs Hammer of Dawn, to do this they must push the COG back through the map by destroying the COGs anti-emergence hole equipment. Fans of Gears of War 3 will know that in Horde you had a chance to buy fortifications at the end of each wave, that’s no longer the case. When the level starts you have some fortifications down by default but if they’re destroyed then you can’t rebuild them.
The difference between Survival and Overrun is that in Survival you have to survive 10 waves of Locust attacks, in Overrun the teams take it in turns to be COG and Locust and the one who progressed the furthest wins. Being a Locust works much like it did in Beast mode, you gain money and with that you can buy a member of the Horde. You can choose to be the new Locust Ranger, with his special Rage attack, which felt a little overpowered in my playtime. The main changes come on the COG side of things, when you spawn you can pick one of four classes, there’s the Engineer, Assault, Sniper and Medic.
The Engineer can thrown down sentry turrets and repair fortifications, the Assault class can throw down ammo supplies, the Sniper can throw Beacon grenades which show you where the Locust are and the Medic thrown Stim-gas grenades. All have their own weapons but there’s no frag-grenades etc. as the special abilities are activated with the LB, which is the grenade button. On top of these two modes you have the classic free-for-all and team deathmatch modes as well as a new mode called, Domination. Here the two teams must battle for map control, there’s three rings on the map and you get points for owning them, the team that reaches the score limit first, wins.
There’s still the ability to select your character and starting weapon, although you can now change your character’s skin to make them look like a skeleton, mummy etc. if you wish. To unlock these you need to earn prize boxes, there’s three types of boxes, normal, rare and Epic. You’ll get normal ones for killing dudes, rare ones for getting lots of ribbons and Epic boxes for going up in level. Epic boxes have the best stuff in, Normal boxes usually just have EXP.
Gears of War: Judgement can’t help but feel a bit flat after the brilliant Gears of War 3 – the campaign isn’t bad but there’s no stand out moments like in the previous games. The multiplayer all feels a bit toned down from the previous titles, I personally loved the Horde mode in Gears 3 and it’s a shame it’s been binned this time round. Overrun is a decent replacement for Beast but Survival doesn’t capture the same intensity of Horde. However, don’t get me wrong, Gears of War: Judgement is a very good game in it’s own right but if you’re looking for something that’s going to blow Gears 3 out of the water in terms of depth and storytelling then you may be disappointed.
A quick note on Aftermath, it’s longer than I was expecting, you’re looking at an hour or two worth of gameplay. It deals with a certain section of Gears 3, it’s definitely worth playing and is more traditional in the sense that it doesn’t have the Declassified missions or star rating.