Gears of War Judgment: shut up and shoot something

Monday, 18th March 2013 04:08 GMT By Dave Cook

Gears of War: Judgment is an odd prequel that brings interesting ideas to the table. VG247′s Dave Cook plays People Can Fly’s first stab at the franchise to see if it stacks up with the core trilogy.

Gears of War: Judgment

A joint project between People Can Fly and Epic Games, Gears of War: Judgment is a prequel set many years before the first game.

Epic recently published Judgment’s official launch trailer. It’s full of attitude and you can watch it right here.

The game will receive two pieces of post-launch DLC. There’s a Haven map and Execution mode, get details on both here.

We’ve got a full list of Gears of War: Judgment achievements right here. Check them out.

Finally, Judgment will give players a season pass option. All of the game’s DLC can be yours for $20. Get the details here.

As I said last week in my God of War: Ascension appraisal, we’re in the middle of ‘safe season’.

It’s a time where – in the run up to next-gen – studios looking to keep franchises ticking over will release low-risk filler or prequels. The same goes for Gears of War: Judgment.

When Epic Games first announced Judgment I honestly thought it would explore what life was like in the early days of the Locust war.

In my mind we’d see civilians abandoning their homes, young recruits signing up to fight an enemy they didn’t fully understand, and the origin of resident wise-ass Damon Baird.

But it explores none of these things. In fact, I felt that it fell short as a narrative insight into the terrifying emergence of the Locust horde, offering only slight exposition into Baird’s character or his motivation beyond what you see on-screen.

I expected more, but maybe that’s my own fault when going into a series that talks in gunfire and the sound of chainsaw blades on flesh.

The campaign opens as Baird and the rest of Kilo Squad are captured and hauled into a courthouse. I won’t spoil why they’re in trouble, but it does involve their attempts to track and kill a Locust general named Karn. There’s a lot of collateral damage in the process, and it hasn’t gone down well with their superior Loomis.

Each act follows the testimony of a different Kilo Squad member, starting with Baird. It’s wafer-thin stuff, but I’d be off my nut to suggest that people play this series for story alone. Of course they don’t. So after having a little sulk about the lack of plot, I re-aligned my expectations and started getting into Judgment’s ramped-up combat and fresh ideas.

I quickly realised that yes, this game is actually a riot. If anything it’s a love-letter to the hardcore fans for sticking around all these years. It ups the enemy count considerably, increases the difficulty to a painful degree, and does everything it can to reduce you to a quivering wreck. You’ll certainly need your wits about you with this one.

The more I dwell on it, I think you need to view the game as a ‘best-of’ collection to fully grasp how it works. Each level can be completed in about five minutes or less, and although that sounds guff, each stage throws unique rule-sets, enemies and mechanics at you to keep things interesting. Judgment delivers a very different progression system to its predecessors.

One stage sees you battling Locust in a rich gated community, as a mansion’s automated defence system pounds you with gun-fire. In another you might be defending a priceless suit of armour in a war museum, while engaging enemies in a round of Horde mode. There’s even a stage with high wind that batters your squad about mercilessly.

All of this feeds into the games new star system. Just like mobile juggernaut Angry Birds, your performance is graded on a three-star system at the end of each small stage. Everything you do adds to your score tally, including gibs, executions, earning ribbons and medals, levelling up, headshots and more.

Touching Crimson Omen logos at the start of each segment lets you ‘Declassify’ the mission, which gives slightly more narrative – we’re talking two lines or thereabouts – and additional rules. So you may suddenly find yourself restricted to pistols only, suffering a severe ammo drought, facing double enemies, or becoming blinded by smoke grenades.

While this significantly increases the challenge, your star meter will fill much quicker. So there’s definitely a trade-off to be considered. There’s a tangible, strangely enjoyable pressure to keep your star rating up at all times, and it adds tension to each encounter.

