Gears of War: Judgement review
We travel back 14 years before Gears of War 1 to see how Baird and Cole cope with the new Locust threat that has erupted from under the ground. Traditional war tactics are no longer good enough.
Gears of War is one of Microsoft’s flagship franchises. After the ending of Gears of War 3, fans believed that it would be impossible to do anything more with their beloved characters. Imagine the surprise when a prequel, Gears of War: Judgment, was announced with People Can Fly taking co-development duties alongside stalwarts Epic. The development of the game has created some controversy, but will the gameplay changes pay off or will fans be left yearning for the games of Gears gone by?
Desertion and Treason
Familiar faces Lt. Damon Baird and Pt. Augustus Cole are accompanied by greenhorn Onyx Guard cadet Sofia Hendrick and grouchy ex-UIR soldier Garron Paduk. Together they make up Kilo Squad, but they’re in trouble. The four soldiers are on trial for desertion, cowardice, trespassing, theft of experimental military technology, and treason after defying orders from Col. Ezra Loomis so that they could protect Halvo Bay from a new Locust threat. The events that led up to their trial are told through the eyes of each COG member and their testimony.
The basic gameplay will seem both familiar and radically different. The cover mechanic remains the same as before, but for a cover-based shooter players seem to spend a surprising amount of time out of cover. Players can now only hold two weapons at once instead of three; these are now switched using the Y button, which allows for a much smoother transition than that allowed by the previous d-pad method. Grenades can be thrown quickly by tapping LB or aimed more precisely by holding the button down. There are a few new weapons and grenades, and a few new enemies, but the battles still feel like a Gears title.
The six acts are made up of several chapters that take on an Arcade format where the team is given a star score out of three. The score is increased by headshots, gibs and executions, as well as earning ribbons. Score decreases slightly if players are downed. However, the biggest score increase is offered by accepting optional declassified missions, which can be activated by approaching the hard-to-miss large red glowing Gears symbols that are usually found near the start of a chapter. The missions add variety and increase the difficulty of each chapter by modifying the gameplay requirements.
The declassified missions will add replayability as players switch up their play styles, but they can get a little repetitive as the developers slowly ran out of unique ideas. The chapters are also much shorter than anything previously experienced in a Gears campaign although the campaign will take players approximately ten hours to complete. This wouldn’t be so bad if the score system didn’t constantly interrupt the campaign’s flow; the developers may have been aiming to make the game extremely easy to pick up and put down, but this format also rids the game of the compelling storytelling that sustained players’ interest during previous titles.
In the Aftermath
Earning 40 stars over the course of the campaign will unlock Aftermath. During the events of Gears of War 3, Baird, Cole and Clayton Carmine are sent to get reinforcements to aid in the invasion of Azura. Now we get to find out exactly what went on during the time that the three soldiers were away from their comrades. Aftermath is a mini campaign that brings back the traditional Gears of War gameplay. There are no declassified missions and no scoring system, just longer chapters and a continuous story with the new weapons and some of the new enemies making an appearance. The gameplay is a refreshing change from the Arcade style of the main campaign, making this an enjoyable extra 90 minutes of Locust killing.
I Will Survive
Survival is the new Horde mode. The match begins with a team of five COG soldiers defending an emergence hole that has been barricaded to stop more Locust emerging. Over ten waves of enemies, players must prevent the Locust from uncovering the E-hole, otherwise they will be forced to fall back and defend a second E-hole. If this hole falls, players must fall back again to defend a generator. The tower defence element of Horde has been removed in favour of pre-determined defences that must be protected; these increase in potency as players are forced to fall back.
Players have a choice of four different COG classes that each has their own speciality. The Soldier can provide ammo boxes for everyone. The Medic can throw stim grenades to revive and heal team mates. The Engineer can repair defences and place sentry guns for a short period of time. The fourth class, the Scout, has the task of throwing spot grenades that highlight all enemies within the grenade’s range. Communication between team mates is vital. A team will need at least one of each class if they are to successfully defend the generator. If players can’t form a team of five, AI team mates will fill in the gaps although they can be a little gormless.
Failure to hold the defences will result in game over; players can no longer restart waves if they fail, which is extremely disheartening if you fail on the final wave. The deluge of enemies can also feel never-ending and boredom can start to set in. Perhaps it is also the lack of choice over where players choose to defend, but despite Survival mode sounding extremely familiar against Horde modes from the past, some of the charm feels like it is missing.
The Defences are Overrun
Beast mode has been removed from Gears of War: Judgment. The closest that players will get to this old mode is the new Overrun, one of four Versus modes. Overrun takes the new Survival mode and replaces the AI Locust with five human players; the ten wave format is also replaced with a six minute time limit. The Locust players must destroy the defence over the first E-hole within the time limit or the round is won by the COG players. If the E-hole is destroyed, the COG fall back and the time limit is extended as the Locust now battle to destroy the second E-hole. This continues until either the generator is destroyed or the time runs out.
Locust players have a choice of eight different creatures that are split into two tiers, the second of which is locked until the point pot reaches a set target. Each Locust class costs a different amount of points, but players no longer accumulate points individually. All team actions, such as defence damage and kills, put points into the pot so that the lowly classes can still feel like they’re making a difference. Despite a title update, some of the classes do still need balancing but, due to its unpredictability, Overrun is an extreme amount of fun and is the best multiplayer mode of the lot.
They Play Well Together
All of the previous Gears games launched with a selection of ten multiplayer maps and at least five Versus modes. Not Judgment. Excluding Overrun, Judgment includes just three modes and four maps, although mercifully these aren’t the same four maps as those included with Overrun. Free for All is the first time that a single-player Deathmatch mode has been implemented into Gears, while Team Deathmatch is a Gears staple. New mode Domination sees two teams of players fighting for control of three rings, a bit like Domination in Call of Duty. The small selection of maps and modes gets old very quickly, even though there is nothing wrong with how these modes work.
The maps have been designed to add an element of vertical gameplay. Players can now clamber up waist-high ledges to be able to reach higher levels. Players can drop from roofs or platforms to be able to surprise an enemy passing below. Also, enemies are no longer downed and kills are instant – there are no executions with the exception of retro charges and chainsaw attacks. Combining these two elements means that there is a new element of danger when wandering through the maps. However, players are limited by only being able to take a single primary weapon to accompany a Snub Pistol and grenades. Choosing between close-range combat or allowing for attacks at a longer distance means that players will have to adapt different weapons for different strategies.
People Can Fly has tried to do something new with the Gears franchise but I’m not entirely sure that they have been successful. The controls are tighter and the Arcade style campaign offers replayability, but the scoring system disrupts the campaign’s flow and detracts from the storyline. Survival just doesn’t have the charm of the original Horde mode although the new Overrun mode definitely makes up for this. The COG class system does mean that players do have to work together as a team, whereas each Locust feels like it has a part to play. The changes to the Versus Modes add variety but the lack of actual content means that players will become bored very quickly. Hopefully more content comes soon.
Miss; The constant interruptions in the campaign.
Needed; More multiplayer content, be it maps or game modes.