Whenever a successful franchise takes their project in a new direction, they risk alienating their longtime fans.  Epic and People Can Fly made a series of puzzling changes; the removal of the beloved Horde mode, the lack of set piece moments, and the new declassified system all received mixed reception at best.  Hate forums began popping up around the internet and many gearheads quickly switched back to Gears of War 3.  Sometimes, fans are a little too critical of their favorite games.  Unfortunately, Judgment is a mixed bag; for every step it takes to move in the right direction, it also makes its fair share of questionable choices.

In many ways Judgment is a departure from previous Gears of War titles, and it starts with the campaign.  Gears of War 3 wrapped up the story conclusively, so the only logical choice was to create a prequel.  Series mainstays like Marcus and Dom are absent this time around, placing the focus on the cynical leader of Kilo squad, Baird.  Love him or hate him, Baird just doesn’t have what it takes to take on a lead role.  Characters feel even blander than before, Baird lacks his signature charisma, and Cole just re-treads familiar ground.  The two newcomers, Sofia and Paduk, are interesting, but not fleshed out enough.  Gears of War just doesn’t feel the same without Marcus and crew. Story has never been a strong point in the Gears of War series, but Judgement is even more forgettable despite some of the changes.  The most notable being the new Declassified system, which throws in difficulty altering modifiers and rates performance based on stars.  This makes Judgment more replayable, but I was disappointed that I was unable to jump into specific classified missions and replay them.

Probably the worst thing going against Judgment’s campaign is that it just isn’t memorable like it’s previous entries where.  Standout set piece moments like fighting a brumak are gone and the story really has no importance in the grand scheme things.  After the credits roll, an epilogue chapter titled Aftermath becomes unlocked, taking place in during the events of Gears 3.  Aftermath follows the format of previous Gears of War games, and while it has its moments, it just feels like a leftover Gears of War 3 mission shoehorned into this recent entry.  

While Judgment’s campaign falls flat on many aspects, it will come secondary to its multiplayer experience.  Unfortunately, Judgment makes a few missteps with multiplayer as well.  Judgment flat out has less content than previous Gears of War games or other shooters in general.  Not only are fan favorites like Horde and Beast gone, but other classic modes like Wingman and Warzone have been removed as well.  Only the most basic game modes like Team Deathmatch and Domination remain, and while these are enjoyable, these game modes don’t offer the unique experiences that like Wingman and Execution did.  Even worse, only four maps were available at launch, so expect to play in the same environments over and over.  

Multiplayer isn’t a total disappointment however, and is redeemed by the spectacular Overrun mode.  Overrun takes the best concepts of Horde and Beast to make it one of the the most enjoyable and addictive multiplayer experiences I’ve played in years.  Overrun pits the COG versus the Locusts, but unlike Horde and Beast, Overrun is a competitive experience, rather than cooperative.  Players controlling  the COG are tasked with defending a generator, and can choose to play as one of the four classes; the engineer, the soldier, the scout, and the medic.  Engineers can repair barriers and set up turrets, soldiers supply allies with ammo, scout can pick off enemies from perches, and medics have the crucial task of healing their teammates.  Teamwork is vital to success, just as much as it was in Horde, and a well organised team is victorious more often than not.  From my experience, the engineer is the most powerful class, but no class seems too over or underpowered.  

Though the COG are fun to play as, their efforts are often thwarted by the locust horde.  The locust are empowering, but more importantly, they are a hell of a good time to play as.  Controlling the locust resembles Gears of War 3’s beast mode, but playing against real people in Overrun is a much more challenging and enjoyable experience.

Unfortunately, the fun starts and stops with Overrun.  Another addition to Judgment is the new Survival mode which is pretty much Overrun with bots.  Epic decided to included this mode to bring back former fans of Horde, but Survival really adds nothing new to the formula, feels uninspired, and just plain boring.  It really pains me that Epic would just do away with Horde mode, even if Overrun is new, fresh and fun, it lacks really the pure entertainment value and replayability that Horde offered.

I really tried to like Judgment.  I really did.  But Judgment just tampers with the franchise to much for longtime fans to enjoy it.  Loadouts have two weapons instead of four, hit detection with some weapons like the Gnasher feels just wonky, and the removal of popular modes like Horde alienates Gears of War’s biggest fans.  In hindsight, I think Judgment would be a substantially better game if Epic just stuck to it’s guns.  The Gears of War franchise never made drastic change to the series, yet still produced quality games.  While I appreciate the company’s willingness to experiment, I found Judgment to be a less enjoyable game because of it.  I hope Epic can capture the magic once again, but at this point it is hard not to feel like the series is stagnating.