Once you earn 40 of the available 125 stars you’ll unlock the second ‘Aftermath’ campaign. It takes place during Gears of War 3, and follows what Baird and Cole were up to while Marcus tussles with Queen Myrrah on Azura.

I’d say that the second campaign, while short, features more chatter among the squad and greater narrative exposition than the core Judgment plot. However, it doesn’t have the star system, so it feels like it loses out a little bit. Both are highly enjoyable however.

On top of these campaigns you have OverRun mode which sees COG and Locust fighting over control points. Then there’s Survival mode, which is essentially Horde but sees the COG defending an objective, a COG versus COG free-for-all mode and classic Versus play. You get a lot of content for your money.

It’s strange, but People Can Fly has definitely left its mark on this game. Consider that Bulletstorm was a shooter wrapped around a skill chaining mechanic, and you can see that Judgment’s star system bears some similarity. It’s violent, brash and keeps in line with the games that precede it.

Unlike God of War: Ascension, this is a prequel that tries something really different in its approach. There’s even a handful of new weapons in there, courtesy of the Union of Independent Republics faction. The Russian-themed ‘Booshka’ launcher fires, steel balls of bouncy, exploding death, while the Markza sniper rifle is a high-velocity thing of death. New content for the win.

Personally, the narrative is still a problem, even if it does disclose a few interesting nuggets towards the end. The characters don’t seem to give much insight beyond a few lines of exposition at the start and end of each stage.

Baird isn’t explored as much as I’d have liked, Sofia’s weak back-story involves an alleged affair with a superior, and Cole rarely shouts “Wooo!”, which makes me a little bit sad inside. The deepest character by far is newcomer Paduk, a UIR soldier who was permanently scarred by a COG Lightmass bomb during the Pendulum Wars.

He scoffs at the decadent nature of COG-controlled cities, comes from a poor, battle-hardened past, and wears a huge chip on his soldier. There’s an interesting story here, but it’s scarcely explored. I felt it was a wasted chance.

I also feel that a lot of gamers will really dislike this strange, bite-sized approach to Judgment’s level structure initially. It certainly took me a while to get used to, as the fragmentation kept me from feeling as immersed as I did in previous games. Once you get used to it however, you’ll love the way it increased the tension of each encounter.

But cheer up folks, because this is still a superb Gears of War game that ups the challenge and madness considerably. The exposition may be weak, but once the characters shut up, just switch your mind off, grab your Lancer and start shooting something. Oh, and bring friends.

Disclosure: To assist in writing this article, Microsoft sent Dave a copy of Gears of War: Judgment. The Xbox 360 exclusive launches on March 19 in the US and Australia, and March 22 in the UK and Europe.




    Sorry Dave, but I’ve always found it difficult to understand critics who put so much emphasis on the story in Gears.

    It’s probably my second favourite franchise after CoD, and with almost every release, people (reviewers/critics) seem to spend so much time focussing on how disappointed they are that they don’t get to know the inner-most personalities of the characters.

    So much so, that we had to have that ridiculous Dom/Maria nonsense forced down our throats, just to try and appease the ‘anti-manliness brigade’.

    It’s a game! Play it for the action. The intense action that almost no other game that I personally have played before can do a good job of replicating.

    Leave the tear-jerking soul discovery to The Shawshank Redemption, and let Gears deal with muscles, machines and big, bad guns!

    #1 2 years ago
  2. ShowUsYourLunch

    Loved Gears 1 and 2. 3 was a huge downer for me. What’s the Art direction like?

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Dave Cook

    @1 The Dom thing wasn’t that great I agree, but I felt purposeless in Judgment. I wasn’t looking for an epic tale, just more weight to give the action true motivation. They see the bad guy Karn in passing and instantly decide he’s the biggest threat to the world ever. Yet we never fully see what he’s capable of. It just all felt a bit weak to me. I wasn’t looking for much, just enough to make me care, like the games before it :)

    But I didn’t feel like I got that so as you say I turned off and got really into the action, which is superb.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. bitsnark

    @3 Doesn’t the game almost cheat in the whole “making you care” thing by the simple virtue of the fact that its a prequel in the first place?

