• Gears of War: Judgment Review - Microsoft Xbox360

    Gears of War: Judgment is the latest in the third person action series and the first to be developed jointly by developers Epic and People Can Fly. It tells a well-integrated side story that enriches the Gears background and brings some inventive multiplayer offerings to the table, alongside a heavily reworked campaign model.
    Gears of War:Judgment screenshot.
    New defense scenarios are just one of the fresh mechanics to be found in Judgment.
    The biggest change in this outing is the new framework wrapped around the single player and co-op campaign. While still delivered as a continuous arc, the storyline is now separated up into a large number of small, very self-contained sections. During each of these, the players are scored based on the manner and skill with which they dispatched the opposition. In typical Gears style you can't go far wrong with explosives and extreme violence. Come the end of an area the players are graded against a three star rating, with unlockables and achievements encouraging the completionist to perfect each portion. As an added challenge each of these levels also feature an optional mutator, that alters the way the area plays and can be an important factor in securing the best ratings. These extras can be anything from the forced usage of particular weapons to environmental effects such as visibility-obscuring smog banks or the removal of the regenerating health system. Also of note is how well these variants are incorporated into the narrated court martial, that forms the basis of the games plot, making both alternatives workable in terms of the storytelling.

    The result of this focus is an experience that can be very satisfying in short bursts, with each of the sections working perfectly as snappy, isolated encounters. There's no fat on the bones of the campaign, with every sequence having been pored over and refined. It's a noticeable change of pace when compared to the previous Gears titles and makes for a refreshing take on games which have sometimes succumbed to some rather long winded, repetitive sections. The designers have also included a couple of different enemy waves for each level, meaning that you will get a noticeably different challenge on your first replay of any given area.
    Gears of War:Judgment screenshot.
    The lighting is just superb.
    By breaking the campaign down into smaller, separated action scenes, each has been given a clear flow in terms of pacing and structure. The culmination of this is a game that lacks any filler padding and provides a deliberate structure on which to hang a wide variety of encounters. Players are treated to some new scenarios, like setting up last-stand style defences, with deployable turrets and traps, and laying ambushes on enemy columns. Pleasingly, the exploding immulsion enemies (aka the Flood of the Gears universe) are gone and things are back to proper shootouts. There's the odd new addition, such as the Rager, which combines solid ranged capability with ferocious close combat damage output once injured, and in general the combat focuses on hectic, arcade like waves of chaos. The controls have also been tightened up, making for rapid switching of weapons and grenade utilisation that helps to streamline the action for some of the more tightly packed, fast paced moments.

    Judgment also marks a fundamental shift where multiplayer is concerned. Previous Gears titles have primarily revolved around playlists based on rounds with one life per player and while other modes still featured, they were not the primary influence on map construction. The end result was levels that are often symmetrical, based primarily around a small number of basic cover constructions. There was very little utilisation of verticality and the designs were kept simple with a strong focus on additional weaponry pickups. With Judgment, however, team deathmatch steps up to the plate as the primary method of traditional versus play and this has heralded a massive change in the map design philosophy.
    Gears of War:Judgment screenshot.
    "B" gun's dry... Twenty on "A"...
    While the number of maps on launch was only four, the detail and complexity of their design is strong enough to ensure that this doesn't pose a problem in the longevity department. These designs feature far less open ground and are heavily interconnected, with the ability to drop down to lower levels making for a greater degree of dynamic behaviour and range of tactics. Most are asymmetric and varied in their design. Streets for example is highly evocative of some early Unreal Tournament maps, with a range of different height levels and partial cover placement that makes its utilisation far more about 3D visualisation than the more 2D overhead designs of the past. Meanwhile the likes of Gondola and Rig feature moving vehicles that can be used to rapidly traverse these larger environments, helping add further diversity. With the more intricate layouts and greater use of varied sight-lines the developers have also taken steps to add the ability to play at a far greater range without resorting to unbalanced sniper rifle usage. With the player able to select accurate mid-to-long range assault rifles, and larger levels providing portions at extended ranges, it's now possible to take a more measured, precision based approach to combat. The balancing act between the different weapons, combined with the greater degree of available routes, makes for a game where different loadouts will have advantages in different sections of the maps, but combat never becomes wholly one sided as a result of your gun choice. It's a fundamental shift for the series and provides a suitably different experience to make Judgment stand out on its own merits.

