PASSING JUDGMENT

Following in the footsteps of what has become one of the Xbox 360’s  most celebrated franchises, Gears of War Judgment is indebted with the difficult task of trumping the profoundly successful trilogy that came before. With Bulletstorm developer People Can Fly, with support from Epic Games, now at the forefront of development, many have been eagerly anticipating a fresh and invigorating new approach to the action packed shooter. With a broad range of new characters and brand new struggle for the Gears to overcome Judgment possesses all the ingredients needed to usher the series into a new and exciting direction. The question is, does newer always mean better?

 

 

Taking place in the immediate aftermath of Emergence Day, Judgment’s plot centers around the exploits of Kilo Squad, a rag tag and indifferent bunch of soldiers led by series hero Damon Baird as they embark on a heartfelt battle against a brutal and ravenous new enemy.  Although this is the first Gears of War title to not feature famous protagonist Marcus Fenix and his best friend Dominic Santiago and co, People Can Fly have done an excellent job of  creating an interesting and diverse array of new characters to complement returning heroes Damon Baird and Augustus Cole.  What makes the narrative’s gradual progression so intriguing however is the method in which it is told. In the game’s opening scenes Kilo Squad find themselves prisoners of war as they are put on trial for disobeying direct orders. Conducted by the brutal and unforgiving Colonel Loomis, the COG leader seeks to smite justice down upon Kilo Squad as each member pledges their testimony in court. It is this evaluation and recounting of events that serves as the vessel to the narrative as players are plunged into the hardened boots of each squad member as they elaborate on events through their own perspectives. This serves as an effective means of exploring the numerous motives and personalities of Kilo Squad as they embark on their daunting journey to free their besieged world from oppression. The single player experience doesn’t end there however, upon completion of the main campaign, players will unlock an extension to the original trilogy’s storyline allowing players to further indulge and develop an already excellent storytelling experience.  This additional campaign serves as welcome addition to an already impressive single player package that will keep players knee deep in locust bodies long after the credits roll.

 

 

Whether you’re mincing locust into strings of confetti with the sawn-off shotgun or confronting one of the game’s various new enemy types, Judgment has the fast paced and furious combat that the series is known for down to a fine art. Whether you are tackling the horde single handed, or requesting the aid of comrades in 4 player co-op, gamers will promptly discover numerous augmentations that have been made to usual formula. The implementation of a scoring system is a first for the franchise allowing players to strive for higher scores through efficiency in combat. Whether it be by racking up a healthy dose of headshots and executions, or earning combat ribbons previously exclusive to multiplayer, the prospect of evaluating the player’s performance at the end of each section of the campaign adds an exciting new modifier to the Gears of War experience and further strengthens its replayability. The most profound change to the experience however comes in the form of Declassified Missions. As players progress through the campaign they will have the ability to accept these missions which apply a unique modifier to that specific section, greatly increasing its difficulty. Increased difficulty does not come without spoils however as if players choose to accept these augmented conditions they acquire stars which serve as the games scoring system (ranging from 1 to 3) at an accelerated rate. Allowing players to modify the conditions of their mission serves as a welcome shake up to the gameplay and serves to further reinforce player choice.

 “mincing locust into strings of confetti with the sawn-off shotgun”

Horde Mode has always been a popular addition in previous iterations allowing players to defend against wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies. What is interesting however is how this previously separate experience has been woven into the game’s single player campaign. In what will either come be a love or hate relationship with fans of the series, players are forced throughout the game to mount a defence against waves of enemy reinforcements. You will be rapidly scurrying around the arena meticulously positioning each defence turret for the optimum angle, and constantly battling with which weapon may serve you best for the coming onslaught. Overall the melding of the previously separate experience into the core game serves as a welcome innovation for the franchise and although it wont win all fans over, most fans will find themselves embracing the chaos. One of the most appealing aspects of the series has always been its inventive and unique arsenal. Just when you thought a chainsaw bayonet was tantalizing enough players are treated to a slew of new weapons including a new torque bow variation able to lay proximity mines, a semi-automatic grenade launcher and sniper rifle as well as a devastating new medium ranged rifle. With the addition of these new weapons complementing the already extensive arsenal from previous titles players will have a ball learning the intricacies of their new toys.


With such a heavy focus being placed upon multiplayer in modern gaming, developers know now more than ever how crucial delivering on this front can be. Unfortunately however this is where Gears of War Judgment crumbles to pieces. When the original title launched all those years ago it was praised for its unique and exciting combat, pitting the COG forces against the Locust Horde in various fun and engaging formats. Long time fans of the franchise will remember the incredibly passionate multiplayer following the original trilogy possessed in both the Warzone and Execution game modes which were completely unique to the series and helped cement its place as an experience like no other; both of which are completely absent from Judgment. Its one thing to take the foundations of a once great game and and use them as a basis to take the series in a new uncharted direction but is another thing entirely to completely betray all of what has made the franchise so unique in the first place. People Can Fly have attempted to reinvent the multiplayer experience and somewhere along the way have completely forgotten they were making a Gears of War title.  The traditional loadout system containing a choice of both assault rifle and shotgun has been axed and replaced with a new system allowing the choice of only 1 primary weapon. This profoundly impacts the flow of the game as players are encouraged to use long ranged weapons instead of engaging in the fast and furious close range encounters the series is famous for. A broken loadout system coupled with a very limited variety of maps (limited to a measly 4 in TDM) all of which completely lack any form of symmetry that has been so integral in previous titles, results in the most lackluster multiplayer experience to date. For players looking for a multiplayer experience that stays true to its values I strongly suggest you give Gears of War Judgment a wide berth.

A sharp and slick presentation has always been an integral part of the Gears of War experience. The franchise is consistently praised for its ability to push the hardware to its limit and deliver a level of visual fidelity far beyond many’s expectations. Judgment does a great job of maintaining the trilogies high standard and provides players with an incredibly vibrant and detailed environment. A great sense of scale is immediately enforced upon the player in the games opening scenes and the trend continues throughout the experience painting a vivid picture of helplessness of the game’s heroes against monumental opposition. A great soundtrack complements the sharp presentation with a wide array of rousing scores ranging from fast paced numbers which do a stellar job of heightening the intensity of combat to the slow melodic ambient sounds which help immerse the the player in the unique setting.

“experience painting a vivid picture of helplessness of the game’s heroes against monumental opposition”

As a whole People Can Fly have succeeded in taking half of the Gears of War experience in an exciting and promising new direction whilst taking leaps and bounds backwards in the other. Its a shame that the same level of quality found in the game’s excellent and lengthy single player offering does not mirror that of its broken and completely forgettable multiplayer. For those looking for a new and creative approach to Gears of War single player I implore you to give Judgment a try, however for those who were hoping that the latest entry in the franchise would be the most impressive yet, i suggest you look elsewhere.

Developer: Epic Games, People Can Fly
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release: 19th March 2013 (Xbox 360)