If Gears of War: Judgment were a person, he would not be the life of a party. Nor would he be the obnoxious dude you wish didn’t turn up. He’d be the guy sitting on the sofa, sipping on his drink, blending into the background while most people moved around him oblivious of his presence.
From the time Epic announced Gears of War: Judgment, only one question’s been playing on my mind, “Was this game really necessary?” And now that I’ve played it, I’d have to go with “No”. But does that make it a bad game? Not at all! It’s actually a pretty solid shooter armed with some new ideas that sadly do not fall into place. And of course, coming out at a time when franchise fatigue has set in for many doesn’t help either.
When I play Gears of War, I expect exciting set-pieces, strategic combat options, and clichéd but enjoyable banter between my squad mates. What I got instead was a very docile Cole Train, a nonsensical story that serves as a prequel to the Gears of War franchise, and a highly linear corridor shooter that funnelled me and my squad from one skirmish after another. Go here, defend this point against multiple waves of enemies, wrap that up, move on to the next point and repeat. This makes the campaign highly repetitive and not to mention, boring. There are times during the campaign when the games breaks away from the monotony, settling into familiar Gears of War territory, and just when you start appreciating the variety, it drops you into yet another gauntlet.
The reason developer People Can Fly probably went down this route was to accommodate the game’s Smart Spawn System (SSS). This new system, much like Left 4 Dead’s director A.I. makes sure enemies never spawn the same way or from the same place twice. I like the thought behind this mechanic, because by principle it greatly increases replayability. However, in the case of Judgment, it feels like People Can Fly sacrificed narrative to do so. This makes Judgment feel less like a campaign, and more like a bunch of random missions slapped together for the sake of capitalizing on the Gears of War franchise. Considering this game is a prequel, developer People Can Fly could have exposed players to the invasion as it happened, showcasing the brutality of the Locust invasion. Sadly, it just doesn’t end up fully utilizing this premise.
The game also has a very arcady feel to it, much like The Club where after every skirmish, you’re constantly scored depending on the amount of headshots you pulled off, the number of locusts you executed, the amount of times you went down and so on. Once again, I have no issue with this mechanic on paper, but it just doesn’t make the campaign feel coherent. Your score also depends on various modifiers you can trigger before entering a skirmish. Declassified missions as they’re called include certain conditions like using specific weapons during the gauntlet or can even make matters difficult for you by clouding up the room to hamper visibility.
Once you do earn a certain amount of stars during the campaign, you’ll be able to unlock Aftermath, a mini-campaign spread out across five acts that takes place between the events of Gears of War 3. This campaign albeit on the short side, ends in a pretty impressive set-piece and feels like Gears of War without the constant gauntlets and scoring.
On the multiplayer front, Horde Mode has been axed, and in its place are three new modes – Survival, Free for All and Overrun. Overrun is like a mash up of Beast and Horde mode where players spawn as one of two factions – humans or the Locust. The Locust’s main goal is to destroy a generator, as well as all the grub holes along the way, while the humans have to hold them off. While playing as humans, you’ll be able to choose from one of four classes – engineer, medic, soldier and scout. Each of these classes exhibit obvious support functions, so the medic can heal and revive fallen teammates, while the engineer can lay down turrets and so on. It’s a fun mode no doubt, but is currently limited to just four maps.
Besides Overrun, you have staple multiplayer modes like Domination, Team Deathmatch, a new self explanatory Free for All mode and Survival. Survival is kind of like Overrun, where players have to survive ten waves against the horde that’s controlled by A.I as opposed to human players. To be honest, I couldn’t put in a lot of time into the game’s multiplayer, but what I saw seemed like staple Gears of War fare with shotguns dominating most online skirmishes.
Gears of War: Judgment is a technically proficient game that looks good and plays well. Besides a new scoring as well as a revamped A.I. system, it offers players a handful of new enemies and new weapons. These changes would have been good enough for an expansion, but this is a full priced game we’re talking about here. Not helping matters is the fact that the campaign lacks any focus feeling like a one gigantic Horde mode. That being said, gameplay itself is satisfying as hell and I don’t think I can ever get bored of chainsawing a locust in tow. If you’re a diehard fan who absolutely loves this franchise, pick Judgment up. You won’t be disappointed. On the other hand, if you’ve already had enough of this universe, stay away.