Expansive Overview: Gears of War: Judgment

Before continuing, we recommend reading this – it will explain the intentions of the Expansive Overview and what it sets out to achieve.

This generation of systems has seen the debut of some incredible franchises. One of those, undoubtedly, is Gears of War. With one narrative arc concluded in the series trilogy, Epic have decided its time to explore other areas of this violent, war-torn world.

Introducing Judgment.

Not only is this the first gaming spin-off of the Gears of War trilogy, its also the first time another development team have helped front development. People Can Fly, developers of Bulletstorm, have collaborated with Epic to bring this origin story of Baird and Cole to life.

But should the team have waited to bring a forth installment to next-gen? Are we already experiencing Gears fatigue?

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Developer: Epic / People Can Fly

Release Date: March

Format: Xbox 360

Version Tested: Xbox 360

Judgment is a real mixed bag in terms of quality. One thing I can say for sure; it’s bold. Judgment hasn’t just aimed to recreate another Gears of War experience and tack on a new story. This plays, feels and even looks like a different game. Everything from the campaign to the multiplayer, Judgment has been redesigned from the inside/out.

From the simple things, such as reducing animations for collecting ammo and meleeing an enemy, to being able to dynamically change the way each level plays out. Judgment is more than just a spin-off of the Gears of War trilogy, the lore is deeply linked with the events of the trilogy, but is still very much its own animal.

The story follows Baird, prior to the events of Gears of War 1. Baird is the lieutenant of Kilo Squad, a unit which includes a fresh-faced Cole Train.  The game opens with Baird and Kilo Squad being called up to trial by Command for disobeying direct orders.

I don’t even know how these guys are still employed. Have they EVER followed the rules?

Judgment is told from the perspective of four different players. Baird. Cole. Sofia and Paduk. Each character offers their own testimony of the events, providing backstory and illustrating events in graphic detail.

That’s where the first unique gameplay mechanic comes in. There are five levels (excluding Aftermath) and each level is split into seven sections. Each section acts as a testimony of events and is subject to declassification. At the start of each section, a large, glowing red Gears logo appears and can be examined by the player. These declassifications fundamentally change the way the mission is played, and, as a result, change the testimony of the character narrating. For instance, the declassification may say the section needs to be completed within a fixed time limit, or a player has to fight through tear gas to get to the end, or they can only use a certain class of weapon.

While Declassification is generally implemented to raise difficulty, it serves another purpose. In order to unlock in-game rewards, players must earn stars throughout the campaign. Each section has a maximum of three stars. These will gradually raise as players kill enemies and avoid being downed. However, if the Declassification is active, the star rating will go up faster than normal, making it easier for a player to complete their mission to the highest possible standard.

There is added incentive to do this as Aftermath, the campaign which takes place during Gears of War 3, can only be unlocked and played if 40 stars have been accumulated. Better rev up those lancers!

What excites me is that declassifications can, potentially, be changed overtime. While they do change the narrative within the section slightly, they don’t affect the overall narrative of the game. Should they so choose, and to continue to make things interesting, Epic and PCF could change up declassifications during special weekends, effectively making the campaign fresh and different on a regular basis. This would easily make Gears Judgment the most dynamic, versatile game released on Xbox 360, and could change the way gaming campaigns are played in the future.

Gears-Judgment-Mansion

The campaign is cleverly presented, but the narrative arc in Judgment, while it works alongside the Gears of War trilogy, isn’t a necessary addition, nor is it particularly memorable. The campaign is devised in such a ‘pick-up-and-play’ way, that people will probably play in sections and forget how things have played out. Sadly, the character development is also a bit redundant. Cole and Baird don’t need this story to be interesting to fans, and Sofia certainly isn’t as engaging or interesting as, say, Anya. Paduk provides some of the narrative’s big twists and turns, to the point where it seems unusual that this is the first time we’re really hearing anything about him. However, even he can be a bit frustrating to listen to and play alongside.

From an expansive point of view, Judgment opens up the Gears of War world in a video-game environment, but doesn’t do much more than that. That being said, Aftermath offers some interesting insights from the Gears 3 timeline and does help tie up a few loose ends that series afficiandos have no doubt been debating for the last year and a half.

From an enemy perspective, the familiar cast of foes are here, including Wretches, Tickers, Boomers and Grinders. They’ve all had a damage increase, and in the case of Maulers, received different combat strategies. The shield-wielding menaces can now attack enemies behind them with a mace, and can spin their shields to deflect weapon fire. On top of that, they’re a lot more aggressive and will charge unflinchingly into battle, no longer as jittery about shelling-up and hiding behind their shields. 

Even Wretches are more agile and can tear enemies apart with ease. Catching and killing them is definitely more difficult than in previous instalments. Future patches will probably help balance things out a bit, but its fair to say enemies are much more effective, especially on Hardcore and Insanity.

While there a handful of sections that are punishing and unforgivingly brutal, many scenarios can be whizzed through quite easily, even with declassifications active. 

Judgment introduces some new weapons into the mix, such as the Booshka and the Tripwire Crossbow. The Tripwire Crossbow, in particular, took me back to my Duke Nukem days of planting trip lasers and watching enemies explode into gibs when stepping on them. Good times!

Each weapon feels appropriate to the Gearsverse, and some have even had some fine-tweaks and adjustments. The upward recoil of the Retro Lancer has been reduced quite significantly, and is now a lot more manageable. The Sawed-off Shotgun also has a reduced reload time and now fires off two bullets in quick succession instead of one.

