In 2011, we saw the end of the Gears of War storyline. We saw the war come to a close and we saw a new beginning. Now with People Can Fly at the helm of this new story, we go back to the beginning that is Gears of War: Judgment. But does it live up to Epic’s grand trilogy?
Part I: Story
The story begins with series veterans Damon Baird and Augustus Cole along with two new characters facing a military tribunal. The game presents each chapter as a single character’s testimony. All the while, the war is literally pounding on their doorstep as they each explain their actions. The overall plot deals with the moments leading up to this trial. The main plotline involves the main characters looking to steal an experimental weapon in order to kill a Locust general. It’s as simple as it gets, which is a bit of a disappointment considering the epic yet bleak narrative of Gears of War 3. No emotion or dark undertones here, it’s just your straight up action shooter plotline, which is a bit of a disappointment here. It fits with the overall theme of the game, but in the end just feels too generic in comparison. However, the characters are fun as always and their banter is still entertaining to hear. Although the only familiar characters are Cole and Baird (Marcus isn’t present, but does make a voice-only cameo), the two new characters are fun, particularly Garron Paduk, a Russian-accented Gear who was a former enemy of the COG. Also new to the series is Sofia Hendrik, a female Onyx Guard.
In addition to the main plotline, there is also an additional unlockable campaign, albeit a short one. This is called Aftermath and explains what happened to Cole and Baird in Gears of War 3 after Marcus sends them to find help. It doesn’t add much to the Gears of War 3 storyline and instead feels more of a continuation of the Judgment plotline, including enemies and weapons present in Judgment, but not in Gears of War 3. Overall, both the main campaign and the bonus campaign feel like the weakest in the series. The bonus campaign in particular feels like it should have been Gears 3 DLC.
Part II: Design
Just like previous Gears of War games, it’s a linear third-person shooter using a cover system. There’s only ever one path forward with few deviations. Each level is divided into separate battles against the Locust Horde and are fairly straightforward. There are a few tiny nooks in which to discover COG tags, but otherwise the game keeps you on the straight and narrow. The campaign will take you about six to eight hours to complete on the normal difficulty.
As with all previous Gears of War games, the multiplayer is a large component to the overall package. Lots has been tweaked here. Gone is the old Warzone mode, being largely replaced by the new Overrun mode, which features a COG and Locust team going head to head over control of Emergence holes in a class-based struggle. COG is set on the defense while the Locust are on the attack, with teams switching at the end of each round. The winner is determined by who took the least amount of time to overrun the COG. Also added is a new Free For All mode as well as series staple Domination and Team Deathmatch making a return from Gears of War 3. Aside from Overrun, each team is now human rather than the old COG versus Locust dynamic. Also present is a new Survival mode taking the place of the old Horde mode. It’s basically the same as Overrun, except you now fight as a team of Gears against 10 increasingly challenging waves of AI controlled Locust enemies. It’s a fun challenge, but it’s no Horde and instead feels like a rehash of Overrun. Additionally, as with previous Gears games there is co-op for the campaign, with up to four players. It’s the same campaign mode, just with your friends.
On the customization side, there isn’t much. Your loadouts are now restricted to a single weapon and sidearm and you now start out with a grenade of your choice. There are unlockable characters as well as unlockable (and purchasable) skins for both your weapons and your character, with a total of 12 characters available for use. As with Gears 3 there are also ribbons and medals to earn though, like the previous game, they don’t add much. The maps are your standard Gears fare with war torn urban environments, bombed out buildings, and industrial areas to fight through. There are two sets of maps, one for Overrun and different set for the rest of the multiplayer modes. Both sets contain four maps each, for a total of eight out of the box, with more coming in future DLC. Overall the maps are alright for standard multiplayer fare and serve their purpose well.
Part III: Gameplay
Gears of War: Judgment retains it’s cover-based third-person shooter roots. The shooter and cover controls are as smooth as ever. The game plays out through a series of short battles interspersed between cut-scenes and mid-level banter. New to the series is a ranking system for each level based on your performance, represented by stars. Killing enemies, earning ribbons, gibbing enemies, and headshots all contribute to your score, while getting downed subtracts points. Higher difficulties also earn you better stars. Each level also contains optional bonus objectives known as Declassified Missions that can help you increase your score. Each Declassified Mission adds a variety of effects depending on the level, such as extra or more powerful enemies, specific weapon loadouts, or challenges such as slowing down regenerating health or removing it completely or obscuring your vision. Each challenge adds variety to what would otherwise be a fairly generic shooter by Gears standards. Also added are new weapons, such as the Bushka grenade launcher, the Markza sniper rifle, and the Breech Shot rifle. A new enemy type known as the rager, also exists, which is equal parts sniper and berzerker. Signature weapons and enemies from previous Gears of War games make a return here, including, oddly enough, some types that were not introduced until Gears of War 3. The same variety one has come to expect from previous Gears installments is present here.
Though not much has changed in regards to the core gameplay, some tweaks have been made to the controls. The weapons are no longer mapped to the d-pad and are now mapped to the Y button. Instead of two large weapons and a sidearm, you are now restricted to two weapons of any type. Grenades are also now mapped to the right bumper. However, the majority of the controls remain the same and take very little getting used to for Gears veterans.
Part IV: Presentation
The game is very fun to look at. The same attention to detail present in previous installations returns here. From the war torn urban environments to the sprawling shots from on high. This game has it all by Gears standards. The enemy designs are just as ugly and brutal as before, though the weapons still look like Nerf guns. The gore is also set to high for this one, with brutal executions, including the famous chainsaw kill. Enemies will be gibbed by explosions and point blank shotgun shots. Heads will explode in a shower of blood when sniped. The voice cast also does an excellent job, with smartass Baird’s gruff voice and the Cole Train’s high pitched wail making a return. The banter between these as well as the newcomers adds character, with each Gear having a distinct personality. The sound for all the guns remains intact, giving a sense of how damaging each weapon is and really giving impact to the stronger weapons. However, the music isn’t very memorable this time around.
Part V: Final Thoughts
It’s Gears of Wars. It has perfectly balanced gameplay variety and an overall great presentation. The multiplayer is still fun, though the lack of Warzone really detracts from the overall experience. The new Overrun mode is fun, but is no replacement for Warzone. The game looks and sounds good, but the campaign is a joke compared to Gears of War 3. However, this is People Can Fly’s first attempt at a Gears game, and it’s a valiant effort, especially considering the magnitude of the Epic developed games. They introduce interesting new concepts. It certainly isn’t a bad attempt and hopefully if there’s any future installments of Gears of War, the developers take this as a learning experience and improve upon it. There’s some lackluster points and it’s not quite the Gears quality we expect, but it still retains the core Gears of War experience.
Lots of weapon and enemy variety
Declassified Missions keep it from getting stale
The new Overrun mode is a blast to play.
Warzone is missing
Survival is a poor replacement for Horde
Overall score: 3 out of 5