Developer: Epic Games/People Can Fly
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: 18th March (US) 19th March (Everywhere Else)
Duration: approximately 6 hours
More Entertaining Than: Gears of War
Less Entertaining Than: Gears of War 3
-gorgeously stunning visuals
-fanciful new equipment
-fun and challenging choice avenues
-repetitive action oriented scenarios
-stereotypically predictable storyline
Rating (out of 10): 8
Gears of War Judgment is a brainless action shooter that will entertain you as often as it disappoints you.
I won’t lie. The first Gears of War game did nothing for me. I found the graphics to be unfathomably dull and lifeless, I felt the story lacked any substance and the action scenes put me to sleep.
The sequels though, well, they were completely the opposite. If Gears of War bored me to tears, then the following two sequels left me feeling incredibly content with their frequently thrilling action scenes, dazzling graphics and emotionally powerful storylines that pushed the franchise in a brand new and stunningly beautiful direction.
That is probably what makes Gears of War Judgment, that is a prequel to the events of the original Gears game so disappointing, for much of what made me enjoy the previous two games is entirely absent from this particular title entirely.
Judgment is proof that even though a game comes equipped with beautiful graphics, doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to enthrall you. Right from the very beginning you are able to stare in wonder at the gorgeously beautiful environments and sigh at how everything looks as stunning as an oil painting.
The game starts off at the end, with the members of Kilo squad, led by known Gears character Damon Baird, who is a Lieutenant during this particular campaign, being placed on trial for war crimes.
The trail is led by Colonel Loomis, who is the stereotypical high ranking militarian Gears leader, in that he is a complete arsehole, and is out to crucify Kilo squad because of his very own entrenched beliefs.
Over the course of the trail, each of the members of the team provide testimonies on the events which led to their capture by the COG, through which the player takes control of the characters as they narrate what transpired.
Although at first this seemed a little off putting, this is done surprisingly well, and is probably one of the most fun aspects of the game, for the player doesn’t just simply take control of one character over the course of the storyline, but all four.
‘Private, what do you see?’
‘Grubs sir, lots of ‘em!’
Throughout the game you work in a team, and never are you separated from the other members of Kilo.
After initially beginning as Baird, you are then provided the opportunity to play as Sofia Hendrick, who is without a doubt the most entertaining character in all of Kilo, and through her character, you will probably have the most fun. Voiced by the always entertaining Ali Hillis, Sofia is the stereotypically gorgeous Gears woman, with an unbelievably fabulous body and – sorry, what I mean to say is that Sofia is a by the book cadet who fights with honor and courage. She is well mannered, and not only is she the heart and soul of the group, being able to put the others in their place by notifying them when they are doing wrong, she is also the one character who expresses the most entertaining one liners.
The issue with playing as Sofia, is that her campaign is the shortest, and no doubt has something to do with what Epic games said back in February; how they personally believe that female characters in the Gears universe are basically not worth focusing on because gamers will not be interested in them. Basically, Epic made the point that women are boring. But in a game like Judgment, Epic officially contradict themselves. Sofia; the only woman in the game, is probably the most un-boring aspect of the entire campaign and thus deserved a far more influential and inspired role.
The next character you play is Paduk, who is in fact not associated with the Gears, but is their rival enemy. Initially fighting them in battle, the emergence of the Grubs has caused him to join sides with Damon and follow him into battle, for he knows that if they do not end the Locust, then there will be no more wars for any of them to fight, for everyone will be extinct. Paduk speaks in a deep Russian accent and is quite the honorable character. He stands by his beliefs and does not change for anyone, and thus is an incredibly inspiring trait to have in a character. A good friend to Damon, he is an exceptional soldier and is truly dependable for whatever situation you are going into.
Lastly, you have the opportunity to play as legendary Gears character Cole Train. In Gears of War 3, I was honored to have the privilege to play as Cole, even if the time I spent controlling his character was limited, it was incredibly fun. That is probably why it is so disappointing to see such a stellar character reduced to such a pathetically small role. Cole has the least to say throughout the game, and his usually entertaining self has been exchanged for a more subtle character. A character like Cole deserves a far larger role than that which Epic designated for him during the game, and they should damn well know it too.
If Epic does anything especially well with the characters, it is without a doubt the fact that players will be incredibly depressed as they play through the game. Male gamers will feel as though they are not muscular enough (as all of the male characters make even Vin Diesel look positively skinny) and all the women gamers will not think they are skinny enough. Basically, if you have issues with your body, avoid this game at all costs!
Furthermore, although you are able to experience the game through the eyes of different characters, the game offers nothing stunning via story. You learn very little about each character and the connections between the each of them seem to start and end with their general loathing of the Locus horde. As previously mentioned, the last two Gears games provided great emotional storylines, and yet very little is found in this game; even the banter between the characters seems to have been reduced in exchange for more action.
Epic does however manage to redeem itself here with the introduction of declassified missions. The game is separated into small sections, each of which ends with a quick cinematic. At the beginning of each section, the player is able to click on a glowing red Gears symbol on a wall that will open up and provide an additional aspect to that particular section. If the player chooses to play with this added bonus to the section, the character will testify to this during their court proceedings. This element of choice is incredibly fun, the challenges including, but not limited to; time based assaults; alternate and additional enemy units and weapons; player visibility; player healing, etc.
