Microsoft and People Can Fly have let slip the Gears of War for a fourth outing. Does it do the series justice, or is this a step too far?
Even the most stalwart of Gears fans could be forgiven for being worried about Gears of War: Judgment. Gears of War 3 was a superb ending to the trilogy, and Judgment threatens to ruin that legacy for the sake of milking a cash cow.
You can all rest easy, because Gears of War: Judgment doesn’t feel tired, or dated. But that said, it doesn’t feel different either. This is a game that is still supreme at making you feel like a complete badass, but it’s the little things that make Judgment such a worthy addition to the Gears family.
Gears of War Judgment: Plot
Gears of War Judgment is split into two distinct plot areas. The first is the Judgment campaign, which follows Damon Baird and Augustus Cole during their time together in Kilo Squad, just after Emergence Day (E-Day).
Joining them are two new faces - Garron Paduk, an ex-UIR (the main antagonist of the COG during the Pendulum Wars, pre-Emergence Day) Major, recruited by the COG after his homeland was destroyed, and Sofia Hendrick - a cadet in the Onyx Guard (the elite, covert section of the COG military).
The second campaign - Aftermath - is unlocked part way through Judgment. This follows Cole and Baird’s own story from Gears of War 3, when they split up with Marcus and Dom to find reinforcements.
Typically for the series, the story itself is fairly lacklustre, and also completely unimportant. Just concentrate on running between little piles of bricks and burnt out cars and kicking Locust in their ugly, squishy faces.
Gears of War Judgment: Single player
The Judgment campaign sees Kilo Squad standing before a court martial, charged with desertion and insubordination. As you hear testimony from each member of the squad, you play through their memories. These memories come in bite-sized missions of no more than 10 - 15 minutes each - which makes for a nice change of pace for the series, even if the actual story is pretty bland.
Before each of these missions, you can choose whether you wish to ‘declassify’ the mission - that is, play the mission as Kilo Squad claimed it had happened. Doing so will earn you more stars, which go towards unlocking new characters, weapon skins and the like, but it will also shackle you with an extra parameter to think about.
This could be anything, from completing the mission in a certain time, to only using a certain weapon, or fulfilling an extra objective.
It’s a simple little mechanic, but a clever way of opening you up to another level of mission design. There is - for example - a mission that is fought in dense fog, thus forcing you into a tense, close-quarters shotgun battle. Ordinarily, you might just grab a rifle and blast your way through the game from distance.
You can still do that of course, but declassifying missions gives you a little nudge to play the game as the developers intended.
Another nice touch is the way battles are now generated. Rather than being fully scripted, enemy positions and types are generated spontaneously, meaning that the same mission can play out completely differently if you play it twice.
Aftermath’s campaign is very much in the same vein as Gears 3, with longer missions, checkpoints and waist-high walls as far as the eye can see. Admittedly, if you’re not interested in the extra dimension to the Gears 3 story, the return to the old-style pacing means that Judgment can lose it’s luster somewhat.
Gears of War Judgment: Characters
The characters of Judgment are significant more vanilla than their counterparts in the main trilogy. There is something to be said for seeing how Cole and Baird particularly have developed as characters, going from relative rookies to grizzled, butt-kicking - and in Baird’s case, supremely cynical - soldiers.
But if Gears 1-3 was loveable for it’s caricature machismo personalities, then Judgment is certainly lacking in that respect. Ironically, the catalyst for this realisation is the Aftermath campaign, which sees Cole particularly getting back to ‘Cole Train’ style one-liners.
Gears of War: Judgment: Multiplayer
The multiplayer is where Judgment really shines. Two new modes - Survival and OverRun - are both heavily influenced by Gears 3’s Horde and Beast modes respectively.
The former is the natural successor to Horde Mode, pitting a team of 5 COG soldiers against waves of Locust. This time round, players must pick from four classes - Engineer, Medic, Soldier or Scout, all with differing abilities.
Engineers can place turrets and repair barriers, Medics can throw stim-grenades to heal themselves and allies, Soldiers can drop ammo crates and Scouts can access higher ground and throw beacons to highlight enemies for the team.
Teamwork is essential to beat the higher levels now that the fortifications of Horde Mode have been largely done away with, but it’s brilliant fun however casually you want to play.
OverRun is a play on GoW 3’s Beast Mode, but now the game mode is 5 on 5 rather than being against CPU bots, with teams swapping sides. Though OverRun is certainly more of a genuine competitive game mode than Beast Mode was, it still leans more on the humorous side of things. As you rack up more kills with the Locust, you unlock higher tiers of unit types such as bloodmounts, corpsers and Torque Bow-armed Theron Guards, resulting eventually in hilarious pandemonium.
There’s the usual dose of Team Deathmatch and objective-based modes, as well as a new free-for-all mode which is as frenetic as you’d imagine it to be.
Gears of War Judgment: Verdict
Gears of War: Judgment delivers exactly what you’d expect it to - fantastic multiplayer, a playable - if not mind-blowing - campaign and plenty of waist-high walls and benches in the middle of open plazas. If that’s not what you wanted then frankly, you’re probably reading the wrong review.
Judgment is exactly what it was always going to be - another no-frills Gears of War installment, even if it does feel a little bit thin on the ground for a full price games release.
The question was whether this franchise was finished, and whether this was a step too far. Well, it’s not, and it clearly isn’t. The little changes and additions keep things fresh, and dedicated fans will enjoy the way the campaigns fill in some story gaps. If you loved the last three games, there's plenty of enjoyment to be found here.
Gears of War Judgment release date: 22 March 2013
Gears of War Judgment price: £39.99