Gears Of War: Judgment Review
If you want to find the real heart of Gears Of War: Judgment, you need to go back to February 2011, when Bulletstorm was released.
Bulletstorm developers People Can Fly enjoy a close relationship with Epic and it showed in its ballsy FPS. With chunky characters, over-the-top gunplay, comic book gore and gruff, macho characters, the studio had clearly been studying the Gears Of War series closely.
With Epic focusing its efforts elsewhere, that made People Can Fly the perfect choice to co-develop Judgment with the studio but more importantly, the debt has been paid back. Gears Of War: Judgment proudly shows a heavy influence from Bulletstorm, taking the scoring elements from that and fusing it with the bombast we’ve come to expect from the Gears series.
Marcus Fenix has gone. High scores are in.
Climbing The Gears Of War: Judgment Leaderboard
If we’re being really pedantic (and hey, that’s exactly what we’re paid to do!), then the Gears Of War series was moving in this direction anyway, albeit slowly. Arcade Mode was a quiet and unfairly overlooked inclusion in Gears Of War 3, buried beneath the explosions of single player and the constantly evolving multiplayer. Yet even if it didn’t get the attention it deserved, Arcade Mode showed that a high score competition could co-exist alongside the battle between COG and Locust.
Gears Of War: Judgment builds on those initial high score steps. It delves into Baird’s backstory and fills in some of the events from before Gears Of War 3 (with a later unlockable campaign taking place just after that game’s conclusion) but interest in the story soon takes second place to interest in the scoring system, which dominates the game and becomes your main reason for playing.
Gears Of War: Judgment – How Scoring Works
You’ll notice a star meter in the corner, which slowly fills up as you kill Locust until it fills all three stars. Executions, Gibs and Headshots are a few of the kills that add to your star meter, as do unlocking Medals and Ribbons during play. It’s a similar system to Gears Of War 3, with Ribbons unlocked for killing more than one enemy with a grenade or chainsawing three enemies in a row and so on, and unlocking Ribbons now makes more sense given there’s a direct reward for doing so.
Having that scoring system in place doesn’t seem like a big change but it’s surprising how it switches the dynamics of traditional Gears gameplay around. Instead of playing to survive, you’ll find yourself playing for points. You’ll risk a few more seconds of aiming and leaving yourself exposed to nail a valuable headshot, or dare an execution on a crawling Locust rather than pumping its wounded body with Gnasher rounds from distance.
Optional COG objectives make the level harder in exchange for star bonuses. That sounds like typical videogame sequel fare, implemented as another bulletpoint to be added to the marketing checklist, but the way these have been implemented is brilliant. People Can Fly has managed to weave them into the narrative so they don’t feel tacked on and better yet, these objectives rarely repeat themselves and dramatically change your tactics.
One example: one COG objective takes away Longshots as you encounter a bridge full of Locust that needs to be crossed, with Sonia noting how easier that weapon would make the task. Another example: heading down into the deep, dark bowels of the earth means passing through the dusty archives and battling reduced visibility.
As a final touch to fresh up the Campaign structure, People Can Fly has brought Horde mode into the mix, peppering moments through single player when you’re fending off waves of Locust. It makes sense given the popularity of the mode and even though it always feels like a jolt to suddenly be dumped from the standard gameplay fare into a Horde-mode style level, they’re good fun and help break up the Gears routine.
Gears Of War: Judgment – New Weapons
New weapons also help alter the experience. While the bulk of the new entries are variations on the aim-and-shoot arsenal of old, there are some interesting new ideas. Tripwire Crossbow does exactly what the name suggests, giving you a long-distance alternative to planting grenades, while Stim Gas grenades provide a healing field for your team.
In the meantime, returning weapons haven’t undergone any major revisions. Hammerburst fans might be disheartened to find it now has a fierce kick that sees you fighting to keep the reticle lowered when firing several shots but the other weapons haven’t undergone anything quite as dramatic.
However, while the new weapons do have a place in Gears Of War: Judgment, none of them have enough impact to encourage players from abandoning the traditional Lancer plus Gnasher combo although that dramatically changes in multiplayer – more on that later.
Slide Into Cover, Blindfire
But this isn’t People Can Fly trying to reinvent the Gears cog. There’s enough here to freshen up the experience enough that veterans will feel it’s justified revisiting the series but the moment-to-moment gameplay is largely the same. You’re still sliding into cover, blindfiring at threats, meleeing in panic and switching to Gnasher for up-close encounters.
