Review: Gears Of War: Judgment
Yes okay we know it's spelled incorrectly. Just go with it, okay? In fact that might as well be the mantra of this game in its entirety. Just go with it, okay?
- Worth The Time?It's worth a weekend romp at the very least, but again, only with friends.
- Things LovedThe absolutely gorgeous visuals. The same Gears formula is kept intact. The Declassified missions offer some of the best Gears moments you will ever experience. The action is frantic and furious. The game is adequately challenging across various difficulties. There is a fair amount to do...
- Things Hated... but not nearly as much as previous games. Most of the levels are extremely linear. The reworked control system cannot be reverted, leading to some initial frustration readjusting. The lack of variety and maps per game mode really makes the game feel more like an expansion than a full-on sequel.
- RecommendationIf you're looking for an all-round game that doesn't excel in any particular area, you might fancy giving this a try. If you're a fan of Gears of War then you already have this game pre-ordered. However anyone else should wait for a price drop, or get some friends.
- Name: Gears Of War: Judgment
- Genre: Third Person Shooter
- Players: 1 - 2
- Multiplayer: Online competitive, up to four player co-operative, two player split-screen
- Platforms: Xbox 360
- Developer: People Can Fly, Epic Games
- Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
- Price: R 525
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
One of my favourite remarks regarding the Gears of War series is that playing the games is like riding a bike, in that you can not play the games for an extended duration and then start up the game and play as if you never left. Sure your shots will be a bit off target and you might miss the odd active reload or two but for the most part you just need a few tries and you’ve got your eye fully in. With Gears of War: Judgment however, for the first time in the series, I felt as if I had got off my bike and moved onto something slightly different. A unicycle. And in many ways that is exactly how Judgment feels to play. It’s just… missing that extra wheel.
I want to start by saying that Judgment is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it’s quite good. But there is nothing that truly stands out. No, wait, I take that back. There is one thing that truly stands out and all it serves to prove is that People Can Fly are not yet up to the task.
Let’s first talk about the changes to the existing formula because I feel I really need to get these out of the way. Most of these were already covered in the preview so I’ll try to just gloss over them. You can now blind-throw grenades (they stick to an enemy if they hit), which has led to a bit of a mix-up of the controls. Where in previous games the D-pad was used to switch weapons, here you are just allowed two weapons swapped with the Y button, and you can throw grenades by either tapping or holding down LB. Holding LB and tapping B is how you grenade-tag here, and it is about as clumsy as it sounds. The D-pad is then used for the object-of-interest and tac-com commands and since you sometimes hold those down for extended durations, it leads to some really awkward controlling.
Apart from that, there are some new weapons including a bolt-action rifle with three shots in a clip, a semi-automatic sniper rifle (the hammerburst is now also semi-automatic) for mid-range headshots, a crossbow which shoots trap darts much like you would see in BioShock, and a grenade launcher which does exactly what it says on the box. All weapons can be fired while holding a boomshield or meatshield, even the sawn-off shotgun, which now holds two shots per clip but can no longer be replenished with regular ammo packs. There are now also stim grenades which explode in a cloud of
fairy magic healing gas that auto-revives allies and provides a health boost and for multiplayer only, there is a beacon grenade which allows you to see enemies behind cover.
The rest of the gameplay is kept more-or-less intact although you now stick to cover a lot more, meaning you cannot simply pull away by edge-pressing the directional analogues like you could in Gears of War 3.
The singleplayer experience is kept mostly along the same lines as previous titles although where previous titles had Acts and Chapters, here we have Testimonies and Sections. Judgment begins with Lt Damon Baird and the rest of his Kilo Squad put on trial for disobeying direct orders. The rest of Judgment’s story then plays out through a framed narrative as each character gives their testimony. This essentially accounts for each Act in the game, with five in total and then an extra sixth Act afterwards. Each Testimony is then further broken down into Sections. These levels are each separated by loading screens, although for the most part are extremely short and linear.
The kick with Judgment’s campaign is that each level is scored based on difficulty and ability. The higher your difficulty, the better your score. The more cool things you do (headshots, multi-kills, gibs), the better your score. However going down-but-not-out causes your score to drop, so it works both ways. To aid things along, we have the meat of the singleplayer campaign and what really allows it to shine in its own right, the Declassified missions. These are worked quite nicely into the story itself as things that Kilo squad claim to have happened, forming optional objectives per level for bonus stars. Each level is different but optional objectives include significantly reduced vision, specific weapon loadouts, time limits to complete levels, starting with no ammo, and so on. These optional objectives breathe new life to the formula and really bring the game into its own. However being optional, it is possible to entirely pass on the opportunity, and I feel that’s almost a crime.
