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Gears of War: Judgment is the fourth official entry in the wildly popular franchise created by Epic Games that offers fans of the series a chance to return to Sera for another blood filled romp with a few familiar COG soldiers.  Judgment’s tale takes place many years before the original Gears of War, and it follows Kilo squad, who just so happens to be led by a Lieutenant named Damon Baird.

Baird and his three other squad members find themselves in the midst of a military trial for actions they committed during the Battle of Halvo Bay, which took place shortly after the infamous Emergence Day event on Sera.  This predicament sets the stage for Judgment’s main campaign, which is acted out through flashbacks during the testimony of each Kilo squad member.

While this may seem like an interesting plot, many long time fans of the Gears of War franchise have voiced concerns over the fact that this prequel tale doesn’t focus on the two main characters from the original trilogy – Dom Santiago and Marcus Fenix.  The notion that Baird, Cole Train, and two brand new COG characters could carry a full Gears of War campaign didn’t seem believable to some fans of the series, but I can tell you that Judgment’s campaign does work, albeit with much less feeling than the previous three Gears titles.

Epic Games, with the help of People Can Fly (Bulletstorm), have crafted another action packed Gears of War title with Judgment, and while its plethora of fundamental gameplay changes may keep some hardcore fans from playing it, I’m here to report that it’s still a worthy video game experience that offers solid gameplay, and in my opinion some of the franchise’s best multiplayer offerings to date.

Please continue on to the full review of Gears of War: Judgment to see if it’s a game worth buying.

 

Gears of War: Judgment

EB 8 out of 10 Buddhas

(A copy of the game was provided from Microsoft for review purposes)

The Awesome

  • New reward based meta games in the campaign
  • Unlockable character skins that actually look desirable
  • OverRun multiplayer mode
  • Contains two campaigns

The Not so Awesome

  • Forgettable prequel campaign story
  • ODST Effect: Just doesn’t feel “new”
  • Multiplayer lacks many previously available fan favorite game modes

Buy or Rent

  • Buy if you’re a fan of the series
  • Rent if this is your first Gears game

 

Story

Gears of War: Judgment takes place many years before the events in the first Gears game, and it focuses on Kilo squad, which is made up of a few familiar faces in Damon Baird and the Cole Train, as well as a few new ones in Sofia Hendrick and Garron Paduck.  The game begins with Kilo being put on trial by Colonel Loomis of the COG for disobeying orders during a post E-Day battle at Halvo Bay.

This predicament sets the campaign in motion as each member of the squad gives their testimony to the court via flashbacks, which also serve as the actual campaign that you engage in as the player.  Eventually, the gameplay switches to the present time, but a majority of Judgment takes place through these flashback missions.

Say hello to Kilo Squad

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During each flashback you control a different member of Kilo squad as he or she recounts the events that led up to them being court marshaled for their disobedience.  I appreciated the ability to control a new character in each main mission of Judgment’s campaign as it lent more weight to the narrative being told by them in the present time.  Each character provides details from their point of view of the various events they encountered on their way to being locked up by Loomis.  Unfortunately, this is as close as the campaign gets to having any sort of personality to it, which the other three titles had plenty of.

Gears of War: Judgment never managed to emotionally involve me in its campaign, which is disappointing considering how memorable certain moments from the other Gears titles were.  I remember feeling connected to the characters of Dom and Marcus from the original Gears games, and at times I may have even shed a tear for their struggles, but I never came close to giving a damn about any of the characters in Gears of War: Judgment.

I think that the two new characters of Hendrick and Paduk could be intriguing additions to the Gears Universe, but I feel that Judgment’s lack of plot details and character development will forever leave them as afterthoughts in most gamer’s memories.  What’s even more disappointing with the characters in Gears of War: Judgment is the fact that the Cole Train seems to have been neutered.

Baird still acts like the cynical solider we know him to be from the original trilogy, but Cole lacked that in your face “Woooo!” spewing mentality he exhibited in the prior games, which for a long time fan like me isn’t kosher.

Gears of War: Judgment feels like Epic and PCF approached this game’s plot in the same manner as Bungie did with ODST.  The campaign story could have had more meaning to it, but it seems that the developers didn’t have enough time to fine tune it.  I’m not going to say that Judgment could have been put out as DLC, but I would’ve liked to have seen more time invested in its plot to make it as impactful as the personal stories told in Gears 1 – 3.  It’s not a bore-fest by any means, but you shouldn’t expect any water cooler moments either.