Although these are often incredibly short, there are so many of them throughout the game that you will more than likely have the opportunity to experience something more than once as you progress.
Not only do declassified missions provide you with additional challenges, but with more stars. During the campaign, you acquire points for killing the bad guys, and lose points every time you go down and need reviving. Each section provides you with the opportunity to earn three stars, and you are easily able to do this with the declassified mission active more often than you can without it, making it a mandatory fixture to the game if you wish to acquire as many stars as possible.
Although stars will only provide beneficial traits to those who especially enjoy the multiplayer aspect of the game, they will additionally unlock ‘Aftermath’, which is an additional game that takes place in Gears of War 3, that will provide an additional hour of game play. I will go back and talk about this later in the review.
There is never anything else to do in Gears of War Judgment except kill grubs.
Moving back to the action, that is all Gears of War Judgment is; one action scene after another, many of which seemingly become repetitive over time. There are after all only so many ways that you can kill a Locust, and since there are literally hundreds of thousands of them throughout the game, you are likely to become a little bored along the way, regardless of how entertaining killing them can be.
The environments however will provide you with some added differences to the scenery, as you fight your way through abandoned homes, desolated streets and even a Normandy Beach Head reenactment. However, after a while even the environments themselves on occasion seem to blend together and you get the distinct feeling of déjà vu.
None of the scenes are separated by vehicular assaults or anything else, and you always find yourself on foot rather than using any other tactic. Players will be happy to learn however that old favorite weapons, the likes of the scorcher, retro lancer and sawed off shotgun are featured during the game, along with a few new ones including the Booshka grenade launcher (which is nothing special I might add and does a better job at killing you than it does at killing your targets) and the Markza sniper rifle, which is incredibly fun to use, although you seem to spend more time reloading it than you do firing. Additionally, a retro version of this weapon is available than has an even smaller magazine.
A trip wire crossbow is found in the game as well, which will allow you to set traps for your enemies (I like to call this puppy the Trip Shot, but that’s just me) and gun turrets that come in many different flavors are also available which are very fun to use in the field, the player being able to openly move them whenever or wherever they are needed most.
These two pieces of equipment especially come in handy when you are required to hold off waves of enemies. On several occasions you are forced to defend an area against wave after wave after wave of enemy opponents, which is no doubt a ploy by the developer to make the game longer else it would only have gone for half the length. Enemies will more often than not keep coming from the same direction, which again makes the scenes brainless and easy to exploit to your own advantage, regardless as to how many Locusts there are or how much firepower they are wielding.
On top of this, one new enemy, the Rager, is an impeccably fun combatant to face. Although initially appearing as a skinny little thing that looks truly pathetic, after being shot a couple times the creature goes berserk, much like the brutes in the Halo games, but to a far more alarming extent. These guys become about twice as big as they once were, become covered in heavy armor and go red in the face, chasing you around roaring at the top of their lungs, a single swipe having the power to knock you right on your arse – safe to say, these guys are as challenging to fight as they are entertaining to watch.
Epic concludes their new Gears game with a boss battle that ends as quickly as it begins.
However, the Rager does nothing to make up for the final pitifully weak boss battle. The goal of the game is to bring an end to Karn’s assault, Karn being the warlord of this particular army. Paduk speaks of how powerful Karn is; how he has swept through many cities, completely eradicating them, however, when you fight him at the end, you feel incredibly disappointed to find that Karn is very underwhelming. Basically, a stereotypical Locust bad guy on a really big bug, Karn offers nothing spectacular to the mix and the battle with him is reminiscent of something you might have played through before.
Moving back to the Aftermath game which is unlocked after earning forty stars, this particular game takes place 24 hours before the imulsion cure is implemented in Gears of War 3. During this campaign, Baird, Cole, Carmine and Paduk fight their way through a ravaged Locust occupied area to find a way to transport an excess amount of troops towards the final stage of the game.
Although this game is attached to Judgment the graphics do not look quite as refined, and are more reminiscent of Gears of war 3, which now seems a little outdated when in comparison to the graphics of today. Additionally, the areas you fight through are rather bland and don’t offer anything new environmentally speaking.
On top of this, Aftermath fails to offer any new in game concepts, and seems to repeat a number of the fun experiences that players would have gone through in previous Gears games. Much like the Lost Missions in Doom 3 BFG, Aftermath is an explanation to something that needed no storytelling, and so has the constant feeling that it is considerably pointless.
What is worth a mention however, is that even though Aftermath comes up with a couple plot narratives, it fails to build on them, and thus leaves you with more questions than answers; questions you would not have had if Epic had not decided to make this unnecessary installment.
By the conclusion of Aftermath, it proves only one thing; Epic appears to be running short on ideas for the Gears of War franchise. Although there is plenty of action to go around, gamers in general are an incredibly mature bunch, and after experiencing many games with in-depth storylines would be after something a lot more dazzling than what Epic is providing them with this incredibly short addition to an unbelievably popular franchise. At times Judgment feels as though it was developed purely to make Epic a couple extra bucks, and to remind gamers that they are still alive. If they continue to make games like this though, I must question; for how much longer?