    When Gears of War 3 added Beast Mode, a multiplayer offering where players took on the role of the Locust arrayed against AI humans, there was always that nagging question what would it be like to play it against real humans? With Judgment that question has now been answered in the form of Overrun, a game type where two teams face off against each other, one human and one Locust. The Locust are tasked with breaking through a series of barriers and destroying three objectives in sequence. As each one is destroyed the level seamlessly moves forward to the next in a very slick manner, ensuring there are no loading times between each one, and the winners are the team who make it the furthest in the fastest time. The human side is class based, each sporting different weapons and a unique ability, be it supplying ammunition to friendlies, reviving them, tossing out radar-like grenades or deploying automated sentry turrets. On the Locust front an initial batch of basic types are available with more powerful units opening up as the player earns points from kills and the destruction of human defences.
    Gears of War:Judgment screenshot.
    "She's just a girl..."
    Overrun truly is the best multiplayer experience to come out of the franchise to date. The Locust types are all varied, each with viable battlefield roles. Some can access different areas, others can provide direct buffs to each other and, out of the eight classes on offer, there's no one type the dominates the team that succeeds is the one that uses a variety of unit types in conjunction to defeat the opposition. In stark contrast to the popular Team Fortress games, each objective has two approaches, plus a few side passages that certain Locust can access, ensuring that proceedings never degenerate into a mindless battle of attrition down a single path. Success is as much based on the rapid outmanoeuvring of the enemy and playing mind games, as it is as the ability to purely deal out damage. Players on both sides will vary their chosen classes on the fly to adapt to the changing layout of the frontlines, the enemy patterns and the behaviour of their team mates. Long term strategy across the three rounds also results in careful utilisation of the points earned by the Locust players, resulting in some fairly massive battles come the final objective.

    The points system for the human players greatly encourages co-operative behaviour and the HUD setup keeps things simple, ensuring that you are always kept aware of how your abilities can be used to help your allies. Again, the team that wins is the one that has a mixture of classes in use and no one unit type gains experience points noticeably faster than another, which means that players will actually choose the types that benefit the team the most, rather than just trying to game the experience system. All of these factors combine to make for one of the most genuinely co-operative game types out there, there isn't a single element that leads to players placing their own progression beyond that of the team's success. Judgment shipped with four Overrun-specific maps on launch, with others available through downloadable content, and each provides a long-form style of gameplay that makes for epic encounters and enough variety to keep players coming back. There's a huge range of different tactics to explore and there's enough variable elements to ensure that every game plays a little bit differently, keeping things fresh each time. Pleasingly, the title also pads out unbalanced teams with pretty capable bots, ensuring that all but the most lopsided games remain fair. Overrun mode was what Horde and Survival were always building towards, and it succeeds on every level.
    Gears of War:Judgment screenshot.
    It's actually a requirement for the player to utter "Screeee!" whenever playing as a Ticker.
    Marketed as a spin off release, Judgment demonstrates that the Gears of War series has a promising life beyond the original trilogy. The developers have taken the previous model and built up a thoroughly original take on both the solo, co-operative and competitive modes. For some this will mark the best Gears game to date, but even for those who prefer the approach of the earlier titles, it will still provide an interesting and engaging experience, complemented by an enjoyable story that builds nicely on the series' mythos.

    Score: 8/10

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    Comments 2 Comments
    1. MisterBubbles's Avatar
      MisterBubbles -
      Grear write up Ducan, but it reads more like a 9/10, maybe its lost a few for so little MP maps. Overrun sounds great, just sounds like a more varied take on assault on UT, which i always loved, in fact Ops in KZ3 rocked too. Well i might pick it up at some point once the next gen hype has died down and it will be for buttons.
    1. k0pp0's Avatar
      k0pp0 -
      still got this game sealed. Might have to bust it out.