Gameplay

For all intents and purposes Gears of War: Judgment’s campaign plays out in a similar fashion as the original Gears of War.  You (and up to 3 friends in co-op) are tasked with slaughtering randomly generated waves of Locust soldiers spewing from E-holes as you make your way from one checkpoint to the next.  Judgment does throw in lite tower defense sections in between these shoot ’em ups, but popping shots from cover still plays a major role in this game’s main gameplay.  This familiar tactic remains consistent throughout a majority of the missions featured in Judgment, but Epic and PCF did include some alterations to the formula to shake things up a bit.

The first major change is the inclusion of a “Mission Declassification” system, which allows you to enable new gameplay scenarios that make each mission more difficult to conquer.  During each section of a chapter you will see a glowing crimson omen, which when activated will detail the effects of declassifying the mission.

These gameplay alterations range from completing certain sections in a given time limit, to facing more powerful enemies, losing health regeneration capabilities, and more.  When enabled these gameplay scenarios will yield more points towards your section score, which leads into the next major gameplay change found in Judgment –  The improved campaign meta game.

Declassified missions turn up the heat when activated

SP_Museum_01

Gears of War 3 featured an arcade-like meta game in its campaign that provided you with scores for your hard work, but the point total never really meant anything in the end.  Judgment features a similar gameplay mechanic, but it can actually affect the way you play each section of the campaign.  A score meter represented by stars now appears in the top left corner of the screen, and it records your progress towards the end goal of achieving the coveted three star rating.

You earn points by killing Locusts, but you can earn even more if you do it in style with a headshot, execution, instagib, or other creative means of killing bugs.  Each star you earn in the campaign goes towards your overall total, which in turn can yield you unlockable content in the form of character skins, weapon skins, and even a whole new Aftermath campaign.

I must admit that I really enjoyed the allure of earning a three star rating for each section of the Gears of War: Judgment campaign.  It provided an Angry Birds effect that compelled me to restart campaign sections until I mastered them, which added a bit of replay value to the game’s 6 – 8 hour run time.  When you factor in the declassified mission settings, Judgment’s main campaign’s meta game truly makes it stand out from the Gears pack, but it’s not the end of Judgment’s gameplay alterations.

The next major change to the Gears of War formula found in Judgment is the revamped controls.  The controls have shifted to a more standard shooter feel, which will feel awkward at first for Gears fanboys, but after awhile the new controls do provide a more fluid experience.  Guns are now cycled through with the “Y” button instead of the D-pad, which provides for faster weapon swaps in tight gun battles.

Grenades now function like they do in Halo in that you launch them quickly with a click on the “LB” button rather than equipping them like a weapon and then throwing them.  Both of these small changes do indeed feel strange at first, but in the end they definitely provide a better shooter experience.

The final gameplay addition to Gears of War: Judgment that sets it apart from the previous three games is the inclusion of a few new weapon types.  The standard arsenal returns, but its accented with a few new tools of destruction.

In the rifle department you can now wield the Markza, or the Locust-ized Breechshot, which are both similar to the Long Shot.  They lack its punch in favor of a semi-automatic fire mode, which is a nice option for those moments when you have to defend your sniper perch from an oncoming attack.

The booshka is a grenade launcher of sorts that fires rounds that ricochet off of surfaces like a pinball, and it can clear out large groups of Locusts with a few well placed shots.  Finally, there’s the Tripwire Crossbow, which can be used to setup laser based tripwires that will explode when crossed.

Both new and old weapons can be used to eliminate the Locust threat

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The main Gears of War campaign formula is very evident in Judgment, but with the few alterations I listed above there is a breath of fresh air found within the campaign.  It’s plot may be forgettable, but the action in Gears of War: Judgment is worth the price of admission, and the gameplay remains top-notch.  Sometimes a game can get away with a weak story as long as it backs it up with great gameplay, and Judgment is definitely an example of this phenomena.

Graphics

Gears of War: Judgment sports impressive Unreal Engine visuals, but there hasn’t been any improvements in them since Gears of War 3.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because Gears of War 3 looked great, but I would’ve liked to have seen some visuals that knocked my socks off like Halo 4’s breathtaking design.

This time around Sera does indeed offer a much more vibrant color palette than the original Gears of War, which offered a very grey and dark look.  Each campaign chapter is told through the perspective of a different Kilo squad member, and the look of each environment also reflects the change in narrative.  The various sections that make up a chapter each offer a different look than the last, which makes the world of Sera come to life like never before.

