The Gears of War franchise has always had a place in my heart for its visceral combat and tight cover mechanics.
The first Gears of War played with a number of gimmicks from level to level mixing things up, such as avoiding the dark, or exploding wretches, but most of these gimmicks dribbled away in the next two games. Gear of War Judgement promised to mix things up once again, and boy did they ever.
Gears of War: Judgement puts a lot more emphasis on the narrative side by giving us a snippet of the end of the game, followed by each Kilo Squad member unveiling what transpired through their testimony. Your squad members are Baird, Cole, Paduk, and Sofia, we start with the poster boy, Damon Baird.People Can Fly certainly created an interesting group here; obviously we have our two loveable couple, Baird and Cole. However Cole seems unnaturally silent for most of the game, we rarely take a ride on the Cole Train, and his usual bravado is saved for the Aftermath Act. Baird plays it a bit straighter, he still has his snarky wise cracks, but those show up closer to the end, and come back with a vengeance in the bonus Aftermath campaign. It’s interesting because PCF is trying to show us what events shaped the characters we meet 14 years later during Gears of War one. It does lead to the in game dialogue to be a bit drier with less memorable quotes, but the game still has its moments.
“PEOPLE CAN FLY CERTAINLY CREATED AN INTERESTING GROUP”
The other two, Sofia and Paduk, have their own backgrounds; Sofia’s being a little less fleshed out and uninteresting compared to Paduk’s. Sofia is an Onyx guard recruit and is still green around the ears; she feels more of a placeholder than an engaging character. Beside her is Paduk, who happened to be on the losing side of the Pendulum wars. Visible burn marks trace up and down the right side of his face and arm, a result of the immulsion missiles developed in part by Baird and Sofia’s professor. This obvious tension kept Paduk in the fore front of my mind for most of the game, and being able to play as him, listening to his narration during his act was certainly entertaining.
One problem is the framing device, Kilo Squad is on trial for disobeying direct orders, all while a vicious war wages outside. Throughout the trial Locust do manage to break their way in and momentarily interrupt the proceedings, but Colonel Loomis won’t have any of that. While I understand PCF is trying to paint him as a by the books hardass, they’re stretching sensibility a bit by the end.
The main villain is one mean Locust named Karn. I would like to say more about him, but there isn’t much to say. He’s barely characterised through the game as we almost never see him, let alone interact with him until the very end for a piss easy boss fight. We mainly go off of Kilo Squad’s word that he’s a dick. Well he did blow up one building, but other than that he’s really nowhere to be seen. In Gears of War 1 and 2, both Raam and Skorge have been showing up at certain times to kill off members of your squad.
“THE MAIN VILLAIN, KARN IS BARELY CHARACTERISED”
“GEARS OF WAR: JUDGEMENT IS MORE LIKE A SERVING OF SUSHI”
The hot ticket item in Judgement is the Declassified System. It introduces new challenges and new ways to play through the campaign, adding flavour and variety at every mission. It changes what weapons we carry, how much ammunition we’re holding, how fast we recover health if we’re going to be recovering it at all, affecting our visibility, and even giving us a time limit on certain missions. They’re always introduced with a quote from the avatar’s perspective, which explains why we are under these new fighting circumstances. The Declassified System really does change up the experience and genuinely makes Judgement a really fun game, but it comes with its share of problems.
THE NEW “SMART SPAWN SYSTEM” CHANGES UP THE LOCUST NUMBERS FROM DEATH TO DEATH
Bear with me on this comparison, but if I was to compare Gears of War 3 and Gears of War Judgement, I would have to say that Gears 3 is like a Salmon. It’s a full and engrossing experience from start to finish which flows naturally, it’s nothing really overly special, but has fine tuned itself over the years. However Gears of War: Judgement is more like a serving of Sushi. Each piece is a flavoured experience, mixing it up from bite to bite. It’s still cut from the same fish, but it loses a sense of scale. Each mission feels more like a formulaic killing room that you hurry though.
Following the end of the main campaign, you will have an additional act to play which takes place during the events of Gears of War 3, called Aftermath. It features, Baird, Cole, and Carmine. Paduk shows up to offer a helping hand, but he’s not without some bitterness, which is of course revealed by the end of the act. It was certainly fun to see what Baird and Cole were up to while Marcus was tracking down that submarine.
The Aftermath act does not include the Declassified system, but still incorporates some of its traits, such as lowering visibility for certain sections.
After starting each mission, you’re faced with a large neon Crimson Omen where you activate the Declassified challenge. As you progress through the mission you’re rated on a three star system based on how you dispatch enemies. You watch as the bar rises with each murder, and watch it fall when you’re crippled into “down but not out”. When you reach the exit a result screen pops up and tells you how well you did. Unfortunately, it breaks up the gameplay so much that the game loses almost all of its flow, and with the narrative being the way it is, it doesn’t sit well with me. We should be moving fluidly from place to place, not stopping every 15 minutes. The issue could’ve been solved by making it a selection after choosing your difficulty and eliminating the results screen, players could be able to bring it up whenever they wanted by holding the back button, like checking the multiplayer board.
UNFORTUNATELY, THE DECLASSIFIED SYSTEM BREAKS UP THE GAMEPLAY
The default controller map has been reworked too; you no longer use the directional pad, but now switch weapons using the Y button, and use grenades with the Left Bumper. Gears veterans will take some getting used to it, especially if you’re used to bringing up your tac-com a lot. The new layout isn’t any more functional than the previous standard.
There are a few new weapons to be mentioned, the Booshka, Breechshot, and the Markza along with a few others join the armoury. The Booshka is a grenade launcher which will explode on impact, but otherwise works on a timer. The Breechshot is a Locust modified Markza, a weapon commonly used in the UIR; both of them work like sniper rifles, but missing the devastating power the Longshot holds.
Judgement is certainly one of, if not the most colourful Gears games yet, there are a lot of rich environments to engorge yourself on, and it doesn’t hurt to look up every now and then. The lighting looks spectacular, the soft glow from flames during the night levels are certainly a sight to behold. Unfortunately, the music is not much to write home about. It’s there, but really doesn’t do much for me. I’d take the original Gears of War’s soundtrack over this one.
The multiplayer has seen some big changes since the last game. Locust have been omitted from 3 out of the 4 game types, appearing only in the new Overrun mode, which works in a similar fashion to Beast mode from 3, where you were placed in the shoes of the Locust horde. However, they aren’t the only thing missing from the multiplayer though, we no longer have “down but not out” and the damage boost from a perfect Active Reload went with it.
“MULTIPLAYER HAS SEEN SOME BIG CHANGES SINCE THE LAST GAME”
Free-for-all is a new addition to the multiplayer, but it’s nothing really special, in fact the whole multiplayer portion of this game is pretty underwhelming. The third game felt very polished and operated pretty smoothly, this feels a little more unstable.
In the end, Gears of War Judgement is still the same Gears of War experience, albeit chopped into smaller bite sized pieces.
After the story is complete, the extra content feels a bit barren, the multiplayer might keep you going, but even then it’s still lacking. While not the best in series, it’s still something to look into.