Did we need it? Probably not, but it is good enough to be on the same shelf there’s no doubt about that.
Gears of War, a franchise that brought 360 gaming to life, it introduced many of today’s gamers to online fast and brutal online gaming. As a story it spanned three solid games and delivered an equally solid experience in narrative, production and engagement. It also ended well.
Now we have Judgement, not a reboot or extension, but a step back in time pre-Gears to a place in the canon that we have only heard about. It is a change of pace and style, it is not classic Gears in any way and this is how it plays out.
Focusing on Kilo Squad there are two more familiar faces onboard in Baird and Cole, this game delivers a retrospective of their actions in the run up to Emergence day. An interesting take on the narrative, but old ground nonetheless. The game is structured in an incredibly episodic manner, each squad member delivering their recollection of an event, which transcribes into even more segmented combat sections. This is not particularly jarring, it just doesn’t flow as well as the first three Gears games did, each cutscene or closed door clearly divides the levels as do the introduction of ‘declassified’ badges.
This is a new option for the game, which adds to the ‘arcade’ nature of the experience and detracts further from the player enjoying a smooth narrative. The declassified option is generally a set of parameters that change up the difficulty in a segment, making the task in hand harder and offering you more rewards in the process. Apart from the time limited sections, these declassified ventures can add some fun into the mix and certainly offer some replayability.
The approach here has definitely taken the franchise for a detour and created more of a ‘game’ than experience, if it is approached with an open mind and as a short burst of violence it can be fulfilling. If the player wants a rich and engaging storyline, then they should look elsewhere. One last gripe around the cutscenes is the age old Gears issue, where the models always carry Lancers regardless of the weapons you actually have equipped, its just one of those details that always sticks out. Not forgetting that as in every new iteration of a franchise we see developments, new enemies, new weapons, new history that we have never encountered before. If it doesn’t affect your suspension of disbelief then it reinforces that Marcus and Dom actually had it easy in the first Gears of War, having only a couple of Boomers and Raam to deal with that were out of the ordinary.
Online the game is as fun as ever, some of the fan favourites have been left behind in the last game, Horde and Beastmode, but replaced with some new variants. Overrun being the flagship mode, it is fun, fast and very Gears. It is also in my mind a nod to a Battlefield Rush game setup, only on a much smaller skirmish scale. Funnily enough this week the latest DLC is adding a Gun Master game type, all well and good, but where is the originality, have we really come up with all we can?
Judgement was originally described as a class based take on Gears, the imagination could spring to a multitude of loadouts with CoD style perks and larger scale games of teamwork. In reality the class support options are limited and do not reach those lofty heights, perhaps it would have been better to leave them out and keep it pure.
Speaking of lofty heights, the multiplayer maps do stand out in this offering, they have moved away from the previous Epic standard of ying/yang layouts. They also offer a lot of verticality, plenty of high level camping spots are available as is the ability to drop off heights and surprise the enemy.
Another minor issue (depending on your taste) is the control scheme, it has been overhauled to suit the CoD generation, swapping weapons with a single button rather than the D-Pad and grenades are instantly available via the left bumper. It works, but doesn’t ‘feel’ right to me, personally I didn’t think it was broke in the first place, so I wouldn’t have fixed it.
Judgement does offer a good Gears fix, the campaign is short, but the arcade approach offers plenty of opportunity for jumping in and having a quick blast, as does the ‘Smart Spawn’ system, which basically mixes up the enemies you will encounter and changes replays. Every characters personal slice of the story ends with a Horde style battle, which at higher levels can become quite epic. The online modes are entertaining and new DLC is already being added.
Its hard to say if it has the legs of the original series and more often than not I find myself itching to put Gears 3 back in for a blat instead. Did we need it? Probably not, but it is good enough to be on the same shelf there’s no doubt about that.