Judgment. Or as we say in the proper parts of the world, Judgement. It’s quite ironic that since its announcement, I have been judging the upcoming Gears of War prequel. But now that we finally have some details on the game, my jury is no longer out, my executioner has been sent home, and this judge is quite keen for the next in VREEM VREEM from Epic Games and People Can Fly.
Name: Gears of War: Judgment
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Players: 1 – 2
Multiplayer: Online competitive, co-operative, split-screen
Platforms: Xbox 360
Developers: People Can Fly, Epic Games
Publishers: Microsoft Games Studios
Release Date: 22 March 2013
Before we proceed it is important to first give some appreciation to Gears of War 3. As a standalone offering from Epic Games, the threequel in the Gears series was the most refined and ideal experience of Gears of War as we know it, and it could easily have stood as the series’ magnum opus, its flagship title, the be-all and end-all of Gears as we know it. Not only did it boast a solid campaign experience but also various ways to play through it, some decent downloadable content and probably the best multiplayer offering since that last game by Bungie. It was an all-round success and something that Epic Games should be proud of.
This is why when I first heard about Gears of War: Judgment, I was sceptical. Extremely so. I felt it was unnecessary, I mean why would you want to release a further title, spin-off, prequel or otherwise, when you’ve perfected the formula and presented a sterling effort? Is Microsoft so hardcore about its titles that it will do to Epic Games, what it did to Bungie? And then I remember that Reach was the only Halo game I could actually tolerate and so I decided to check out more information regarding Judgment, as it released.
And boy was I blown away. In a manner of speaking…
The amount of changes introduced to the Gears of War formula that we know and love, is shocking. Starting with the campaign, without going too much into the story just yet, we now have what’s called Declassified Missions. These are basically in-level challenges that task you with going through the level in a specific way in order to acquire specific unlocks as well as boost your rating for that level. The rating is itself something new for the series where now you are not only able to compete against friends for points in each level, but you also have a rating for each level with a maximum of three stars. Effectively this means completing a level is not all any more; now you must also complete it efficiently.
In Judgment the story revolves around series regulars Baird and Cole, specifically the former who is sentenced to a trial based on his actions in the field right around the first invasion of the locust forces, the so-called Emergence Day. E-day, for short. Baird is in charge of Kilo Squad which consists of two other members who are new to the series. The rest is just fluff and what’s important isn’t so much the where and why but the how, and Judgment attempts to really mix up what you’re used to from previous titles.
There will be new enemy types in this game, to compliment some returning enemy types. Within reason, of course. You ought not to expect lambent enemies, for example, this time around. There are also new weapons around, or should we say older weapons since this is technically a prequel. Probably the most noteworthy addition and one that made me squee with excitement is the inclusion of Horde-styled defence in the campaign. Finally. Basically, in certain parts of the game you will be tasked with holding off waves of enemies. This is nothing new to the series, however what is new to the series is that you will be allowed to build fortifications and set up your own defences as you please, much like in the regular Horde mode from Gears of War 3.
On the multiplayer side, probably the biggest and most instantly noticeable change is the focus on vertical navigation through levels. Much like the maps in Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer component, there are multiple tiers to each level and a battle can take place on any of these tiers dynamically. This can lead to enemies literally falling on your head from above, or getting stuck under fire from above as you ascend to a better position and catch them unaware.
Then there is class-based multiplayer for the first time in the series; something that otherwise seemed so obvious given the different types of characters available for play. Details aren’t too fleshed out just yet on exactly what these classes will be called, or what their purposes are, but you would do well to expect the usual story of assault, engineer, medic, sniper, demolitions and so on.
With class-based multiplayer comes some new multiplayer modes, over and above the usual Team Deathmatch. One of these is Free-For-All, which needs no explanation. The next is the Domination mode, which has three control points in a map and awards prolonged control of each to either team, making for some interesting dogfights. Since this mode has been ripped out of Call of Duty, we need not talk about it too much since most of you probably already know it well. If not, that’s why there are trailers all over the place.
Finally, we have Overrun, which is going to be the mode of choice for many a Gears fan. Remember Horde and Beast mode from previous games? Well, both of those together. Yes. That… you may proceed to foam at the mouth. Essentially one team plays the COG and one team plays the Locust, and they both duke it out. It’s going to be long and frantic and awesome.
There are various other gameplay changes which permeate both modes of play including the ability to throw grenades without a wind-up, meaning instantly, which is quite handy, if you’ll excuse the pun. Further, they now stick to enemies if they hit, which can be both a positive and a negative. Boomshields may now be used with any other weapon, not just pistols. This effectively renders the pistol meaningless if you have ammo for other weapons or the ability to strafe a target and get close enough for melee. Finally, the one-hit-wonder sawed-off shotgun now holds two, yes, two shots per clip. This basically breaks the game in so many levels, but you won’t hear me complaining.
Some newer additions to the formula, courtesy the engineer extraordinaire Baird, include the beacon grenade which when tossed allows you to see enemies through walls or behind cover, as well as the stim grenade which is like a portable heal; just throw it at downed allies and watch them magically revive, or have their health boosted if they’re already up. There are also various new weapons introduced including a medium range semi-automatic sniper rifle, a grenade launcher, and more. Finally, levelling up now grants you prize boxes which unlock unique weapons and skins so now you don’t have to wait a whole twenty-five levels for something nice, or do something silly such as getting 10,000 hammerburst kills for that cool skin you want.
Gears of War: Judgment is shaping up to be the best Gears of War title yet and while it still has a long way to go and a lot to prove — especially considering that People Can Fly are yet to produce quality the likes of Painkiller again, where Bulletstorm was a great game but nothing spectacular by any stretch of the imagination — it certainly seems as if the changes it has introduced are enough to warrant a proper standalone title, and the next in the series. Will you be picking it up, March 22nd?