    I mean, if you were invested in the franchise beforehand, you’ll likely let a few things slide (such as a weak villain/lack of direction) where others might not because you just want to see what happened beforehand (doubly so with the additional unlockable campaign).

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Dave Cook

    @4 possibly, I just think there was scope to give real insight into the early days. It’s fine as it is, but it could have been more.

    Unless they’re going to do a Marcus and Dom prequel for next-gen? It wouldn’t surprise me.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Francis O

    Dave, I’m really getting sick of these generic shooters. Gears of War was cool back when it came out, but how come they haven’t even tried to innovate in the single player campaign.

    I can tell by reading your piece, that your really don’t like the game. It seems your holding back exactly how you feel. Am I off here, or what?

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Dave Cook

    @6 No I do like it, the star mechanic is brilliant and keeps the tension up, the increased enemy count and difficulty is great, but in my mind the plot was a wasted chance.

    People say Gears was never about the plot, and yeah that’s probably true, but this game has an even weaker plot than the originals. That’s saying a lot I think. I just felt the whole campaign was safe and irrelevant to the core trilogy as to not step on Epic’s toes.

    I never got a chance to play co-op but I already know it’d be a riot. I can’t wait for the public to get on it :D

    #7 2 years ago
  8. polygem

    i totally loved the dom/ maria thing. it was great. it actually made me care about the characters in gears for the first time. it worked so well *because* those guys are over the top supermacho tough guys. they still have hearts. doms was broken. couldnt get fixed. he was desperate. no hope. locust kill everythjng you live for…it was simple but brilliant. it worked. at least for me. it didnt feel cheap. i could relate to dom and it was painfull to see markus after that scenario. he was down to his knees. he lost his best friend. he was shocked. he failed to help dom. there was no time. now hes dead. markus must go on now anyway. without him. a gears game actually made me kinda sad. one of my personal gaming highlights this gen.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Dave Cook

    @8 Yep. There’s nothing even close to that in Judgment. But again I have to stress, the action is superb.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Gajda

    Looking forward to this! :-)

    #10 2 years ago
  11. Docker Al

    Once again the multiplayer has no region based matchmaking so it isn’t worth a pinch of shit. I play from Australia and GOW3 consistently put me in games full of Asian and European players with the obvious and only possible result:unplayable lag. Why do we still get this garbage? Either game producers have learnt nothing from the success of COD and others, which do let you select your region, or they don’t give a shit about their paying customers.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. reask

    Most important question for me is this one Dave.

    Gears 3 disapointed me for 1 reason only. The difficulty.
    I played both 2 and 3 on the highest setting prior to finishing the game first time and whilst I struggled through 2 it was a walk in the park on 3.

    That really let me down as I tend to play games just the once and like a fair challenge but not too hard.
    I mean when I tried 3 on insane it was too hard yet the one below was too easy which totally spoiled it for me.

    I was just wondering how this compares to 3 on that point.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. Dave Cook

    @12 Judgment is harder yeah. Play on the top tier and it can be very tough, especially when you Declassify each mission.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. reask

    Thanks Dave.
    I just bought ascension yesterday and now this is out, looks like I will be looking to do a bit of overtime to make ends meet. :)

    #14 2 years ago
  15. Dave Cook

    @14 hah :) That’s the problem that happens every so often isn’t it? Too many games!

    #15 2 years ago
  16. polygem

    ^ i “only” bought ascension and re-bought a vita this month…but i also joined ps+ for the first time this month too: lots and lots of games i havent played yet. just when i thought i am finally making some progress wading through my backlog…but i wont complain about having too many great games to play :)

    #16 2 years ago
  17. YoungZer0

    @3: I totally get where you’re coming from. Guess what happens when I don’t see any reason to progress? I stop progressing.

    I had many games that I stopped playing because I didn’t feel motivated enough.

    #17 2 years ago

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