I was a latecomer to the Gears series, picking up the entire trilogy around eight months ago and playing through them all in around a week. It was an action-packed week, following Marcus Fenix and company through the Locust War. I was hooked, an immediate fan of the series, so I was intrigued by what Judgment could offer. Would Gears Of War: Judgment, the first outside of the main lineage of this series, be simply a good Gears game or would it be a great one?
Judgment is set before the events of the Gears trilogy, following the story of Damon Baird and Augustus Cole directly after Emergence Day and before teaming up with Marcus and Dom. Along for this ride are two new characters in Cadet Sofia Hendrik, and former UIR Major Garron Paduk, who fought against the COG in the Pendulum Wars. This team is known as Kilo Squad. As well as being new squadmates, the new characters also become third and fourth playable characters during the campaign.
The campaign seems to jump from place to place. For example, from a destroyed, rich neighbourhood to a military complex without any real explanation of how the team got there. There isn’t much character development here either, especially with Karn. He is supposed to be the main antagonist but you don’t actually learn much about him, which meant there wasn’t much motivation given. In the Gears trilogy I felt like I needed to take down the Locust Queen because of how much exposition was given to her. The events directly after E Day should be huge but it didn’t feel as big as it could – or should.
The thing with the previous Gears titles is that the little things matter just as much as the big things. The conversations between squad mates during stages added character and helped give them some depth, but that wasn’t really present in Judgment. There weren’t really stand out moments here either, nothing like that tense, breathless moment we faced a Berserker for the first time. Not to say the game was completely devoid of some big moments, like a beach storming that seems reminiscent of the Invasion of Normandy, though with just four soldiers.
Graphically, the game looks really good, showing a city that has only just been hit by a major military strike. You will come across civilian bodies and burning buildings that signify how early in the Gears timeline this takes place. One real piece that stood out was a solitary tree that was on fire, lighting up an otherwise dark and bloody street. The whole game looks great but the small touches – and that one in particular – can feel quite powerful.
The main mechanics haven’t changed too much from previous entries to the series. This feels very much like a Gears game. There have been additions to how the game moves forward, in the form of a three star rating after each level which will be familiar to most avid gamers. This rating is affected by the number of kills you get, as well as how – including executions. You lose rating progress if you’re downed. The biggest boost to gain the highest ratings is through activating Mission Declassifications in each level.
The Mission Declassifications are represented by the red Gears logo at the start of a level. They are optional but if you’re looking for a challenge then I’d advise activating them. These challenges were my favourite bit of the Judgment campaign with each one offering something new, for example starting a mission without ammo or being plunged into darkness. Not knowing what challenge you could activate next made the game feel a lot more varied than if I was just going from level to level clearing out Locust.
Mission Declassifications do help boost your end-of-level star rating but that makes them something of a mixed bag. It’s nice to see some stats from a level but I did feel they take you out of the moment, reminding you this is just a videogame and never really letting you fully immerse yourself. The stars themselves are used to unlock certain things for multiplayer and an extra Campaign called Aftermath.
Aftermath is actually a stage that takes place during the story of Gears 3, just before getting to Azura. You may remember Cole and Baird are sent to find help to get to Azura and Aftermath shows what they got up to. Personally I felt Aftermath was a better experience than the Judgment campaign. There are no star ratings and stat boards here. Just a gameplay experience that immerses you into its little side story, full of great action and a really big, stand out set piece. There is the sense that Aftermath was a level that belonged in Gears 3 instead of Judgment, and it looks like it may have been designed to be, but it is good to see a direct link to the trilogy here.
The Judgment campaign took about six hours to complete on Normal difficulty with all Mission Declassification challenges activated along the way. Aftermath lasts around 90 minutes, so total single player is seven and half hours on normal difficulty, most likely less without activating challenges. The game does have a replay value for getting better star ratings, playing on a higher difficulty, collecting COG tags, or playing cooperative multiplayer with others.[drop2]The multiplayer has the traditional Team Deathmatch and Free For All modes, but there have been additions and changes as well. Horde Mode has been replaced by Survival. This mode is a co-op mode where players try to defend locations on a map from the Locust. Having a good team to fight off waves is key to being successful here, and without that support you can lose positions quickly. If the Locust take a position you are forced to a new area of a map to defend. Lose all these positions and you fail.
OverRun is Survival Mode with two teams. One team takes control of the Locust Horde where players can choose which type of Locust they want to be, from Ticker to Boomer, though the more powerful Locust have to be unlocked with progress through a match, with the objective of destroying locations. After each death you can select which Locust type you want to be. Meanwhile the opposing team take control of the COG members, defending the locations. This mode I feel will prove popular among players. The winners are chosen by which team destroys the locations quickest, and how many are destroyed. You can draw as well, which I found out when playing as both teams managed to destroy all the targets in the same amount of time.
Another new mode is Domination, though this has already been a multiplayer staple in games such as Call of Duty. Here two teams face each other to take control of three rings on a map, and hold them to gain points. The first team to reach 250 points wins the match. Again, some tactical play is required to take and keep positions by using advantages given by the maps, like posting team members on certain vantage points overlooking the rings.
The multiplayer will prove popular as, along with the campaign, you can earn prize boxes which contain new skins for your characters and guns, as well as bonus experience points. If you choose to, you can also buy the skins using Microsoft Points.
- Aftermath is a very good bonus section of campaign.
- The Mission Declassifications add a new level of variety.
- It looks excellent.
- New multiplayer modes are fun.
- Story feels pretty weak with not much progression.
- It is missing those major stand out moments.
- The Star Rating system makes the Judgment campaign almost feel like a series of challenge rooms instead of a main mode.
Gears Of War: Judgment is a good game and I can see hours being invested into the multiplayer. However, it isn’t as good as its predecessors – Gears 3 for example – with a story that is quite forgettable. Instead, the Aftermath side mission had a lot more potential for being the main campaign, providing a more cohesive and familiar experience. So, Judgment is a good Gears game but it’s not a great one.