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Gears of War: Judgment review

Tom Morgan
18 Mar 2013
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
37
inc VAT

A new multiplayer focus and some arcade-style gameplay tweaks keeps the Gears formula fresh, but the story is basic

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The Gears of War franchise isn’t exactly known for its subtlety – after all, its iconic Lancer Assault rifle uses a chainsaw as a bayonet. Traditionally, each new game has received an equally bombastic marketing blitz, but the built-up to this latest release has been relatively low key. Judgment is a prequel to the Gears trilogy, with a new focus on arcade-style gameplay spearheaded by new developer People Can Fly.

Having cut its teeth on Bulletstorm, the development team has transplanted its refreshing score-based gameplay mechanics which judge you based on performance, style, aggression and variety, into the Gears universe. It was always going to be a major departure for the series, which is why the new game isn’t simply Gears 4, but in practice it’s a fantastic addition that creates a “just one more go” mentality that was lacking from the previous campaigns.

Gears of War Judgment

Each chapter is now split into sections, which score you based on the number of enemies you take down, if you land any headshots and whether you pull off any of the series’ brutal signature execution moves. Quick and brutal gameplay is rewarded with up to three stars, which are used to unlock weapon and player skins to use in the multiplayer modes, as well as track your progress on the global leader boards.

As each level becomes a race to the finish, looking for more effective strategies and avoiding being downed - every time a teammate has to revive you your score plummets – the plot sometimes feels like a secondary concern. That’s not to say it isn’t engaging; taking control of series favourites Baird and Cole, or newcomers Sofia and Paduk, up to four players get to experience the Gears universe from an entirely new perspective. Taking place in the weeks following Emergence Day – the first appearance of the Locust Horde – the story unravels in flashback, as each member of Kilo squad takes turns to explain their actions at a tribunal for an unexplained war crime.

Gears of War Judgment

Cue more third person carnage, armed with the series’ signature weaponry, cover mechanics and excessive violence. In a world of modern military shooters, the Gears of War games have always had a refreshingly unique arsenal, and Judgment is no different; along with old favourites like the explosive Torque bow, the Hammer of Dawn orbital laser beam and the chainsaw-packing Lancer assault rifle, the new Booshka grenade launcher and rapid fire sniper rifles add extra variety.

However, it’s the optional Declassified objectives that really shake things up. You can activate them at the beginning of each section using the glowing COG icons in order to give your score a boost at the cost of increasing the difficulty with a series of dynamic challenges. These are wide-ranging, sometimes adding more enemies, forcing you to use specific weapons or complete sections in a set time limit, but there are many memorable moments which completely shift how you approach each level; fighting in the dark, with only the muzzle flash from your weapon illuminating the battlefield, battling strong winds that push you around the level and throw off your aim, and navigating trap-filled hallways that are set to explode.

Gears of War Judgment

There are plenty of memorable battles, with a Normandy-style beach offensive being one of the highlights, but otherwise Judgment feels rather samey throughout. This is partly due to the inclusion of Horde-style wave defence sections which give you a minute to lay traps and set up automatic gun turrets, before Locust troops try to take your position. They are enjoyable for the most part, but feel a little out of place in a campaign – especially when it was essentially a standalone mode in the last game.

There is at least huge potential for replay value, as levels play out differently on successive attempts thanks to a new dynamic spawning system. Enemy emergence holes are shuffled around, different Locust appear and weapon caches move, ensuring you never play the same game twice. It’s seamless, to the point that you really notice its absence in Aftermath, the secondary campaign set after the events of Gears 3. It wraps up some loose ends, but it’s a stark contrast to the rest of the game.

Gears of War Judgment

It’s the multiplayer modes that true Gears veterans will appreciate, with new Free-for-All and Team Deathmatch gametypes making an appearance for the first time. The down-but-not-out mechanic from previous games is gone - where once you could pick up your teammates so they could carry on the fight, now they are forced to respawn – which seriously speeds up gameplay, although limiting players to one main weapon feels like a step backwards.

Horde mode is missing, replaced with two new game types – OverRun and Survival. Both are now class-based, forcing players to choose a role in order to help their team. Medics have Stim grenades which provide a health boost, engineers resupply ammunition and snipers can climb up to higher vantage points. OverRun is our preferred mode, as it pits a team of COG soldiers against a Locust Horde squad – the COG have to defend an objective while the Locust try to destroy it. If they fail, the Locust advance and the battlefield shifts; fail a second time and it’s game over. Players swap sides at half time, and despite being far more complicated than any other game mode in series history, it’s incredibly well balanced.

Gears of War Judgment

It’s difficult to shake the feeling that Gears creator Epic Games has passed the buck with Judgment - possibly because the company is working on something for the next generation. With People Can Fly in charge, we were hoping to see some of the trademark humour and wit translate from Bulletstorm, but instead the single player characters were oddly quiet and difficult to connect with in the way that we did with Marcus and Dom throughout the original trilogy, but the series is still in safe hands.

Judgment manages to take the tried and tested Gears gameplay model and inject some new ideas, cementing its position as the best third person shooter available on the Xbox. Single-player gamers and series newcomers should tackle the main trilogy first, as there’s not a massive amount of content when compared to the lengthy campaigns of the previous games, but Gears veterans will love the new multiplayer modes and fast-paced gameplay.

Details

Price£37
Detailsgearsofwar.xbox.com/
Rating****

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