A big fan of the Gears of War franchise, I had high expectations when Judgment was announced back in June at E3 last year. It was said that BulletStorm devs, People Can Fly would now hold the reins on Judgment’s creation and a new team would be a the head of development. With a new team at the helm, how has Judgment shaped up?
Straight away People Can Fly’s influence shows, as rather than having a handful of stretched out missions, similar to that of Gears 1, 2 and 3, Judgment has a more “arcade” type of structuring, throwing in a number of skirmishes or “mini-missions”. Some are as simple as go from point A to point B and wipe out anything that moves in between and some are more tower-defence type missions where you’ll have to hold a point through a few waves of Locusts. It’s a refreshing take on the game as rather than having to play for extended amounts of time, you can jump in when it suits you, be it for 5 minutes or 5 hours.
Something to add that little extra to these mini-missions is the option to bump up the difficulty to improve your score. These extra point earners are known as “Declassifications” and are displayed as the large graffiti-like red Gears logo painted on the walls of levels. You can activate these “Declassifications” for extra points at a price, as depending on what level you’re on, it may only limit you to a certain category of weapons, may increase the difficulty of the enemies or may even cut your ammo supplies in half! If you can complete all of these, you can consider yourself a badass Gears player and it’ll also add a little more to the story line.
A prequel to the series, Judgment focuses on the background of fan favourites Damon Baird and Augustus “Cole Train” Cole. Two of my favourite characters of the decade, I love this dynamic duo and Epic/People Can Fly’s decision to go forward with a game revolving around these two was brilliant! The inclusion of some new faces also add to the story and give both Baird and Cole a slightly fuller backstory – just what the fans wanted!
Epic have always had a way of presenting their truly beautiful, yet hideously dull and grey setting for their games. People Can Fly have taken Judgment in a new direction swapping the muddy greys, browns and blacks for a more fulfilling pallet of colours. Of course, this part of the story was set a massive 15 years before we met Marcus and Dom and before the planet was pretty much destroyed from inside-out.
Having played through the Gears series, I felt a sudden change in the combat system whilst playing through Judgment. Up until now, the standard Gears combat system was; run, crouch, hide and fire – almost always in that order. However, in Judgment I found myself hiding a lot less and would eventually end up get my hands a little dirtier. The game’s new “Smart Spawn System” boasts a new technology, tracking how players play. The more you play the more the game will figure you out, making every mission that bit harder. So, there’s no more chilling at the back with the sniper as you’ll end up with a Wretch playing piggy-back. Judgment is all about keeping on your toes and keeping the gameplay fast, which can be a little difficult when you’re 7ft tall and stacked like a brick poo-house. Yes, the combat and general maneuverability whilst in the middle of a fire-fight certainly felt “altered” to say the least. Hat’s off for trying some new PCF, but I prefer the way Epic had it.
[Multiplayer words from David Waters]
Gears of War: Judgment’s foray into competitive multiplayer takes a lot from its previous entries in the franchise, strips it down, compacts it, puts it in a small little box, and grounds it down into a fine powder, that, when you sieve to reveal its contents you find that there is actually no substance left after all the changes they’ve made. What’s left is an underwhelming, barebones multiplayer component that can only be described as “Gears of War 3: Lite Edition”.
Going into the multiplayer you’ll find 4 main modes: Free For All, Team Death Match, Domination and Overrun. Overrun is the standout here, what horde mode was for GOW2, Overrun is for Judgment. Combining both Horde and Beast mode, we are left with a tower defence game where the Locust must attack the COGs bases and ultimately push them back until all the defences have been destroyed. On the Locust front of things the player is offered a class system, with the ability to use stronger characters as they earn points from attacking the base, enemies and fortifications. The COG on the other hand, have four classes: Medic, Solider, Scout and Engineer. These roles provide health, ammo, support and fortification fixes for their team. There is a strong sense of teamwork required on both sides of the war here, and without cooperation you’ll likely find yourself overrun or blocked from progressing further. As interesting as this mode sounds, playing it brings the revelation that the locust heavily out match the COG. While it is possible for the COG to successfully defend, facing off against the full horde of tickers, corpsers, ragers, wretches and other badman Locusts is often a frustrating and unbalanced experience with the COG lacking the proper tools to deal with the situation. With only 4 Overrun maps as well, the repetition quickly wears the mode down as no map brings any interesting or compelling twists other than just a new coat of paint.
Outside of Overrun, Judgment leaves you with 3 other game modes (4 with the added Execution DLC). Free-For-All is the newest addition here and is certainly a welcome one, being able to pop the head of any character that is near you is heavily satisfying. Some slight spawn issues and power weapon placements can make this mode feel like the luck of the draw sometimes however. Team Death Match has twisted around its Gears 3 formula and now counts up to a total score. Being the most played gametype of Gears 3 it’s no surprise seeing its return. Lastly, there is Domination, the new replacement for Annex and King of the Hill. Whilst the latter from the previous Gears had you traversing the map to secure different hills for a period of time, Domination now has 3 static hill points that must be defended. The fun of roadie running across the map to secure random hill points and slug out the competition is completely sucked out and what’s left is a mode that rewards camping and slow movement. Often teams will hold 2 points securely, around the power weapons, creating a sluggish gameplay experience. While these game modes can be fun and do share the gory essence of Gears, only having 4 multiplayer maps that ship with the game is truly baffling. The lack of content and game modes makes for a shallow experience that overstays its welcome quickly. Comparing to the last two launches, both GOW2 and GOW3 launched with 10 maps, and quickly increased that number with DLC.
The new loadout system brings the question, “Why?” Gear’s has been successful for 3 entries prior to this game with its 4 slot loadout system, but now the player has been reduced to 2 weapons, choosing a rifle or shotgun when spawning. Epic knew looking at the data that the Gnasher shotgun was the most popular weapon so it’s completely unsurprising to find most players running around looking for close combat. This is even more prevalent now with the introduction of a rifle/shotgun spawn gametype recently released by Epic to please their fan base. While Judgment has some unique new ideas, the removal of “executions” is like a curb stomp to the face; a lack of content and modes will leave you wondering if this product was shipped early by mistake.
Overall, Judgment is a cracking title but certainly a far cry from the other fantastic titles in the series. I’d say this game would be for the more hardcore fans of the series that want more of the Gears story, rather than a gripping multiplayer experience.