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'Gears of War: Judgment' review (Xbox 360): A lightweight prequel

By
Released on Sunday, Mar 17 2013

'Gears of War: Judgement' screenshot

© Epic Games

A younger Baird and Cole star in 'Gears of War: Judgment'.


Release Date: March 22 (Europe), March 19 (North America)
Platforms available on: Xbox 360
Developer: People Can Fly
Publisher: Microsoft
Genre: Third-person shooter

Gears of War: Judgment is a franchise product. It has as much connection with the critically-acclaimed Gears of War trilogy as the Clone Wars animated series has to the original Star Wars trilogy.

Just like The Clone Wars has its merits, so does Gears of War: Judgment. The game brings new ideas to the table in both campaign and multiplayer, and mostly they work out fine.

However, this very much feels like a lightweight Gears of War experience, that lacks the substance, coherency and sparkle of the famed trilogy. Fans of the series may not be left angry by Judgment, but they might feel a little disappointed.

'Gears of War: Judgement' screenshot

© Epic Games

'Gears of War: Judgment' takes place shortly after Emergence Day.



Gears of War: Judgment's campaign plays out 14 years before events in the first Gears of War. The Pendulum Wars are over, and the ticker tape of the Coalition of Ordered Governments' (COG) victory over the Union of Independent Republics (UIR) has barely settled, before conflict rears its ugly head once more.

The chance to see what happened on Emergence Day, when the Locust Horde first waged war on humanity, is interesting. Seeing COG settlements, such as the lush mansions of Halvo Bay's Seahorse Hills, in a state of unfurling apocalypse offers a new take on the familiar Gears universe.
    The Declassified system adds replayability, an important aspect considering that the campaign is only around six hours long, considerably shorter than previous games in the series.
Declassified sees the story take the format of the trial of Kilo Squad for an alleged war crime, with past events being told in flashback.

Such an approach is often emulated these days, but the ability to play as different characters across the four-person squad, depending on the evidence being given, is an interesting idea.

The return of characters such as Baird and Cole is welcome, and the new additions, ex-soldier Paduk and rookie Sofia, work out fine. However, the campaign in Judgment lacks the coherency of other Gears games.

We don't want to give away too many spoilers, but the narrative revolving around taking down main baddie Karn just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

'Gears of War: Judgment' screenshot

© Microsoft Games

'Gears of War: Judgment' features Locust, familiar to those who've played previous games in the series.



Sure, this is a prequel and so has to fit into the Gears universe as it has already been told, but the game lacks the epic punch of the past trilogy.

There is none of the gruelling build-up to the battle against General RAAM on a speeding train, or the arduous and heart-wrenching mission to sink Jacinto, or the crescendo of assaulting the Azura island fortress in Gears 3.

But still, Judgment's campaign plays well and offers a different flavour to past Gears games. From the outset, the squad of up to four players are assaulted from pretty much all sides by Locust ranging from Tickers and Wretches, to Boomers, Serapids, Maulers and Mulchers.

This means the action shifts from hunkering down in cover and taking out enemies, to moving quickly and being very aggressive in your tactics.

If you found the previous cover-based approach tiresome, this shift may appeal. Enemy Ai is equally aggressive, but also not very intelligent, and sometimes the Locust just run aimlessly at you with no real strategy at all.

Judgment also throws every Gears enemy into the mix. Fighting the Corpser or Berserker in past Gears titles was an event in itself, but in the prequel they just pop up anywhere, robbing some of the previous sense of tension.


In the lead-up to Gears of War: Judgment's release, we were concerned that the action was too frantic and overwhelming. Thankfully, though, Bulletstorm developer People Can Fly have created a good sense of balance.

Things are much more fast and loose, but they aren't frustrating or irritating either. More good news comes in the fact that new ideas brought to the campaign generally work out well.

The Horde-style sections - which involve defending a certain area - work reasonably well, and there are great options to stave off the advancing Locust, such as remote guns and new crossbows that fire an explosive tripwire.

People Can Fly have also been careful not to overuse the Horde gameplay mechanic, meaning the sections never feel like a chore when they arrive. Indeed, some are genuine highlights, such as defending a beach against a D-Day-style Locust invasion.

Declassified involves being able to see the real version of events, not just the official line. Each campaign section has a red glowing onyx on the wall, enabling the person to switch to Declassified and essentially increasing the difficulty.

Sometimes this means being confined to certain weapons, such as Boom Shields and Sawn-off Shotguns, or getting through a section under a time limit. Other tasks force you to play under a disability, such as smoke grenades masking the view or wind blowing you sideways.

'Gears of War: Judgment' screenshot

© Microsoft Games

Baird holds down the fort.



The incentive for going Declassified is that you earn stars more quickly, a key factor in getting full completion across all difficulties. The system also adds replayability, an important aspect considering that the campaign is only around six hours long, length which is considerably less than previous games in the series (and yes, it certainly feels short).

Also adding extra length is Aftermath, a second campaign that is unlocked by beating the main story. Aftermath takes place during the final stages of Gears of War 3, and reveals the events when Cole and Baird were sent off by Marcus Fenix to get reinforcements to help storm Azura.
    This very much feels like a lightweight Gears of War experience, that lacks the substance, coherency and sparkle of the famed trilogy.
Aftermath is fun to play, adds extra context to Gears of War 3 and provides a good bookend to Paduk and Sofia's story. But it only adds around 90 minutes of extra gameplay, and there are no Declassified missions.

While the Gears of War: Judgment campaign feels a bit lightweight, things improve with the multiplayer. Overrun borrows elements from both Beast and Horde modes, and then combines them into a new competitive challenge.

Latest images for Gears of War Judgment

© Microsoft

Horde mode's features - such as deploying fences - see a return through the campaign.



Two teams of five become either the Locust or the COG. The Locust must wipe out the COG's base, and the COG must stop them from doing so.

As the Locust, you start off with Tickers, Wretches, Grenadiers, and Kantus, but good performance unlocks Corpsers, Serepids and other monsters.

While playing as the COG means a defensive strategy, becoming the Locust means switching up your tactics and working together to distract the COG to enable one player to mash away at their base.

Survival is a more conventional evolution of Horde, involving a five-strong team defending boarded-up Emergence holes. After one hole has been breached, you move on the next one in a different part of the map. Once that goes, you have a last ditch defence of a COG generator.

The goal is to defeat ten waves of increasingly tougher Locust and still have the generator intact - and an E-hole if your team is particularly good.

'Gears of War: Judgement' screenshot

© Epic Games

The Rig multiplayer map.



With fewer waves and staggered objectives, the mode feels distinct to Horde, and also more manageable in terms of individual sessions, which will be a plus to some players. Survival also shows the importance of getting a balanced team, especially when it comes to classes.

There is much more of a focus on these in Judgment. COG teams really need to have at least one Medic, Scout, Assault and Engineer to succeed, particularly in Survival. All these players must closely follow the action and apply their different skills when required, which offers a new flavour to multiplayer.

Alongside Overrun and Survival, there are other traditional modes like Team Deathmatch, Domination and solo Deathmatch mode Free for All, which are all fun to play and continue the successful principles of past Gears of War games.

To sum up, Gears of War: Judgment is not a bad game, but one that very much stands in the shadow of its more illustrious predecessors. It is a bit like going back to a favourite restaurant, only to find that the management has changed and it's just not quite the same anymore.

Sure, you'll still have a pretty decent meal, but you'll also leave yearning for days gone by.

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