Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed)
Release Date: March 22, 2013
Genre(s): Third person shooter
Publisher(s): Microsoft Studios
Developer: Epic Games/People Can Fly
Gears of War: Judgment is a perplexing beast. One from another timeline, a parallel universe if you may. After all, in a perfect world, we’d just have three games in Epic’s cover and gun franchise this generation. But alas, this was not to be. Probably has something to do with Microsoft missing their own deadlines on launching Xbox Next?
Wanton speculation aside, having another entry in the Gears series is never a bad thing. Or so we thought. Sure, Epic handed the reigns to People Can Fly, responsible for 2011’s foul mouthed, first-person shooting extravaganza, Bulletstorm. But if you assumed that to be an indicator of Judgment’s quality, you’re in for a surprise. Much like we were.
Judgment follows the events prior to the 2007 classic, Gears of War. Except instead of the brooding Marcus Fenix, you’re the wise-cracking Damon Baird who is standing trial rather than kicking locust ass. Nonetheless, most of the action takes place in the form of flashbacks and you have a couple of new characters to join you along for the ride with series faves Augustus Cole and Baird. And like most things Gears, the narrative takes a backseat as long as you have swarms of enemies to slaughter, which you often do.
Unlike other games in the series where the battles were spread out, you’ll find yourself dropped into a small area against slew of locusts. Not necessarily a bad thing, even more so when it’s done in such a way to have you moving out of cover ever so often. But there’s one massive, glaring omission that makes Judgment more repetitive than it should. Earlier games had a sense of scale and moments that were downright iconic. Be it taking down a bullet-proof Beserker or riding a Brumak you won’t find a single section here that comes close to the grandeur of the games one, two and three. The end result is a single-player campaign that is a glorified hoard mode with bits of somewhat coherent story.
Not all is lost though. Each section has the iconic Gears logo that you can run upto and touch. Doing so allows you to activate certain modifiers that force you to play the game differently. These involve dealing with enemies under intense dust and smoke to coping with numerous foes and having very little ammo. Enabling these modifiers (or as the game calls them,”declassify” specific details) lets you earn more stars for a higher score. Each level lets you earn upto three stars. Get 40 of them and you unlock Aftermath which is a campaign that is set during the period of Gears of War 3.Throughout both campaigns you’ll notice that both Baird and Cole are a lot more subdued than they are, making the combat a little more humdrum than it usually is.
The controls are pitch-perfect and responsive, everything you’d expect from a game bearing the Gears moniker. Barring the absence of the sidearm that no one would use anyway, veterans would feel right at home. Or in our case, way too much at home. It was easy to go back to the comfy set up of using a lancer and a gnasher rather than try out some of the new toys available. These include the Marksa sniper rifle and the tripwire bow that lets you propel explosive darts, think of it as a long distance alternative to planting grenades and you get the idea.
However the biggest change is adopting a control scheme similar to other shooters such as Halo. You switch between two weapons with a tap of the Y button and you use the left bumper to toss grenades. This feels a lot more natural than the earlier games which had you switching between weapons and grenades with the d-pad.
On the multiplayer side of things there are a few changes. For starters, you have OverRun that pits a faction of attacking locusts against defending COGs. Think of it as an amalgamation of the series’ Beast and Horde modes. There’s a single faction equivalent that has players as COGs pitted against AI locusts known as Survival mode. In both cases you can choose a variety of class types depending on your choice of faction. COGs have the usual options such as engineer, medic, scout and soldier while locust fans can indulge themselves by earning points to spawn deadlier units. While you can play the bogstandard deathmatch and team deathmatch too, OverRun is the stand-out mode for multiplayer junkies.
All in all, Judgment is what you’d expect from MS’ flagship exclusive series. It looks good and plays well. The problem is, it doesn’t do much else than that. So if you’ve had your fair share of Gears of War, you’re not missing much. Though the developers have taken a few steps such as adding modifiers and tweaking the multiplayer, it can’t shake off the all too familiar feeling of fatigue most series’ set into post their third entry.
- Slick changes to the control scheme
- Declassification modifiers
- OverRun Mode
- New Weapons
- Nothing you haven’t seen before
- No epic moments
- Single-player is a glorified horde mode
Gameplay Progression: 7/10
Unique Selling Proposition: 7/10