Gears Of War: Judgment – Huge Changes To A Huge Series
“It’s not about trying to save the world. It’s not about winning the ultimate war. It’s about: ‘There’s a bad guy in town and we gotta get that bad guy outta town.’”
So says Rob Auten, freelancer writer on Gears Of War: Judgment as he… wait. This is Gears Of War. Isn’t this series about trying to save the world? About winning the ultimate war? Isn’t the whole point of Gears Of War that it’s about big characters doing big things in a big way?
Not so with Gears Of War: Judgment, which reinvents the formula while keeping it distinctly… well, Gears.
Stop-And-Pop Is Dead
The rhythm of Gears Of War goes something like this. You do the meaty steroid jog into a new area (not roadie-running because you’re cautious about what lies ahead) when an errant Locust shot whistles by your ear. You and your partner slam your backs against the nearest cover and then the battle of popping up and shooting behind cover begins.
Gears Of War: Judgment isn’t going to fall into the same pattern. For one thing, there’s not as much cover around, forcing players to improvise more than they would have done in the past. Cover had become something of a crutch for Gears players, an easy answer to all scenarios bar extreme flanking by the AI. With cover now at a minimum, things have opened up for Judgment. The gunplay now feels more dynamic, without cover providing easy solutions to the Locust horde ahead.
To help you out, the controls have been revamped. Grenades can now be quick-tossed with the right bumper, making them a great move to use in a pinch. Tapping the right bumper when the action gets hairy becomes instinctive and becomes a brilliant bail-out move should you feel the odds are stacked fatally against you in close combat.
Tapping Y changes your weapons, so you can have Gnasher and quickly switch to Hammerburst should you spot an enemy in the distance. Not groundbreaking considering the same thing was possible using the D-pad in previous Gears but it’s much faster now and that speed encourages you to swap weapons more often to match the scenario. This change also frees the d-pad for the other commands. Up on the d-pad is now the ‘look’ button that draws your eyes towards big set-pieces or ambushes that the developer wants you to see, for example.
The pace has also been cranked up and cutscenes breaking up the gameplay have been stripped right back. There’s almost an arcade gaming mentality powering Gears Of War: Judgment, especially as it now has a live scoring system in place. There are now three stars in the top-left corner of the HUD, which fill as you perform kills, executions, gibs, headshots and so on. Filling all three stars by the end of the level grants you unlockables such as new player skins and weapons.
What’s The Story
Set 15 years before the original Gears Of War, Judgment tells the story of Baird, the sarcastic mechanic of the series, who is standing trail at a COG court-martial to explain why he disobeyed orders. Details such as what and why are being left blank for now – Epic wants to hold something back and in any case, we wouldn’t want to spoil details – but we do know when there’s a flashback from the trial to what he was doing that led up to that event, Baird is joined by two new faces.
Sofia Hendrick is an Onyx Guard cadet who hasn’t seen action and is therefore treated with disdain. However, she doesn’t take any shit from others and for some killer lines alone, she’s a great addition to the series. In terms of gameplay, she’s a medic and Sofia has stim grenades she can throw to heal or revive players.
Also new is Garron Paduk, the scout of the group. Unlike Sofia, Garron is a hardened veteran joining the group from the UIR faction. While not as interesting as Sofia in terms of raw personality (think stereotypical Russian and you’re mostly there), he does seem to have an ulterior motive for joining the group.
Let’s Talk New Stuff
Now let’s talk specific new stuff. There are new weapons, obviously. The stim grenade causes an area of healing while the beacon grenade causes an area of effect that shows enemies through walls.
The Markza is similar to the classic Gears Of War Longshot, except it has a large magazine and can be repeatedly fired, although headshots no longer pop skulls. The Breechshot is the Locust equivalent that does pop heads although it has no scope and more recoil.
The Booshka is going to cause chaos in multiplayer. It fires bouncing bombs and the fuse doesn’t start ticking until the first bounce. Better still, you can fire three before you need to reload.
Also new is Declassified Testimonies, which is a fancy name for side-missions. These appear during campaign but have story linking it to the overall narrative. For example – one section has to be tackled with shotguns only but has voiceover explaining why. Having the extra variance keeps the gameplay fresh and having it actually tie in with the story gives these side-missions purpose too.
Another new gameplay element is Dynamic Defence Scenarios. These are essentially Horde mode segments placed within campaign, as you grab ammo, weapons and set up automated-weapon turrets before waves of enemies come crashing in. Just to make things more interesting, there are fresh combinations of enemies generated on the fly throughout Gears Of War: Judgment, not just in these scenarios.
Finally, there’s Karn, the new bad guy heading up the series. He rides around on an overgrown, armoured corpser and makes his entrance by way of crushing an Onyx Guard. Boo! Hiss! And so on.
And let’s not forget what Gears Of War is known best for – multiplayer.
One immediate change is how DBNO (down but not out) has been removed. There’s no crawling around on your hands and knees, leaving a trail of blood as you hope a team-mate scampers over to revive you. Now, you just die.
The reason Epic made the change was in response to those moaning about having their kills stolen after putting in the hard work of downing the player. We understand the complaints but it’s a change we’re not too sure about, given that was one of the distinct mechanics, which helped Gears feel like Gears.
Then again, there are changes that have a far bigger impact on multiplayer than the lack of DBNO. For example, classes. While choosing characters in Gears meant little beyond superficial changes and maybe minor hitbox considerations, now you’re choosing a class where there are distinct advantages and weaknesses. Medic, Scout, Soldier and Engineer all offer cooldown abilities that can be deployed during the heat of battle.
Medic has the all-healing stim grenade while Soldier can throw down ammo for team-mates. Engineer can repair barricades and set-up automated defence turrets while Scouts have beacon grenades and can climb up higher than the other classes.
Judgment will also bring 10-player Free-For-All to Gears Of War for the first time. It’s seems strange that it will be the first time Free-For-All will be in the series but Team Deathmatch has always been the de facto Gears multiplayer mode of choice. It’ll be interesting to see how fans take to a mode that takes all teamwork away.
One mode that will prove popular is Overrun, which is a Gears-themed take on attack-and-defend. The Locust are the attacking team while the COG are the defending team, with three capture points that the Locust are aiming to destroy. If you played Beast Mode in Gears Of War 3 and wondered why Epic locked the human side to AI-only, now you can actually play as them, fending off the Locust horde.
It’s a brilliant mode. Each of the Locust has their own unique cooldown abilities, just as in Beast mode. Wretch screams stun COG while Kantus can heal other Locusts. Giant Serapedes, Maulers, Grenadiers, the whole ugly army is here and the carnage by the sprawling Locust vs COG battles in Overrun are a highlight.
It’s a different take on the usual Gears multiplayer. Just like Gears Of War: Judgment is different. Can this appeal to Gears veterans while providing enough change to bring in those who didn’t get on with previous versions? That’s the big plan and while it might not be about saving the world, so far, things are looking good for Gears Of War: Judgment.