Gears of War: Judgement for Xbox 360
I think that the Gears of War series is one of the most mechanically solid that I’ve ever played. Epic are one of those companies who just know how to make a game feel satisfying and fun to play, and I always enjoy a new release in the Gears of War series. The prequel Gears of War: Judgement is certainly fun, but it brings very little to the table, and fails to build upon Gears of War 3 in the way that Bungie built upon Halo 3 with Halo: Reach.
Gears of War: Judgement leaves growly voiced human tank Marcus Fenix for another growly voiced human tank, Damon Baird. Baird was always a better character than Marcus; he actually possessed a brain inside his meaty head, so he makes the transition from supporting character to lead well. Gears of War: Judgement is told in a frame narrative, as Baird and his squad, including everyone’s favourite stereotype Augustus Cole as well as a couple of newbies (whose personalities can be summed up as grumpy Russian and girl) are put on trial in the middle of a Locust attack for going against orders. As Baird and his squad explain their actions, we flash back to these events and see what happened. Judgement also contains a brief second campaign known as ‘Aftermath’, which takes place during Gears of War 3.
As much as I like this series, Sera isn’t necessarily the most fascinating or dynamic of gaming locations. Judgement is primarily set in the city of Halvo Bay; the urban setting means that we get none of the natural beauty that we saw a lot of in Gears of War 2, but we do get a few insights as to what a city of Sera may have actually been like before the Locust emergence. Still, I missed the geographical scale of previous Gears campaigns, and the environments of Judgement doesn’t feel quite as varied as in other games in the series.
There was potential for some interesting unreliable narrator plot stuff with the frame narrative, but nothing interesting is really done with it. The prequel nature means that there’s no real tension as to how the trial can turn out. The plot is very easy to forget about, lacking the interesting backdrops that the main series had regarding the nature of the Locust, instead telling quite a superficial story.
There’s little in the way of gameplay changes between Gears of War 3 and Judgement, but it’s so damn solid by now that it’s hard to complain. The gunplay is still flawless, the handling sublime. There are so many little mechanics that I love in Gears of War, but my favourite has to the active reload. It’s a small thing, but I adore it, and it’s this tiny mechanic which defines the series for me. Throughout the campaign there are optional challenges, presented as extra bits of testimony fleshing out the details of Baird’s story. These can range from the simple addition of more or tougher foes, to limitations to certain weapons, a time limit, obscuring dust or slower recharging health. This mechanic is pretty cool, and taking on these challenges is rewarded with faster gaining of stars, which are used to unlock the Aftermath campaign among other things. These stars are the other main addition, a Bulletstorm-esque kill ranking system, although Gears of War naturally can’t quite compare to People Can Fly’s earlier game for sheer insanity.
The final major addition is the integration of horde mode style defensive missions into the campaign, with the player generally given a couple of minutes to lay traps, set up turrets and collect ammo before a mob of Locust attack. Horde mode was one of the all time great gaming innovations, and it’s great to see it actually integrated into a campaign rather than kept as a discrete and separate experience. All said though, whilst these additions are cool, but they don’t really affect the central Gears of War mechanics in any meaningful way, which is both a blessing and a curse. There’s an element of not messing with something that already works, but it can’t be denied that this is a very conservative release, and those hoping for an interesting shake up of the Gears formula will be left disappointed.
Gears of War: Judgement looks gorgeous, as all Gears games do, and the voice acting is perfectly fine. It’s a very sleek looking and playing package, with no corners cut in design, and an impressive level of detail throughout.
Gears of War: Judgement is…well, Gears of War. If you’re not a fan of the franchise, and lots of people aren’t, this game won’t convert you, but hardcore fans will lap it up. For me, I’m not so sure; as much as I like the Gears of War series, I can’t deny that I was feeling overwhelming deja-vu the entire time. It’s a great game, but not necessarily an interesting one.