Spencer Keane ’14 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
The Gears of War franchise has been one of the staples of the Xbox 360 platform and one of Microsoft’s most successful series. The fourth installment, Gears of War: Judgment, continues the hard hitting, violent, testosterone-filled, cover based action of the previous three games, but with a few new surprises. Developed by People Can Fly, the company behind the insanity that is Painkiller and the raunchy skill-shot FPS Bulletstorm, Gears of War: Judgment was destined to be just a little bit different from the previous three installments.
From the first few moments of the game, Gears of War: Judgment mixes up the standard Gears of War themes just enough to stand out. Characters seem slightly cartoony, the colors are just a tinge brighter and the environments have a less gloomy aesthetic. That’s not to say that Gears of War: Judgment doesn’t have its dark moments, as there are plenty of frightening monsters, brutal weapons, and violent kills. Overall the feel tends to be faster, lighter, and more fluid than previous installments. This leads to a smoother arcade style shooter rather than a chunky war endeavor.
This new style suits the story well as it deviates from the brooding main character of the franchise, Marcus Fenix, and instead follows Damon Baird. The game follows Baird’s command of Kilo squad shortly after the events of E-Day, prior to the original Gears of War. Kilo squad is comprised of the sarcastic and witty Damon Baird, the charismatic fan-favorite Augustus “The Cole Train” Cole, the bitter UIR veteran Garron Paduk, and the young and loyal Onyx cadet Sofia Hendrik. As the game begins, we see Baird and company manacled and being dragged into a courtroom for an impromptu trial. Accused of disobeying orders and breaking military law, Kilo squad must testify in front of Col. Ezra Loomis and explain their actions. The courtroom forms the backbone of the events in Gears of War: Judgment, as each mission is told in a series of testimonies from each member of Kilo squad. As the players progress through each re-telling, the player earns a star rating for the mission. Stars are awarded based on points given for killing enemies in spectacular ways, earning ribbons, and executing enemies. To further add to this new system, there are a series of optional “Declassified” challenges.
These Declassified missions are where Gears of War: Judgment really shines. Once activated, they add detail to the testimony as well as provide additional challenges to the mission at hand in order to earn more stars. For example, players may be posed with weapons restrictions such as only using boltok pistols and sniper rifles for a mission. Other challenges include beefing up the power of enemies, reducing the ammunition available, or forcing the player to complete the mission within a time limit. These Declassified missions may seem like a cheap gimmick at first, but ultimately they add to the fun and arcade style that Gears of War: Judgment seems to be striving for. In addition, this new star system encourages co-op play even further than the previous games in the franchise, as friends can try to beat each other’s scores or work together to complete some of the more challenging Declassified missions.
If players earn enough stars, they are rewarded with an additional “Aftermath” campaign, which takes place many years later, during the Gears of War 3 campaign. From this story, the player sees the evolution of Baird and Cole during their separation from Delta squad before reuniting with them near the end of the Gears of War 3 story line. This added campaign caters almost exclusively to veterans of the series and refers back to characters and events played in previous games. Sadly, the Declassified system does not make an appearance in “Aftermath.”
On the flip side, Gears of War: Judgment does change a few things unnecessarily. People Can Fly has revamped the weapon system and now only allows for the player to hold two weapons at any given time. They have also re-mapped many of the controls. Hardcore Gears of War fans may find these changes difficult to get used to at first as it feels like the controls have been watered down to appeal to a more classic shooter audience. People Can Fly have also made the tooltips slightly less helpful in regards to performing executions, active reload bonuses, and the TAC COMM device used to locate weapons and allies around the map. These small changes add up to create a game that is slightly simpler but with a less informative UI.
The biggest changes are noticeable in the multiplayer, and sadly, hurt the overall experience compared to the previous games. There are a limited number of player characters to choose from, fewer game modes, and a paltry four maps per mode. Players are forced to choose only one weapon to start with and may only play as COG (human) characters, even in team matches. This can cause a lot of repetitive combinations and can be confusing and stale despite the numerous unlockable character and gun skins awarded for earning ribbons and kills. Horde mode has been replaced with “Survival” mode, where a team of five COG players must choose from four classes to defend a series of Emergence holes from an attacking Locust horde. This mode was expanded upon to create the “Overrun” mode, which is a team-based version of Survival where five opposing Locust players take on the role of the attacking horde. These modes are a good change of pace at times, but hardcore fans of the Gears of War series may be disappointed by the exclusion of the more classic Deathmatch, Beast and Horde modes.
Gears of War: Judgment strives to change the pace of the franchise from the gritty, brooding, and dark tale of Delta squad to a more colorful arcade-style shooter that can appeal to fans and new players alike. The addition of the Declassified missions and a smarter spawn system are fresh additions that can keep players hooked for multiple run-throughs. Sadly, the multiplayer experience falls short when compared to the previous games in the franchise. Many of the implemented changes have replaced classic parts of the Gears of War multiplayer experience with inventive but inferior content. Gears of War: Judgement is far from perfect, but People Can Fly took chances with the series that are sure to please fans and new players.
Spencer Keane ’14 / Emertainment Monthly Staff