Damon Baird takes center stage as the lead protagonist in Epic Games and People Can Fly’s Gears of War: Judgement. But some of the questions that I was left wondering with was did we really need another gears? Was there more of a story to be told? And with Gears of War 3’s release only a year and a half ago was this game going to be polished enough to be a true Gears game? Well all those are the questions I hope to answer just after the jump!
7.1 / 10
The story of Kilo Squad was truly… Epic.
MP was a bit of a let down. Survival mode is not Horde.
Baird’ story doesn’t totally make up for what is otherwise a lacklustre package.
At last year’s E3 we saw our first glimpse at a brand new prequel to the Gears of War franchise, and although I was a little hopeful about the game I was left slightly disappointed with this latest entry into the highly acclaimed series.
Gears of War: Judgement’s stand-out mode is definitely the campaign, which follows the story of Kilo Squad, a team comprising of long-standing characters Damon Baird and Augustus Cole along with two new characters Sofia Hendrik and Garron Paduk. Without getting too much into spoiler territory let me just address the overall story. Gears of War: Judgement pictures Kilo Squad a rag-tag group of COG soldiers attempting to defeat the forces of Locust mastermind General Karn at the once-beautiful city of Halvo Bay. In an attempt to stop Karn, Kilo Squad disobeys a direct order from their commanding officer Colonel Loomis leading to their court-martial even as the city crumbles around them.
Seeing Lieutenant Damon Baird minus much of the sarcasm and with a much more serious veneer in the early days of the war with the locust was a slight change from our previous conceptions of the character. But with this being a prequel we can start to see how the events at Halvo Bay shape him for the events to come in the future and the early days of his friendship with “The Cole Train.” In Judgement we get to see a younger Cole, who by and large is the same person as he is in the other gears games although slightly younger looking. His story however seems overshadowed by those of the other characters most likely due to his deep back story divulged in Gears of War 3. Sofia Hendrik a cadet of the Onyx Academy at Halvo Bay is a by-the-books-COG-loving soldier who’s personal connection with her fallen comrades is something emphasized during the campaign fleshing out her character to seem initially innocent and ending with a more battle-hardened warrior. But my favourite character has to be Paduk. This former UIR soldier turned COG is one of the best additions to the Gears of War series. The campaign does a great job to outline the victory of the COG over the UIR and the bitterness that still simmers even after a larger more universal threat envelops humanity. His experience with the main enemy, General Karn paints a foreboding and grim depiction of the enemy they are engaging.
Although the overall story is pieced together nicely with Kilo Squad’s conflict with both the locust and Colonel Loomis, it lacks depth and offers very little lore to the franchise which makes the story seem slightly trivial compared to the other games with a much larger focus on the soldiers rather than the conflict.
A few disappointments was the overall length of the story which would probably only take around 8 hours total playtime when in the hands of a competent Gears player. Another slight disappointment was that there wasn’t much tragedy in this story, given the fact that this was early in the war I was hoping for scenes littered with civilians both alive and dead struggling with this new threat, but with the exception of a few civilian radios and scattered bodies, both COG and civilian, Judgment appears just as barren as previous installments. Judgement also doesn’t reemphasize how truly scary the Locust are, they are shown to be a tremendous threat but given that these are the early days of the conflict I would expect them to seem more unfamiliar but instead they come across as mundane.
In contrast the brand new environments created by People Can Fly are truly incredible. From the beaches of Onyx Point to the streets of Halvo Bay the campaign is one myriad of exceptional environments and intelligent map layout’s which caters to the new ‘Smart-spawn’ system. Although the name isn’t quite catchy it really is an effective system it basically means that each encounter with an enemy changes every time you reload a checkpoint. Another way in which the campaign increases replay-ability is the declassified missions. These declassified missions add to the testimony to the overall story whilst offering new and diverse ways to change up the gameplay for each section of the campaign.
There was also a nice epilogue Easter egg called Aftermath which follows the story of Baird, Cole and Carmine as they attempt to find reinforcements for the final assault on Azura during the Gears of War 3 campaign. This is a great way to connect the story to the future of Gears but its ending is ultimately unsatisfying and open-ended. Although this is a great way to advance the story I wish it was handled just a little bit better.
Although the UI and overall graphics appear very similar to Gears of War 3, there is definitely a change to Judgement. Everything appears sharper, and the colours are a lot more richer.The biggest change to the overall gameplay is the brand new control scheme which feels more assimilated to more modern shooters. The most major changes are the quick throw grenade and only two weapons as opposed to the usual 2 primary weapons and a pistol. The addition of brand new stim-grenades also helps with a quick health on the go.
Gears of War: Judgement’s standout multiplayer mode is definitely Overrun, it’s basically Horde and Beast mode from Gears of War 3 with players on both sides of the conflict, the mode features classes for both sides where the COG defend E-holes and generators from the incoming locust hordes. This mode and survival mode are incredibly similar with the only major difference being that survival has AI based locust attacking up until a 10th wave.
Gears of War: Judgement multiplayer however is not as lucrative as previous Gears games, many changes have been made to the iconic multiplayer. With the only exception being execution, TDM, Free for All and KOTH have completely lost DBNO (down but not out) and although this quickens up the gameplay kills feel less satisfying and the capability to execute these players is lost in these game modes, this minute change causes the game to feel passive and loses some of the gore that makes this game so unique. The incredibly quick drop in population numbers is an unfortunate indicator for the longevity of this game. By changing so much of the fundamental controls of the game, Judgement may have lost a lot of the hardcore Gears of War fans who appreciated how different their game was from so many other shooters. The greater ‘appeal’ Epic was aiming for has most likely cost them the true die-hards of their game and although their attempt to attain a larger audience is understandable I feel that in the end it was futile.
I think we really did need another Gears game just to flesh things out just a little bit more, however Judgement was not the total answer I was looking for. Maybe with a little more polish and a little more innovation in the franchise we may be able to attain a classic gears title once again.