Prequels are the flavor of the month it seems, they are almost as popular as reboots, and that’s saying quite a bit. Epic Games and Microsoft jump on the prequel bandwagon with the highly anticipated Gears Of War Judgment, but this is more than just a prequel, we get a new developer in People Can Fly, and we also get to see what the future holds for Gears without recently departed Epic Games staffers Cliff Bleszinski and Rod Ferguson.
The interesting thing about the Gears Of War games for me is that you always heard about Emergence Day, but we never got to see it happen, we always thought that if we were to get a Gears prequel it would take place during the Pendulum Wars, instead of that we get to see the world right after the events of Emergence Day. If you’re like me, you loved Gears Of War 3, but the main flaw that I had with the game was that we didn’t see any of Baird’s back-story, Gears Of War Judgment fixes all of that with a very intense and outstanding outing in the Gears franchise. If you were thinking a new main developer and some departures in Epic Games were going to put a damper on this series, think again.
Gears Of War Judgment’s story is mostly told through flashbacks as Baird is standing trial for disobeying the orders of his superiors, which is what all bad-asses tend to do in times of trouble. The interesting part is that during the campaign your actions and choices in accepting certain “Declassified” missions determine how the story unfolds. An example of this would be if you agreed to play a certain mission with decreased visibility, you’d earn more stars and those stars help you to unlock the second mini campaign which actually takes place during the Gears Of War 3 campaign when Dom and Marcus split off from Cole and Baird. This is a very interesting and fun aspect of the game, I wasn’t sure I’d like a story told from flashbacks, but they did a great job with it and honestly it’s probably the most coherent story of the whole Gears Of War franchise.
I don’t think Gears Judgment is as good of a game as Gears 3 was, but in some ways, especially the story, it’s actually a bit better. We’ll get to some of Judgment’s shortcomings in a little bit, but I’d like to focus a bit more on Judgments outstanding campaign. I’ve heard it said that some people think the Gears games have lackluster stories, but I bought the first two Gears games strictly for the story! I actually hated the online multiplayer for the first two Gears games, I really came to love Gears 3 online because they introduced Beast Mode and Team Death Match. The Gears Of War Judgment campaign is really action packed and the fact that you can unlock a second mini campaign that helps bring even more closure to the third game is something I enjoyed immensely.
Judgment sees you play as Baird, and we all know Cole Train is right by his side, there are two new playable characters as well. Sofia Hendrik and Garron Paduk, the interesting thing about Garron is that he was actually in the Pendulum Wars and not on the winning side, he has a pretty kick ass scar to prove it too! I like these new characters a lot, probably more than I should, but they are very human and have a lot of personality, they aren’t the typical dude-bro characters that people seem to associate with the Gears franchise. The plot revolves around Kilo Squad and their fight to save Halvo Bay from the unstoppable Locust Hoard, the Locust make a huge comeback in the story and I was pretty happy that they are the main focus as I didn’t care too much for the Lambent enemies in Gears 3.
I wasn’t sure where they could take the graphics after Gears Of War 3, but I’m thrilled to say that they are noticeably better in Gears Judgment. One of the biggest continued improvements is the colors and the scope of the layouts, the knock on the first couple of Gears games was the fact that they seemed to rely a lot on grey and black and brown. Thankfully People Can Fly employed a full color pallet and Judgment is the best looking Gears game to date. The character models have been reworked to make them look younger and more vibrant and they’ve done a great job at reinventing classic characters. The wasn’t any slow down during the campaign or in my extensive time in the online multiplayer modes, some pop-in can occur from time to time, but it does nothing to hurt the fun or diminish the game, it’s just because the Xbox 360 is getting long in the tooth at 8 years of age.
The campaign is really the dessert, the main course is the online multiplayer modes, or at least that’s how it was in the past. If Gears Judgment fails in any way it’s the lack of maps for the online portion of the game, the implementation of Free For All and Domination are great, but you’ll grow tired of playing the same maps over and over again. Of course there is a Season Pass for 1600 Microsoft Points that offers 6 new maps at a later date, but when you consider that Gears 3 launched with 10 maps, and Judgment with just 4, it makes you a little wary. Overrun is a new game mode that introduces class based combat to the Gears universe, gone is the clunky D-pad cycle, now you swap weapons with the Y button and toss grenades with the bumper, this is something that will take some getting used to if you’re a hardcore Gears Of War fan, many times I tried to hit the Tac Com and ended up wasting a grenade.
Gears Of War Judgment is very enjoyable, it offers the best and most entertaining campaign of the entire Gears franchise, the humor in the writing is entertaining and 4 player co-op campaign has never been better. The switch to a more modern controller load-out is a huge step in the right direction, it might tick off a few Gears faithful, but once they get used to it they’ll wonder how they lived without it. Early copies of Gears Judgement comes with a free download code for the original Gears, so that is a definite plus if you’ve never played a Gears game and you want to play the prequel and then the original. All of the replay value is back, the collectibles and fun are all here, the new Smart Spawn systems makes for a completely different game each time you play it. The lack of maps in the multiplayer is troublesome, but there are more maps and game modes on the way, there is a lot of content in Gears Judgement, but the lack of maps out of the box brings down the score overall. The other thing that is a bit of downer is the lack of a true Hoard Mode, yes we have Overrun which is a combination of Hoard and Beast Mode, but it’s not the same, so while there is innovation in Judgment, it comes at a price and that price is a fan favorite mode like Hoard Mode.