Gears of War: Judgment Review:
Epic Games stated around the time of the release of Gears of War 3 that they were not stopping with a trilogy and that they planned for the Gears franchise to be a long-running endeavor. This was great news for me, since I’m a die-hard fan of the series and didn’t want it to go three and out like so many others have. I eagerly awaited the release of Judgment and got my copy as soon as I could; however, my excitement quickly gave way to disappointment.
If you play Gears for the multiplayer and not for the campaign, you’ll be suitably happy with Judgment. The game delivers a great online experience thanks to the addition of the class-based Overrun mode and by providing character customization with unlockable weapon skins. Beast and Horde modes are notably absent, but the remainder of the Gears multiplayer modes are still present.
If, on the other hand, you play the games primarily for their story – as I have – you’ll be immensely disappointed. Judgment’s plot follows Baird and Cole and their escapades immediately following E-Day, before Delta Squad existed. This in and of itself isn’t a problem. Rather, the telling of the story is where it falters. Epic Games took a more arcade-style approach with the campaign in Judgment, forcing players to stop every ten minutes or so as they show you your statistics for the previous section of the game. For hardcore players who want to check their KDA and other statistics, this may be a good feature, but for the rest of us who just want to enjoy the story, it’s an unneeded and unwanted distraction. Enjoying the story is difficult enough as is, given its simplistic writing. Two hours into the game, I was able to successfully predict the flow of the plot – there were no unexpected twists, no unique conclusions, nothing. Though Gears of War is hardly a franchise that bases itself around well-written games, it’s as though Epic Games didn’t give a care with Judgment.
My disappointment with the story notwithstanding, the gunplay certainly hasn’t gotten worse. If you simply needed more grub-killing in your life, Judgment delivers. The addition of the new Rager enemies, in addition to the godlike Booshka grenade launcher and tripwire crossbow, gives players incentive to make more tactical decisions in the middle of combat instead of blasting everything that moves. Judgment also only allows you to carry two different weapons on you at once, which forces players to think carefully about what loadout they want. The Boltok pistol is an effective long-range weapon, sure – but is it worth giving up your Markza? Questions like that and others occupied my playthrough of Judgment and certainly made for a more cerebral experience.
Another redeeming quality of the campaign was the addition of the “declassified” segments. This feature gives players a choice to increase the difficulty of the current mission in order to attain a higher rating. Interestingly, the difficulty increase isn’t limited to buffing enemy damage or health – rather, Epic Games found unique ways of challenging the player. This can come in the form of limited visibility, a forced weapon loadout, or by adding more powerful enemies to the stage. The best part of the declassified missions is that they’re all optional, and that failing on a declassified mission will dump you back to the beginning, where you have the option of turning it back on or leaving it off the next time around. Whoever came up with this idea should definitely be in line for a pay raise.
Outside of the unique declassified areas, the game really doesn’t bring much else to the table. Sure, there are a few new weapons, most of which are well-designed and fun to play with, and a new enemy type, but for the most part the game is just like Halo ODST: an expensive, over-glorified expansion pack. If you were into the Gears of War franchise for its combat, you’ll love what Judgment has to offer. However, if you were seeking more story and character, you’ll be extremely disappointed.
OVERALL RATING: B-
Pros: Declassified sections offer tougher challenges for hardcore players, new weapons are good additions to the gameplay, plenty of grub-stomping goodness.
Cons: Overly simplistic and boring plot, broken gameplay disrupts the flow of the story, removal of Horde and Beast modes.