If anything, there might be a slight whiff of disappointment that while the structure has been freshened up, there’s still a lot that’s familiar. The animations haven’t changed. Weapon specific executions are the same as Gears Of War 3 (unless you’re using a new weapon, of course) and there hasn’t been any change to the other animations for roadie run, chainsawing, meleeing and so on. There arguably isn’t a lot of room to freshen up those animations but we’re four games into the series now, so some of these animations are really old.
There aren’t many new minor gameplay flourishes in terms of mechanics that we saw in Gears Of War 3 either, such as that game’s cover-vault kicks and meatshield tag-and-kick. The biggest change that affects gameplay is grabbing a meatshield no longer forces you into using a pistol and leaves you free to use a weapon such as Gnasher or Hammerburst, making grabbing meatshields a more viable option.
Even so, this feels fresh enough that Gears fans will enjoy campaign. Multiplayer, however, will prove to be somewhat more controversial…
Gears Of War: Judgment Online
Gears Of War: Judgment’s multiplayer looks like Gears and sounds like Gears but when you begin playing, you realise there are a lot of subtle changes that change how it’s played.
There are four modes – Overrun, FFA, Domination and Team Deathmatch. Overrun is an attack the objective style mode that builds on Beast mode of Gears Of War 3, putting you in the shoes of both defending COG and attacking Locust. FFA is Free-For-All having every player for himself while Domination sees your team securing and holding onto three points.
No King Of The Hill, no Execution (that’s coming later as DLC), No Warzone and so on. That’s the first big change. But when you start playing you realise just how much the gameplay has been tweaked and adapted to People Can Fly’s vision for online.
No active reloads. No down but not out. No Lancer plus Gnasher default set-up. Gnasher itself has (finally!) been toned down. Ink grenades have been beefed up. You can walk off high ledges. COG vs Locust replaced by Red versus Blue. There are different classes of character to choose from. And if you hated how loud the footsteps were in Gears Of War 3, you’re really not going to like how loudly players stomp around maps now.
These changes make multiplayer much more accessible and much faster than Gears has ever been but some of the tactical edges we’ve come to expect from the series have had to be sanded down for this to happen.
The traditional Gears online match has been about digging in and team-mates flanking around the enemy. That doesn’t really happen anymore – partially because only Domination and Team Deathmatch cater to that sort of team-versus-team gameplay but mostly because the action is now too fast to settle down into the tactical back and forth we’re used to. This is where Gears veterans may find themselves feeling as though Judgment is a step back.
The changes to multiplayer make FFA work as a valid mode – an all-against-all mode would have been awful in previous Gears outings – but the mode itself isn’t really compelling enough to make up for the loss of traditional Gears gameplay.
Co-Operative Not Competitive
To counter this, the Horde mode side of multiplayer has been buffed up, so Overrun and Survival are now arguably the stars of the show.
This is where the class system really comes into play. You can choose between Medic (heals team-mates), Scout (snipers and throws scouting grenades), Soldier (gives ammo) and Engineer (set-ups sentry and repairs fences). Soldier is arguably the only indispensable class because ammo refills are essential but the fun comes from the unique team set-up your team has, depending on the make-up of the group and watching everyone find their role.
So while the competitive side of Judgment feels as though it has taken a step back, the co-operative side has taken a huge step forward.
The weeks and months ahead will see the Gears community determine how successful Judgment’s multiplayer is but those who found previous Gears titles difficult to get into – something Epic has often admitted has been a real problem – will find Judgment as friendly as the series can possibly get without really compromising itself.
The Best Gears Yet?
People Can Fly has done a great job of keeping Gears Of War: Judgment fresh and relevant with next-gen looming on the horizon, and shown real bravery with the multiplayer that at the very least pays off with the co-operative elements.
The high score ethos that runs through Judgment keeps veterans from feeling as though they’re going through the motions but the real success here is that the studio seems to have solved something Epic never could – multiplayer is accessible to newcomers.
The standard has been set high through the series and Gears Of War: Judgment doesn’t let the side down. Although it doesn’t have the bombast of Gears Of War 3 or impact of the orginal in the series, it’s still very good for single-player and great for those who will play it with friends.