As with Gears 3, Judgment supports 4 player co-op through the campaign, and this is probably the best way to experience the game. The AI, while an improvement on Gears 3, is still horrendously confused and baffled as to what it needs to be doing. At one point, I actually witnessed one of the AI controlled characters standing in front of a group of scorchers without even attempting to fire its weapon. It was just standing there waiting to be killed. Another thing it seems to struggle with is revival. The AI is quick to get you up if you’re in its proximity, but if you’re too far away, or if the AI has to leap over a barrier to get to you, it won’t even bother trying. Playing Judgment alone with the computer is, essentially, suicide.

The AI is better online, however, When there aren’t enough slots filled in a game, or if someone drops, AI fills the gap to ensure teams are never playing at a disadvantage. The AI isn’t exactly cannon fodder, but, naturally, they do make easier targets than a human player.

The multiplayer has kept many familiar traits from previous Gears titles, but added some new twists to the experience. First of all, the Free-For-All game mode means all-on-all in a ‘winner gets the spoils’ scenario. This is new for a Gears of War title and after playing, you’ll wonder why it hasn’t been a part of the experience since the very beginning. It’s a natural fit, and every now and again, it’s nice to be a lone wolf.

OverRunGears610

Horde and Beast modes aren’t present in Judgment, but their spiritual successors are. Overrun and Survival have inherited much from these two modes, but have their own distinct feel. Judgment introduces class-based gaming to Gears of War, making the experience feel a lot tighter and more refined.

In Survival, players must defend three areas against 10 waves of raging Locust. As normal, players must establish a base to help protect against the locust and defend the objective. There are three objectives on each map. The first two objectives see the Locust attempt to reach holes in the ground so they can turn them into emergence holes. If they manage to do that, players must make a last stand and defend the map’s generator. If that’s destroyed, it’s game over and the Locust win.

In order to beat the odds, players must make use of four different classes.  Players can either choose to be a medic, technician, soldier or a scout. To define them, each class also has a special ability, triggered by using LB.

The technician is armed with a shotgun, and an engineering tool. The technician’s role is to repair base defences, such as laser fences and mounted turrets. Arguably, the technician has the most important role in the game, as keeping on top of that, while fighting off wretches and serapedes is a real chore. Fortunately, the technician can also drop down a turret to help out in particularly sticky situations, and aid base defenses.

The soldier is the best all round fighter and should be the one most involved in the fighting. They’re armed as any COG should be, but can also deploy weapon crates for people to collect ammo.

The scout is a ranged fighter and is used to help spot enemies and weaken their defenses, making them extremely vulnerable and ripe for attack. Scout’s deploy a beacon which enables the team to see red silhouettes, even if the enemy is in cover, but it also debuffs the enemy. This works expertly with the rifle the class is armed with

Finally, the medic can deploy new stim-grenades. These grenades, when thrown, release healing gas which reinvigorate anyone in close proximity. The medic can be a vital part of any fight if used correctly.

Indicators on the map relate to each classes functionality, prompting them to help out in a particular area. For example, the indicator will show if a team mate is running low on ammo, or if a base defense is in urgent need of repair.

From an expansive point of view, Epic could add additional classes to the mode to try new things. Perhaps a melee based fighter with greater durability or one with speed and assassination abilities. Maybe they could add more waves and include new bosses. There’s a lot of ways the mode could be developed, even changing the moods of the AI on selected special weekends.

Survival is a lot tougher than it sounds, but is undoubtably the highlight of the Judgment package.

Overrun is also a great new mode, and sees team take turns to be COG or Locust. While COG must defend, Locust must destroy. This incorporates Horde and Beast modes into one gametype and it works brilliantly. The Locust handle the same way as they did in Beast, each with their own abilities. There are even new new beasts to try, such as the Rager who has the charging qualities of a Berserker when angered, but also incredible speed and dexterity in original form.

From a co-operative and competitive point of view, Judgment offers a lot of incentives to get involved with your mates and have fun. In many ways,  Overrun and Survival offer more longevity than both Horde and Beast before them, and there are a lot of expansive opportunities to be found. The class-based system will encourage discussion around tactics and strategies among friends more than any other Gears mode in the history of the franchise. Future maps could also offer unique objectives, and wholly different layouts to fundamentally change the way each scenario plays out.

untitled

As we previously reported, players can purchase Double XP to help boost their way through the game. XP carries a lot more weight than just increasing rank. Epic boxes and normal boxes are earned through in-game accomplishments and achieved standards and include extra benefits such as bonus XP, weapon skins, characters and more. This could definitely be expanded on and developed with new perks, schemes and benefits overtime.

Final Analysis

Gears Judgment is a very exciting game as far as Expansive Opportunities are concerned. There are a lot of ways the game can be developed over the coming months, and it could potentially raise the bar for expansive entertainment on current and future-gen consoles.

As a title, Judgment does reach some series’ highs, but it also drops the ball in other areas. Fortunately, I think  future patches can help absolve some of these issues, such as AI ineffeciency.

As a Gears of War fan, I’m happy with Judgment. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with Overrun and Survival, and believe they’ve actually evolved the series in the right direction, as opposed to causing franchise fatigue. 

Judgment is meaty, fast-paced, action-packed and offers enough diversity from previous Gears titles to be a worthy and engaging addition to the franchise. The class-based system provides a refreshing multiplayer perspective for Gears of War, and is sure to inspire a healthy, long-lifespan for the game.

Where Gears of War 3 drew a line, making it hard to imagine where the series could go next, Judgment opens a lot of doors and has reinvigorated the Gears brand, making the future of the franchise more exciting than ever.


About the author

Expansive

Ray is one of the original founders of Expansive. He is also a former Community Manager for Steel Media, and has written for a variety of gaming websites over the years. His work can be seen on Pocket Gamer, PG.biz, Gfinity, and the Red Bull Gaming Column. He has also written for VG247, Videogamer, GamesTM, PLAY, and MyM Magazine,
Skip to toolbar