After a decent amount of stars are unlocked, you then unlock Aftermath, which is a sort of epilogue to Judgment’s campaign. It follows the exploits of Baird, Cole and Clayton Carmine as they venture off in search for reinforcements during the middle Act of Gears of War 3. Remember that part where they weren’t there? Well now you get to find out what happens. And truly, it’s the most rewarding part of the game. You can see that this epilogue campaign was developed more in the Epic Games style, with levels being far longer and more detailed, and ultimately more entertaining and fulfilling.
Aftermath far outshines Judgment’s original campaign which never really amounts to much and ends up being quite the underwhelming, inconsequential anti-climax by the end. Furthermore, where the proper campaign can be over in a matter of hours (it took myself and two friends playing on Hardcore around eight hours, with many reloads) the epilogue which is just one Act lasts a decent amount more than any of the previous Acts. So not only does it last longer, but it’s more of the Gears we know and love. If anything this really serves to show how inept People Can Fly are at crafting a solid Gears experience. While not bad by any stretch of the imagination, much like Bulletstorm actually, the regular campaign is just lacking that little bit extra, emphasised by how good Aftermath is by comparison. It makes me wonder if this was meant to be Gears of War 3 DLC, which was instead kept for Judgment to give it a little more meat.
So we have a solid but not altogether excellent singleplayer offering, and I am not all too happy to confess that things aren’t much different on the multiplayer side of things. For one, there are just four maps currently in circulation, each offering height-based warfare for the first time in the series. You can literally drop in on an enemy from above now. Apart from that, they’re not very big and so they make for a very specific type of dogfight-styled combat. For two, you now have a crosshair at all times, making for much easier blindfiring. However your multiplayer active reloads no longer provide you with a damage boost.
There are four modes on offer, namely Free For All, Team Deathmatch, Domination and Overrun. The first two are pretty self-explanatory and feature COG-only warfare. Domination is another COG-only game type which tasks players with controlling three rings which accrue points, in order to reach a points limit. If you’ve played a Call of Duty game before, you know what this is about. Overrun is the final multiplayer mode and it’s Locust vs COG here. If you’ve ever played Assault in Unreal Tournament or Rush in various Battlefield games, it’s the same sort of principle here.
With Overrun you have a single objective at a time where one team must defend and the other must attack, and if that objective drops then the next point on the map becomes the new objective until all objectives have dropped. Think of it like connecting the dots where one team must attack and destroy (connect a dot) and the other team must defend (stop it from happening). In Overrun you get to pick from four classes with each offering its own strengths, weaknesses and loadouts. This mode will form the meat of the multiplayer for anyone with friends. The lone wolves will of course be playing Free For All so fuck them.
Finally we have Survival which forms the Horde mode of this game. It is effectively COG-only Overrun where you defend objectives with a bunch of friends against ten waves of Locust. Doesn’t sound very difficult but trust me, it gets extremely challenging at times. Especially on the higher difficulties where a lone wretch can ruin your life without you ever seeing it.
Levelling up in Judgment is relatively quick and after finishing the campaign once, finishing the Aftermath epilogue and playing one game of each multiplayer mode, I was already past level 20. You are allowed to re-up at level 50, which might imply that it is the maximum level. You are allowed two further re-ups. Purchasing a VIP pass (think of it as a short-term season pass, since it allows you access to DLC as well) does allow an XP boost but really, you don’t need it. The act of levelling up, as well as completing certain ribbons a particular amount of times, grants you PrizeBoxes, which open up rewards including bonus XP, weapon and character skins.
The thing about Judgment is that none of these modes has the feel of something that will last you hundreds of hours. With Gears of War 3 we had one of the most polished experiences on the Xbox 360, where you could immediately see that you’d be spending hundreds of hours playing it. I would know, since it’s my most played game on Xbox 360. But with Judgment you just never get the feel that it’s going to last that long. Sure a few DLC packs could fix that right up, but every mode seems to be geared (heh) around a shorter, more frantic experience, which is fine. But what it means for the game is that rather than feeling like a solid successor to Gears of War 3, it feels more like an add-on. An expansion of sorts.
This was probably the intention all along so I cannot really knock the game for it, but it does mean that I cannot really recommend a full-price purchase for Judgment unless you are looking for an all-round experience that doesn’t particularly have an excellent singlelplayer or excellent multiplayer. Judgment is a social game; it’s a game you buy because you have friends who bought it, who want you to play with them. That, or you’re a Gears of War fan and you simply must vreem ALL the vreems.