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Power Member - Level 6
Firstly, there aren’t a lot of things in this game that are Gears-proper. It was developed not by Epic, but by the studio made famous by Bulletstorm, People Can Fly. Forget playing as Marcus Fenix guys, its Baird’s time to shine! As well as a surprising lack of multiplayer options, being the most notable change to the series. But don’t worry too much, you still be slamming into cover and receiving chainsaws in no time.
The overall game is very much Gears-lite compared to previous games in the series, but that doesn’t really make it any less fun. For example most of the single-player and multi-player maps are much smaller areas compared to Gears 3, which was a visual feast in terms of the scope that Unreal 3 could pull-off. Usually confined to a medium-sized set of corridors or a small arena, the game feels particularly claustrophobic compared to the last three games in the series. But maybe that’s what was intended? All the campaign maps in Judgment are horde-like and have you fending off against three-or-so waves of enemies only to move forward and find another area of three-or-so waves of enemies. The smaller maps give you more bottlenecks to dispense your foes easily, but are in-turn again claustrophobic and leave more wanting from an environment based in a Gears game.
The ones tasked with carrying the plight of the main-storyline are the members of Kilo squad explaining their actions to a tribunal. You experience the story through a series of flashbacks, and with this plot device holding fact and fiction in balance you can “Declassify” certain parts of a mission to get a better picture of what really happened to Kilo. Declassifying a mission usually restricts you to using a certain set of weapons or spawning extra types of enemies. This can sometimes ratchet the difficulty of the game ridiculously high, but more often than not it’s a refreshing change to the monotony of a seemingly endless set of Horde levels.
Declassifying a mission not only opens up the story, but also lets you gain Stars faster. Stars are gained through killing enemies, earning ribbons, getting headshots, etc. A small meter in the top-right of the screen shows how well you are doing as well as how close you are to getting the maximum of three stars. For most missions you’ll be done with the three stars before it’s over (On Hardcore I only really got stuck twice), but for some you might have some problems getting them. Of course this opens up the game for replayability, but then again frustration and replayability should never be bedfellows.
This brings to mind some of the dull points of Judgment, mainly the AI. On both the Friendly and Enemy fronts they seem to have taken a step back. I think by now we are all used to having hundreds upon thousands of dumb Locust rush us, wave after wave, as we shoot them down. Nothing new there, but the friendly AI in Gears 3 could quite possibly beat the game for you. In Judgment, your AI buddies are decent, but not as efficient as their counterparts from Gears 3. When it comes to reviving you they turn into petulant children. “Daddy I don’t want to revive you, I want to keep killing the enemies that you are obviously way better at doing.” Please pick me up! I’m losing my effing stars! “But I don’t wanna!” That’s when I noticed that the AI was fine getting over to me, but would wait a decent amount of time so I could lose progress and the chance of getting another star. Whether this is an example of bad AI or a conscious decision made by People Can Fly, I don’t like it. This doesn’t make the game anymore challenging for someone who plays single-player, it just makes the game more frustrating!
However in the game's secondary campaign, Aftermath, you won’t find many of these problems at all. This takes place during the Gears 3 storyline, and follows Baird and Cole in their quest for reinforcements to aid Marcus’ attack on Azura. Aftermath is actually designed, not like a Judgment campaign, but rather a Gears 3 campaign. The incongruity between the two campaigns and how they are designed differently isn’t really a problem, because when you finally get around to playing it you’ll just be happy with a change of pace. Without the Star or Declassification system in play I felt finally at ease, I was, dare I say, tired of being judged for once. Other than that, it’s a nice diversion and can be completed in an afternoon.
Moving on to multiplayer, you’ll find the standard offerings, Team Deathmatch, Free-For-All, Domination, and Execution. But most of the modes we’ve come to know in the last two, if not three incarnations of the series are completely stripped from the game. The most notable omission from the lineup is Horde, which not only could win the popularity contest of which mode is favorite among the community, but also the fact that the mode's design elements pop up from everything between the Campaign to Overrun mark it's importance. The fact that this game is dripping with Horde and yet has no such option is odd to say the least.
While this is evident in other parts of the game you can really see that an effort was done to make the game as streamlined as possible in multiplayer. This time you are only able to carry two weapons instead of the four in previous games. Maybe it was the atrocious 360 D-Pad talking, but I think that only having two weapons is better and quicker. It also makes you think hard about the way you play and how that relates to the weapons you carry. Moving the Grenades away from the D-Pad is also better, considering with the push of the left bumper you can get those at enemies a lot quicker.
The multiplayer maps are also smaller than is Gears 3, usually consisting of arena or urban style maps. In short, small open areas or lots of corners and corridors. This means that you’ll spend less time running between your spawn and a firefight, but takes away the spectacle that came with previous maps in the series. In the end they're all good maps, but they lack something that makes them feel like Gears of War, either in physical design or aesthetic showcase.
The newest addition to the Gears design is Overrun, which could easily be described as if all your favorite multiplayer modes melded together and stole a hat from Team Fortress 2. You play as either the Locus or the COG, preventing the other team form advancing. The COG forces defend an E-Hole with a lid on it. In turn, it’s the Locust’s job to blow the lid off, moving forward into the map and eventually to the COG generator. The COG has the ability to choose between four classes, Engineer, Soldier, Scout, and Medic, which all pretty much do what you would expect. The Engineer can drop a turret and repair barriers, the Soldier uses heavy explosive weapons and can refill your ammo, The Scout is a long-range sniper, and the Medic can throw Stim-Gas grenades to heal you.
Overrun maps are well designed with plenty of routes and crannies to help you build your perfect win strategy. But in the end, it’s nothing really special. If you can find someone else to play the experience is really fun, but since this mode is predicated on strategy dropping-in with a random set of people isn't the optimal experience.
Gears of War: Judgment isn’t a brave new step forward for the franchise, nor is it the ultimate version of what Gears of War represents. It's simply a short-form version of the shooter we've come to love. New additions to the series are interesting, but there isn’t enough old thrown-in to ground the new. While Gears of War: Judgment is good in it's own right, it certainly doesn’t stand to the scale of previous entries.