Proud To Keep On Turning
When Gears of War 3 came out, we all thought it was the end of the series. In fact, we all knew it was going to be the end of the series. Some secretly hoped there would never be an end to the franchise that helped secure Microsoft’s reigning dominance in the online multiplayer arena. Thankfully, those people were correct. I couldn’t be happier that not only were those people correct, but also that the fine folks at Epic Games delivered a game that is not only one of the greatest Gears experiences but focuses on two characters I have enjoyed more than Marcus and Dom. I think we all can agree we needed a break from the most prolific bromance in gaming.
With structure like a Tarantino film, the game has you playing through segments of the story as members of the Kilo Squad. The two prominent members are Baird and Cole Train, with Sofia and Paduk filling things out. They’ve all been arrested and are standing trial for “crimes” they’ve committed. From this point, each member of the squad presents their testimony and the game plays out in flashback segments.
While I can agree this removes any true sense of urgency or fear of characters dying, it allows for a level of fun that’s been missing from Gears since the first installment. Sure, the campaign of the second was fun and over-the-top sci-fi awesome, but the third one was slow paced and retained a level of tension that never really allowed you to cut loose as you did in prior installments. This is part of the magic of Judgment. However, it’s also a double edged sword for the campaign.
Judgment’s lack of fear creates story telling issues, and almost detracts from the main point: deepening the mythos of the franchise for those who have not read anything outside of the prior games. Thankfully, the characters relaying the story to a pretty despicable antagonist helps push things past the norm and allows for some great story moments. This is also helped in large part by the voice cast. Baird and Cole Train give you more insight to how their characters are with the quieter dialogue. Cole Train softly exclaiming, “I would’ve done more if I could,” upon seeing a smattering of corpses along a path is a perfect example of character depth through voice actor commitment.
This commitment to quality continues to come through in the controls of the game. While those who are familiar with the franchise will have absolutely no issue jumping in and being the best COG there is, new people will find why so many games have copied elements from the Gears of War franchise. The best thing Judgment does, though, is introduce the world of Gears as a fast paced, over-the-top, macho infused game to new players without excluding veterans.
What’s more, it introduces a challenging element to the campaign that I honestly hope other franchises pick up on. During each section of the game you will find the Gears symbol highlighted at various points. Upon investigation, you will discover that “according to the report” Kilo squad had to deal with the upcoming enemies in a certain ways. For example, defending a location with only torque bows and shotguns. You are allowed to accept this as truth or decline it. This adds an amazing layer of choice to each difficulty level. It also increases the Horde mode playability of the campaign. While not every section is the same, a lot do feel like glorified waves of enemies designed to make you prove your mettle. This, to me, adds to the chaotic fun of the game.
All of these elements are brought together into a beautiful package. Judgment is the best looking Gears game to date. Not only are we now looking at the Gears group as normal characters instead of the hulking masses so many made fun of in the past, but the characters’ faces spring to life thanks to better animation. In the beginning of the game, watching Baird relay emotional confusion and pain adds a wonderful elegance that has been missing from the franchise. Not to say that Marcus never relayed an emotional reaction, but now it is easier to pick up on. Mixed with the excellent voice cast I mentioned earlier, the characters are more alive than they’ve ever been.
With environments this detailed and lush I found myself wondering if I was playing a Halo game instead of Gears. Nothing against the other Gears of War environments, but things at times seemed to blend together and enemies weren’t always clearly visible. This is not the case this time around. Also, the canvased backgrounds are epic and death-defying. Taking a moment to look past what’s right in front of you to see these glorious space opera moments is why I love this genre of gaming, and Gears is one of the best at it.
Let’s not forget the multiplayer mode. As I mentioned earlier, Gears of War has been responsible for shaping the online multiplayer genre almost as much as Halo, which makes one wonder why there’s never been a true Free-for-All mode in the franchise. Well, now that is no longer a question, as Judgment introduces one for the first time. Instead of players being both COGs and Locusts in this mode, you find yourself playing COG vs. COG. I won’t spoil who you will eventually get to play as, but I can say I had loads of fun with this mode. While most of the rest of the modes are your typical online multiplayer fare, Overrun mode is also worth a look.
In Overrun mode you are in charge of defending two sealed emergence holes as well as the Hammer of Dawn beacon. Players are on two teams of five. One team is Locust, one COG, each rotating after matches. As a COG you defend the holes and the Hammer of Dawn will allow you to obliterate the Locust. Whereas if the Locust get through and uncover the emergence holes the COGs will be torn to shreds by a flood of Kryll. These new modes make the multiplayer even more enjoyable. I’ve always loved the multiplayer in Gears, and Judgment will definitely keep me entertained for months to come.
This is the best thing about Gears of War: Judgment. It makes me want to play it again. Right after completing the campaign I was ready to start it again. Not really because I wanted to experience the story again, but rather because I wanted to go back through, raise my game difficulty level, and accept more of the Declassifying Missions than I had originally. Judgment is literally as much fun as Gears of War 2. It doesn’t have this scope or severity one and three had, but it operates on a grand scale. I, for one, couldn’t be happier.
There are a ton of things that could have gone wrong with a prequel to a series like Gears of War. Judgment embraced these issues and delivered. I praised Gears of War 3 for all it accomplished and Judgment continues that level of excellence. There’s also a little surprise for you when you complete Judgment that fans of the series will truly love. While I may not be able to predict the direction of the series from this point, I can definitely say I hope this is not the last we see of these characters.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.8 Graphics
Landscapes are crisp, characters smooth; I’d dare say this is better than Gears of War 3. 4.8 Control
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
What we’ve come to expect from the professionals who create this series. 4.8 Play Value
It’s Baird! 4.8 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best