Gears of War: Judgment review

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.

 

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Review: Halo 4

 

When I first heard that Microsoft was not only retaining the rights to the Halo franchise, but also creating another trilogy of the games, I wasn’t very happy. I was of the opinion that the Halo franchise, which had seen a slide over the last few years (ODST anyone?), should have been retired. I paid little attention to Halo 4 during its development and had no inclination of buying a copy on release day. I was done. And then the game actually released and I started hearing reviews – good reviews – about the game. Thus motivated, I acquired a copy of it around Christmas time and took a look to see what all the fuss was about.

What I can tell you right now is this – Halo 4 is an excellent installment in the legendary franchise and is one of the strongest entries yet. The basic Halo formula hasn’t changed since the first game and remains strong throughout Halo 4. You’ll still have your turret defense sections, your vehicle sections, and the other typical scenarios that fill out an FPS game. The classic elements of the shooter haven’t evolved much throughout the years, and at this point it’s more of a case of acknowledging their presence and moving on. However, 343 Industries brought along plenty of ways to mix up the experience, including a few stints in the new Mantis battlesuit, a low-visibility environment that forces players to use the Promethean Vision upgrade, and the return of space combat. Though most of these sections were short, they did an excellent job at breaking up the traditional crawl of previous Halo games.

What surprised me the most upon my first time playing the game was how much the sound quality had improved. Now, that’s not normally something I pay attention to, but it was impossible to miss this time around. The weapons all sound beefier, the explosions more intense – even the squealing of Grunts as you mow them down with a SAW were all much louder and high-pitched (in a good way, of course). The graphics also showed some slight improvement from Halo: Reach, creating gorgeous backgrounds for the Chief to battle through. In addition, 343 Industries gave us a dedicated sprint button in Halo 4 without forcing us to swap it out for a separate armor upgrade. This is a much-needed fix that I think most fans will agree with.

However, the strongest feature of this game though is its story. The Master Chief, formerly an almost-entirely silent protagonist, is far more talkative in this game and we’re able to learn a lot more about his personality simply because he’s no longer mute. Cortana features a lot of development as well and her relationship with the Chief is one of the primary plot arcs of the game. We’re also finally treated to a development of the mysterious Forerunner race that’s been hinted at throughout all of the previous games and whose technology has been the primary driving force behind the previous Halo games. Though by the end of Halo 4 much of their history is still a mystery, we’re given just enough information to make us want to learn more. If 343 Industries plan on making a trilogy, they’ve got a lot of room to work with and a lot of lore to fill in. Consider me on board for the next installment.

I was very happy to learn that the Covenant are no longer the primary antagonists of the game. However, I was subsequently disappointed that their forces made up about 75% of the enemy encounters in the campaign. Killing Grunts, Jackals and Elites was engaging for the first five games, but it’s beginning to lose its luster as the franchise progresses. The Prometheans, on the other hand, were much more interesting due to their unique tactics and weapons. The first time you encounter the enigmatic warriors is an excellently scripted battle sequence that leaves you both exhilarated and wanting to find more of them. It’s a pity that they’re lacking in the variety department – the Knights operate in almost the exact same way as Elites do, and at most there were only three different enemy types to fight. In the end though, I’m happy with the overall gameplay.

Along with the new enemies came new weapons, which were mostly disappointing. While the Incineration Cannon proves itself to be an awesome and interesting gun, most of the Promethean’s arsenal consists of reskinned versions of human weapons. While to a certain extent I can understand – a shotgun is a shotgun is a shotgun, after all – there is no excuse for creating a half-dozen new weapons that are functionally no different than any of the previous ones. You would assume that the Prometheans, who have had millions of years to develop weapons, would have evolved beyond the standard assault rifle/shotgun/pistol mold that their contemporaries use. Evidently that was not the case. Their weapons do feel slightly more powerful than the human or Covenant equivalents, which is really the only good thing I can say about them. On the other hand though, the new human guns (such as the Railgun and Sticky Grenade Launcher) were immensely unique and fun to experiment with.

As of this writing I have not experienced Halo 4 online multiplayer, but what I’ve seen so far is intriguing. The randomized spawning of weapons in Slayer is a great addition to the game, since it removes the possibility of sprinting straight for the most powerful weapons. The maps I’ve played on so far have been well-designed and offer excellent variety as well. In addition, the Infinity missions sound like a great step forward by offering players story content and additional missions long after they’ve completed the Halo 4 campaign. I’ll talk more about the multiplayer experience when I get the chance to play more.

Despite my nitpicking, Halo 4 is overall a solid experience throughout and I would recommend that any Halo fan – or a new fan looking to get into the franchise – should pick up a copy.

OVERALL RATING: B+

Pros: Excellent single-player campaign, weapon sound effects are vastly improved, Master Chief and Cortana become much deeper characters, randomized weapon spawns in multiplayer

Cons: Repetitive weapons, few innovative sections, Covenant as primary antagonists.