Video Game Review: Gears of War: Judgment [Xbox 360]

Gears of War: Judgment [Xbox 360]

Gears of War: Judgment
System: Xbox 360
Genre: Third-person Shooter
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Epic Games, People Can Fly
Release Date: March 19, 2013

No matter what happens to the Gears of War series in the future, Judgment is always going to be an outlier of sorts. After Epic Games released the fantastic conclusion to its trilogy in 2011, it seemed the book had been shut on the series, at least until the next console generation. Since the sequels were released with 2-3 year gaps in between, it came as a bit of a surprise that a fourth entry was to be released just over a year after the last.

Gears of War: Judgment is a prequel that takes place 15 years before the original trilogy, so it basically has free reign to try out some new ideas. Some work, some don’t.

This time around the campaign has been reduced to a series of brief, arcade-style missions, and most of them can be completed in a matter of minutes. The main emphasis is on getting a high score and acquiring ribbons based on how well you are playing. Each mission has a 3-star system, and the more kills you get, the faster the stars fill up. All of this is tied into an overarching XP system that lets you level up and customize your selected character.

Within each mission is an option called Declassification, and their purpose is to provide an extra challenge by changing the environment settings, restricting you to a certain weapon loadout, increasing the amount of enemies, and so on. By accepting this option, the stars fill up faster, and you can gain more XP. Some of these tweaks are interesting, but I never found it too difficult to get three stars without accepting these bonuses.

Gears of War: Judgment [Xbox 360, 2013]

There is also an extra chapter set during the Gears 3 timeline that offers the traditional series gameplay. While this add-on can be finished in an hour or less, it’s nice to at least have that option to play the familiar way.

With such a focus on high scores, the campaign offers little in the way of a well-developed or exciting plot. The four main characters — Baird, Cole, a Russian vet and a female ex-journalist — are on trial for treason, and each chapter of the campaign shows their different recollections of the questioned event. Unfortunately, there are very few, if any, memorable setpieces, and the dialogue is sparse and devoid of any of the trademark goofy humor the series is known for. Those looking for the Gears campaigns of yore will be greatly disappointed.

However, even though the campaign does feel lacking in many ways, I did have a lot of fun with it. The combat system is as smooth as ever, and the 4-player co-op is an absolute blast. It’s easy to drop in and out of other players’ campaigns, and if you get a good group together, it’s one of the better co-op experiences on the 360.

Gears of War: Judgment [Xbox 360]

The competitive multiplayer mode has also received a major overhaul. Gone are old favorites such as Horde, Guardian, Warzone and Wingman. In their place are two new modes — OverRun and Survival — as well as Team Deathmatch, Free-for-All and Domination.

Both OverRun and Survival switch things up a bit by allowing players to select different character classes for both COGs and Locust. COGs have four options: Engineers who can repair fortifications, Medics who can heal squadmates, Soldiers who can provide ammo, and Scouts who can spot enemies from afar. On the Locust side, there are eight types of monsters that can be controlled, ranging from Tickers all the way up to the vicious Corpsers (similar to the Beast mode found in Gears 3).

In OverRun, the COGs and Locust square off in a 5×5 battle with the goal being to either defend or destroy three objectives. This takes place on a very large map, and after every round the objectives are moved to a new location.

Gears of War: Judgment [Xbox 360]

Survival mode is this game’s answer to Horde, as it is basically a stripped-down version (no fortifications) where you are supposed to protect an objective while facing several waves of enemies. It’s an interesting twist on a tried-and-true concept, but it really just made me wish there was also a standard Horde mode.

For those willing to indulge, there is still a lot of depth to multiplayer, even with the lack of familiar modes. I have a feeling some favorites will be released as DLC in the future, but as for now there is still enough substance to satisfy most Gears vets.

I have to give credit to the developer, People Can Fly, for trying something new with Gears of War: Judgment. The weak narrative and arcade-style campaign will bother some, but the bite-size missions are addictive, especially when played co-op. The new multiplayer options are also enjoyable, even if it would have been nice to have at least some of the old favorites ready from the start. While certainly a lesser Gears title, it’s still a good one, and it has me excited to see what the next console generation brings to the series.


