Gears Of War: Judgment Review (Xbox 360)

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?

Gears of War Judgment Impact

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.

[drop]The main campaign of Judgment occurs during a point where Kilo Squad are on trial for defying orders in an attempt to face General Karn, the Locust who planned Emergence Day. Each character gives their statement, which plays out as levels where you control them. I liked this approach because it allowed different perspectives on situations through the dialogue. However, though this is an interesting approach it is let down by a pretty lacklustre narrative thread.

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.

What’s Good:

  • 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.

What’s Bad:

  • 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.

Score: 7/10


  1. Thanks for the review, I’m a huge Gears fan and was worried that the story would suffer without Karen Travis writing talents.

    When you did the review, did you notice if it was possible for 2 players on splitscreen to join a co-op campaign with others online? My friends and I played Gears 3 like this and loved it, but as my mate doesn’t own a 360, he needs to play splitscreen at someone else’s house.

    • There is a local co op option in the party menu but I’m not 100% sure if you can then go online. I would check but I only have one controller at the minute.

      • Thanks for looking bud, I’ve already preordered and prepaid for the game so I’ll find out soon enough

    • As a massive fan of co-op gaming (both locally and online) I always refer to this site. As it happens, I wish all gaming sites used the Co-optimus site as a type of tech-feed for all things co-op so everyone knew straight away what was available to them.

      Sad Panda – you’re about to get sadder. Doesn’t look like it’s available this time around. When I checked Gears 3 on there it mentioned the thing you were after but it looks like Judgement has given that option a miss. Sorry.

      For all co-op gamers, use co-optimus for the details. It’ll help you avoid any sort of “oh… you mean we can’t play through the campaign in co-op but just some tatty tacked on missions which are crap in comparison” game choices like I’ve done in the past.

      TSA – hope you don’t mind me linking. I still find every gaming site there is doesn’t clearly mark these things out and they can be absolute deal makers/breakers when looking to buy something. Truly, I wish they powered all sites with the “spec” bit we get with every game review.

      Teflon and I have been all over co-optimus in the last week just to see what we can and cannot play on the PC for online co-op (and if it’s campaign or just tacked on stuff outside of the campaign like Resistance 2).

      • TSA’s blood courses through my veins and I read co-optimus for nothing else, just before you start fashioning a voodoo doll of me. :-)

      • Are you sure it’s TSA’s blood and not something else? ;)

  2. Cheers for the review. Loved the first 3. Not gonna pick this up until I can get it sub £20. (which won’t be long)

    The Cole Train is one of my favourite characters though!

  3. I didn’t even realise it was out soon. Did MS forget about this?

    Anyway, it sounds like it’s a bit of a letdown but still a worthy entry into the Gears franchise. I suspect it was either rushed or they didn’t have enough funding to complete their initial vision thus resulting in a disappointing game.

    Am i the only one who finds it a bit odd that MS have not done a single bit of marketing for it?

    • It’s all over the main dashboard on the console but yeah, very little TV advertising.

  4. Shooters are now boring.

    • Which is ironic as when I read your comment I want to shoot you! :-P

    • If I get into Games Design and eventually lead a project, they won’t be ;)

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