I can deal with standard visuals that lack a “WOW” factor as long as the graphics don’t impede with gameplay, and that’s the mantra that Judgment exhibits.  I didn’t experience any frame rate issues, or visual glitches, so the fact that Gears of War: Judgment wasn’t designed with Unreal Engine 4 didn’t hamper my experience.  I would have liked to have seen the new technology in action, but I think Epic has already squeezed every bit of power out of the Xbox 360, and it’s not like the Unreal Engine 3 looks like it’s from the NES days.

Judgment looks great, just not revolutionary

Aftermath_1

Sound

Just like its graphics nothing about the sound design in Gears of War: Judgment blew me away.  Although, nothing about it ruined my time with the game either.  If you’ve played any of the three previous Gears of War games then Judgment’s sound design will be very familiar to you.  The surround sound effects are solid, and will make you feel as if you’re in the thick of battle with Kilo squad, and the effect definitely comes in handy during multiplayer matches to help you avoid sneak attacks from behind.

Unfortunately, the soundtrack is forgettable and lacks any emotional scores.  I’ll never forget the last cinematic in Gears 1 where Marcus battles RAAM on a moving train.  It’s climactic musical score heightened my already frayed emotional state from battling the end boss on the Insane difficulty.  The music pumped me up and supported the action on screen perfectly; creating a magical gaming music memory that is obviously still relevant to me even now.

I didn’t come across a single tune that could replicate this feeling for me in Judgment, which is disappointing considering the other Gears games each seemed to have an overarching musical theme that defined them.  Just like the graphics, Judgment’s sound design seemed like more of the same, which isn’t a bad thing, but the lack of a memorable musical score adds to the feeling that Epic and PCF rushed development to get Judgment out as soon as possible.

Multiplayer

I first fell in love with the Gears of War franchise because of its roided out COG characters and chainsaw equipped machine guns, but it was the multiplayer that turned me into a life long fan.  Gears of War: Judgment takes the familiar Gears multiplayer formula from the first three games and turns it on its head, but unlike most hardcore fans I’m fine with the alterations.

Epic and PCF made a bold decision and decided to eliminate some of the core multiplayer modes from Judgment’s offerings, which has in some cases caused some longtime fans to avoid playing Judgment altogether.  These gamers who are resistant to change have taken umbrage with the fact that certain game types like Warzone and Execution have been removed in favor of matches that provide a quicker pace.  I see their point, and believing in something is a human right, but sometimes change can be a good thing.

It wouldn’t be Gears multi without an impaling

(Take note of the improved unlockable armor and weapon skins)

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These same gamers claim that Judgment has turned Gears multiplayer into Call of Duty, but considering that COD has ruled the multiplayer arena since Modern Warfare, I see why the changes were made.  Warzone and Execution defined the slow and methodical pace of Gears of War multiplayer, but not every gamer likes waiting around to respawn if they made a bad move in a Warzone match.

I agree these match types separate the men from the boys, because there’s no hiding from the fact that you lost another life and have to wait out your sins, but sometimes fast paced and frantic gameplay is just what the doctor ordered.

There definitely isn’t a shortage of this type of hectic gameplay in Gears of War: Judgment thanks to its four new multiplayer modes that replaced a few of the Gears of War mainstays.  The only leftover from Gears of War 3 is Team Deathmatch, but all of the other modes are brand new.

OverRun

OverRun is hands down the most drastically different new Gears of War multiplayer game type.  For the first time classes are used in a Gears game thanks to OverRun’s setup, which tasks you with defending, or attacking a marked position.  When you’re a COG solider you have to defend this position from the attacking Locust horde with a sound mix of player class abilities.  There are four classes (Medic, Engineer, Sniper, and Solider) all of which offer unique skill sets, that when used properly can provide for a formidable defense to prevent the opposing Locust forces from overtaking the COG position.

On the other hand, when you’re on the Locust team, you have to mount an attack to overtake the COG position.  Locusts don’t have defined classes like the COGs, but you can choose from a variety of different enemy types that offer unique abilities and powers.  If you played Beast Mode in Gears 3 you’ll be intimately familiar with how the Locust forces play in OverRun.

OverRun on Junkyard

Overrun_Junkyard

Even though OverRun seems like a Horde meets Beast Mode on paper, it definitely plays like a brand new Gears multiplayer experience.  I have had a blast with this new mode due to the class strategies needed for victory, and if you get on a team that communicates you will feel like a God.  I love its quick and frantic pace, and I believe it will probably be the mode that I spend most of my time in.

