Gears of War: Judgment was one of the biggest Xbox 360 exclusive titles of 2013. With it came much discussion about the future of one of Xbox’s biggest franchises. Having built it’s name as an Xbox 360 exclusive, where would Gears of War go without an Xbox 360? With Gears of War: Judgment indicated: absolutely nowhere.
Gears of War: Judgment was billed as a prequel to the established Gears of War bloodline. It attempted to push the ham-fisted delivery of the franchise’s pseudo mature storytelling into new directions. It accomplished this with the same brash and utterly disposable sense of science-fiction that the series has championed. This is both a compliment and irritation aimed at the development team at People Can Fly. Thankfully, just has always been the series’ physique, it’s easy to ignore the story in favour of the gunplay.
Gears of War: Judgment – Different Dev Team, Same Gears
For all the mechanics gamers could take offence with in the Gears of War series, tutorials aren’t one of them. Even from the very first outing Gears of War made a concerted effort to innovate in this area with something as simple as asking the player what direction on the analogue stick should be used to look up, opposed to telling. Here in Gears of War: Judgment, this approach is streamlined and, sadly, not for the sake of character. An automatic prompt before the player even gets to look at the main menu for the first time asks whether or not they are new to the game. A press of the A button means they will play through the tutorial, but with the B button they won’t. It just as binary as it ever was, but now severely lacking in character.
Beginning with the Judgment campaign, Lt. Baird is already in custody. The gameplay takes place as a series of flashbacks during a pseudo courtroom hearing for a crime that Baird and the rest of Kilo Squad are supposed to have committed. However, exactly what that crime is remains unclear until later in the game. For now, you venture back to Old Town. The interrogation proceeds by way of voice over as you learn to walk and shoot as if it was the very first time.
A Story or a High Score Challenge?
Not too long after starting the campaign you will encounter your first Declassify Mission. Scattered throughout the campaign, available at near-every combat situation, these challenges will boost your star rating if successfully completed. You can accept or decline these challenges, though as they only affect a short sequence most players will likely entertain at least one attempt. The star rating itself is a new mechanic that Gears of War: Judgment brings to the table. It acts as an indication of your progress. Purists might suggest that having a bar slowly fill with each kill takes you out of the moment and reminds you that you are playing a videogame. But in reality the series has never been noted for its ability to immerse the player in its fiction. As such, a new meta game will surely be seen a welcome barometer of success for many.
In addition to the core experience Gears of War: Judgment also offers the Aftermath campaign. This is essentially an extension to the Gears of War 3 story. Thus, it’s a package that could have been delivered as DLC, but included here to avoid complaints of limited campaign gameplay. The Aftermath campaign is a welcome addition but ultimately refuses to alter the Gears of War template in any significant manner.
Many Gears of War, Much Judgment
One of the most widely acclaimed part of the Gears of War experience has always been the multiplayer gameplay. Gears of War: Judgment does it’s best to ensure that this remains true as the franchise reaches the limit of the Xbox 360’s technical clout. However, only a small set of gameplay modes were provided at launch (with more added as DLC post-launch). Thankfully, Gears of War: Judgment’s biggest innovation within the Gears of War template is surely the OverRun gameplay mode.
Pitting two teams of five against one another, OverRun charges the Locust with breaking Cog defensive lines and attacking a generator that resides adjacent to their respawn point. A single match consists of two rounds of this class based gameplay mode. Matches have a variable length with a shrinking distance between teams and growing resources as they continue. It’s a simple yet compelling experience, and has since become a mainstay of the franchise’s multiplayer gameplay modes. Just as Domination has.
It’s a Gears, Sure, But it’s Not a Pretty One
Visually, Gears of War: Judgment has progressed with the curve but is hardly astounding. It feels odd to say that there are better looking titles on the Xbox 360, given that the franchise had previously been held up as a standard bearer for what was possible on the console. However, there are many elements of the presentation that feel dull and lifeless. As a shock to the system, one of the multiplayer maps suffers from a significant amount of texture glitches when turning corners at speed. Given the franchise’s status as a platform leader, this cuts into the expectation-to-delivery ratio of Gears of War deeply.
As one of the last highlights on the Xbox 360’s exclusive agenda, People Can Fly did well to imitate the Gears of War formula. Furthermore, they presented a welcome innovation in the multiplayer. This was more than enough to please fans of the franchise. However, for casual attendance it appeared as though Gears of War has begun to flatline. A welcome addition to the franchise then, but just as was the case with Halo’s expansion into new territory, Halo 3: ODST, Gears of War: Judgment is to be considered as offspring as opposed to a sibling.