Video Game Review: Gears of War 3 [Xbox 360, 2011]

Gears of War 3 [Xbox 360, 2011]

Gears of War 3
System: Xbox 360
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Epic Games
Release Date: September 20, 2011

Everyone’s favorite testosterone-fueled action series is back. Closing the books on the trilogy (although I feel we haven’t really seen the last of it), Gears of War 3 features everything gamers have come to expect from the series: juiced-up alpha males, disgusting monsters, lots of big guns, and non-stop gore and violence. It’s more of the same, but a hell of a lot more refined. This is the definitive Gears of War experience.

Gears 3’s campaign places you in the role of Marcus Fenix, again, as he battles the Lambent and Locust who are trying to take over the planet. During the early moments of the game, Marcus finds out a startling revelation: his father may still be alive. Together with his group of fellow COGs, including series compatriots Dom, Cole and Baird (among others), Marcus embarks on the journey to find and save his father, while also attempting to put an end to the overrun of monsters at the same time. It’s well-written, as far as Gears plots go, but there are a few groan-worthy moments when the developers attempt to tug the heartstrings. I get what they’re trying to do, but it’s hard to get emotional about characters who do nothing but shoot bad guys and spout off cheesy one-liners. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very entertaining adventure, but some of the plot mechanisms felt a little too forced.

Still, most people don’t play Gears of War for their stories; they play for the action gameplay. I am happy to say that the third-person shooter is at its best here, as it’s clear that Epic learned a lot from the first two games and opted to make the finale the best experience possible. There are new guns, new enemies and new locations, all of which are utilized with a flawless combat system. Moments of intense action are broken up methodically with well-timed (yet brief) quiet spells, leaving a superbly-paced adventure.

Gears of War 3 [Xbox 360, 2011]

While the campaign is a strong ten hour affair, Gears of War 3’s shining beacon is its sheer amount of game modes and options. The campaign itself can now be played with up to four players in co-op, and there’s even a new arcade mode where gamers can earn points based on their play. Other new inclusions are a revamped horde mode and a new beast mode, both of which require teamwork to succeed.

Horde 2.0, as the improved mode is now labeled, has the same core gameplay in the form of fighting off waves of increasingly tougher enemies over and over again. However, there are new elements in place that give it a light tower defense feel as well. Now players can build defense mechanisms to slow down and injure bad guys, and cash is used to purchase ammo and new weapons. The new depth is a welcome addition to an already great mode, and it is a blast to play with a group of friends.

Beast mode is a spinoff of Horde, but this time players take on the roles of the Locust and try to kill the COGs. This is another great idea, and I am a little surprised that this is the first appearance of the mode.

Of course, I would be mistaken not to mention the Versus mode, another staple of the Gears series. This is where standard multiplayer gameplay occurs, everything from team deathmatch to Execution to King of the Hill. Matchmaking has been majorly improved, and it takes a matter of seconds to join a new game — no more of the endless waiting and laggy gameplay that plagued Gears 2.

Players can now earn XP by completing various in-game tasks, and it’s not just about killing as many opponents as possible anymore. There are a variety of ways to play the game and earn XP, and this amount of depth is a major plus. For those looking for a deep online experience that isn’t Call of Duty or another first person shooter, Gears of War 3 offers an excellent alternative.

Gears of War 3 [Xbox 360, 2011]

As expected based on the first two games, this is a dark and gritty visual experience, although there are a few areas where there are signs of vegetation — a pleasant surprise, indeed. It’s still a fantastic looking game, one of the best on the system, and it has a powerful musical score to boot. Epic really went all out to ensure this was a deep experience.

In short, Gears of War 3 is a more than worthy send off to the series (if that is the case). While the campaign may be the weakest of the three, it is still a lot of fun and deserves to be played through multiple times, especially as there are now different ways to do so. Multiplayer is the best yet, and should have a thriving community for quite some time. Fans of the series should consider this a must buy, no doubt. Well done, Epic. Well done.