Domination

The next new multiplayer mode of Gears of War: Judgment is called Domination, and if you’ve played Call of Duty or Halo in the last 5 years, you should know exactly what this game type entails.  Teams of 5 players have to battle over three locations on the map to earn points for holding said locations.  The first team that gets to 250 points wins the match.

It’s similar to Annex from previous games, but more in line with the domination modes found in the big boys of online shooter multiplayer.

Survival

Instead of bringing back Horde, Judgment features a new take on it called Survival.  This mode is a mix of Horde and the new OverRun game types.  A team of 5 COGs have to defend a marked position on the map from waves of AI controlled enemies.  Character classes are in place to help aid in the defense of e-hole covers, and the coveted COG generator.

Unlike Horde you no longer build your own defenses.  These will be setup for you, and all you can do is repair them with the engineer class, so you can imagine how teamwork comes into play in Survival.  To win a match you and your team have to successfully defend your position over 10 waves of Locust attacks, which get increasingly difficult to deal with.

Just like OverRun I had a great time playing Survival.  The introduction of classes gives this Horde-like mode a whole new level of complexity that really make the matches more engaging than ever before.  Survival is a great way to train for OverRun matches without having to worry about going up against other humans who have superior skills to your own.

Free For All

Here in lies the last new multiplayer mode found in Gears of War: Judgment.  This mode is perfect for lone wolves who don’t like to be part of a team.  If you know anything about Gears of War multiplayer then you know it takes teamwork to win, but not all of us like to take orders, so Judgment’s new Free For All mode is perfect for those times when you just want to test your skills in a mano y mano style.

Multiplayer Final Thoughts

It’s unfortunate that many long time Gears gamers may forgo playing Gears of War: Judgment, because they feel that Epic and PCF cannibalized the game types that made this series’ multiplayer mode famous in the first place.  I love Warzone and Execution just as much as the next Gears fanboy, but they really don’t jive with the new fast paced gameplay that Judgment exhibits.

It’s not like this game now moves at the pace of COD or Halo, but it’s not as clunky as its predecessors.  I love being able to jump down multiple levels without using stairs, and it’s nice to not have to wait for long periods of times in between matches.

Luckily, Execution is going to be added back to the mix in a few weeks, so there should be a multiplayer mode for everyone at some point.  I personally enjoy the new modes that Judgment introduces, and plan on spending the next few weeks trying to not get my ass kicked while I perfect new strategies.

In the end I think if jaded Gears gamers give them a try they’ll see the fun that these new multiplayer modes can offer.  If you really want to fault Judgment’s multiplayer offering then you should pick on the low number of launch day maps, which currently only sits at 4 for the traditional match types.

 

Gears of War: Judgment The Guts of Gears Multiplayer Trailer [HD]

 

Final Thoughts

Gears of War: Judgment may be the ODST of the Gears franchise, but it’s still a worthwhile title to play.  The story is forgettable and devoid of any depressing Dom moments, but the action is still top-notch and fun to experience.  Sometimes plodding from one firefight to the next is all you need to blow off some steam, and Judgment provides many of these moments.

I love the new star scoring system and declassified missions, which both add a fair amount of replay value to the game’s relatively short campaign.  They also yield tons of unlockable content, and based on some of the new character armor skins, you’ll definitely want to earn as many stars as possible.

Judgment completely overhauled the Gears of War multiplayer formula, and while its missing some mainstays, I enjoyed the changes.  OverRun provides a whole new class based experience to the Gears multiplayer stable of game modes, and the level of strategy and teamwork it brings will provide many late nights of gaming with your buddies.

I would’ve liked to have seen some additional development time poured into Gears of War: Judgment, because it doesn’t provide much innovation to the overall series, but it’s still a worthy Gears experience.  If you’ve been looking for a game to play with friends that’s all about doling out non-stop punishment, then Gears of War: Judgment is just what the doctor ordered.

With everything considered I have to grant Judgment an EB 8 out of 10 Buddhas.  It’s definitely a must play for fans of the series, and I even think its biggest detractors could be swayed if they give it a chance.

 

Gears of War Judgment: Cinematic Launch Trailer [HD]

 

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Tags : Game ReviewGears of War Judgmentmultiplayer
Matt Heywood

The author Matt Heywood

Matt Heywood is the founder and EIC of EntertainmentBuddha.com where he strives to make you a better geek, one post at a time! When he’s not scouring the Internet for interesting nuggets of awesomeness he can be found in his secret lair enjoying the latest and greatest video games, taking pictures of toys, or talking Star Wars on EB’s Star Wars Time podcast show.