Gears of War: Judgment
Serving as a prequel to the main trilogy, Gears of War: Judgment’s campaign focuses on the embattled Kilo Squad (featuring stalwart Gears characters Damon Baird and Augustus ‘The Cole Train’ Cole) as they emerge from the aftermath of Emergence Day and find themselves on trial for treason. Their story is revealed in flashback; as each squad member gives their account to the commanding officer, you take control of them and experience what they went through. This is an inventive method of narration for the series that fulfils its purpose of keeping you playing to see how the tension building trial turns out, even if you don’t become as invested in the characters as you’re intended to be.
It’s no surprise that the series’ mechanics haven’t changed much at all – cover-based combat is the order of the day and it comes with a chainsaw side and a bottomless tankard of Locust blood for good measure. Provided you’re a Gears veteran, as soon as you dive into your first fire-fight the old reflexes will kick back in and you’ll be shoulder-rolling, taking cover and pouring lancer rounds into snarling Locust like it’s second nature. If you’re new to the series, getting a handle on the controls can take a short while but once they’re coded into your grey matter, their well refined simplicity is apparent and you’ll be ducking and diving like a COG specialist.
One of the strengths of the series has always been its fun-to-use arsenal and as you can only carry two main weapons at once, you’ll need to become adept at an array of different combinations to hold your own against the many Locust variants. The Breechshot rifle and the Booshka grenade launcher are a couple of superb additions to the robust arsenal. The Breechshot is a bolt action sniper-rifle that requires a keen eye to use, as it has no telescopic sight. To make up for this defect, it has a high calibre wallop that’ll shatter most foes’ noggins with ease (it was designed for hunting Brumaks). The Booshka is an effective grenade launcher that allows you to bounce rounds off surfaces, perhaps round a corner and right into the midst of an unsuspecting enemy squad. The surging Locust hordes are as tough and enjoyable to fight as ever, with every type featured in the main trilogy included plus a horrifying new strain, the Rager, which is both a startling and ferocious adversary.
Unfortunately, the campaign is let down by its repetitiveness. The main Gears trilogy , especially the masterful Gears of War 2, were kept interesting by a slew of captivating set-pieces, memorable locations and one-of-a-kind bosses to overcome. Although some of Judgment’s locations are well constructed and striking, the set-pieces and boss battles just aren’t there and the game instead relies on shootout after shootout, which soon become thankless. As a small counter-balance to this, there’s a ‘mission declassification’ system on every section. This offers you the chance to either play through sections normally or to accept extra challenges (reduced visibility, only use enemy weapons, complete in a certain time etc.) in exchange for faster earned stars. Stars are rewarded for in-game activities such as kills, including gibs and headshots, and are penalised for times downed. As you collect stars, you’ll level up and unlock weapon skins and characters for use in multiplayer.
It’s in the multiplayer arena where Judgment makes up for its average campaign and truly excels. Adding to the existing and self-explanatory modes of Free For All and Team Deathmatch (both of which are decent) are Domination, Survival and Overrun. Domination is a five on five fight for positional control that’s easy to get the hang of and is enjoyable to play. Each team must take and hold three locations on the map and then accumulate points, aiming for a total of 250. Survival is similar to Horde in that you face wave upon wave of Locust except here you must protect emergence holes/generators or be forced further back throughout the map until your squad either mows the entire horde down or is infested completely. Survival is engaging but I completely stopped playing it after experiencing Overrun.
Overrun is the centrepiece of the five modes. It uses the same maps and premise as survival except both teams play one round as COG and one as Locust. Whichever squad can overrun the other’s territory the most effectively (in terms of time and protected structures destroyed) is victorious. Playing as the Locust is excellent – you can only play as lower Locust types at the start but as you accrue points for in-game actions you can unlock fearsome creatures such as the Rager, Serapede, Mauler and even the Corpser. You’ll need to employ an effective strategy in order to break through the COG defences as running in with a grunt guns blazing will result in major gibbage. The maps have been carefully crafted to reflect this strategic need, with blind corners, elevated positions and even tiny gaps designed especially for use by tickers (do not dismiss this highly effective critter).
Judgment is a worthy addition to the franchise, but it’s a shame the campaign falls short of the high standard of those that preceded it. Its highly addictive multiplayer goes a long way to making up for this though and as it’s a feature that’ll be supported with DLC, it should prevent this fourth GOW title from being unjustly dismissed and overlooked.