It’s one of those franchises that, being a set of exclusive titles helped build support for the actual system and with its main story conclusion attempted, rather poorly, to fool us into thinking that it was all over. Any molecules of mild worry that you wouldn’t get to saw any more Locusts into a gory mess are completely gone with the release of Gears of War: Judgment.
In this prequel, newly promoted Lieutenant Baird leads Kilo squad, members of which include the also familiar Augustus (Cole Train) Cole with new additions Sofia Hendrik and Garron Paduk. Kilo squad are on trial, having been arrested and the game acts out each soldier’s testament, allowing you to take control of each of them in a selection of rather short chapters. The mission is largely the same, kill locust, kill more locust, and activate a bigger weapon that will create a bigger bang to kill even more locust. A new antagonist, Karn is introduced but then you don’t see him again for a very long time so he may as well not be there at all. The story is largely thin on the ground for the entire experience and not a lot of thought has gone into much plot except to thrust from fight to fight in the Gears universe.
Thankfully though, the gameplay is still very much enjoyable as it was in the numbered titles. Levels are cut up into sections, usually involving a stand-off with Locust before moving on to the next area. Where there is improvements however is the addition of earning stars and the declassify missions. Setting out at the beginning of each mission you will see a familiar Gears symbol, approach it and activate it and you will be able to start an extra optional mission. This adds a little extra challenge and has the potential to make things a little bit more interesting. It could either add a time limit on the mission or only allow you to use certain weapons and in some cases it makes the enemies tougher by way of better tactics, or using bigger weapons than yours. It is a good distraction from how poor and uninteresting the story is by welcoming you into an added challenge. As a result, choosing the declassify missions also cause ‘stars’ to accumulate faster. The stars in question are a mediocre attempt at ranking your ability in missions but they offer a reasonable sense of achievement. They accumulate simply by killing enemies. Headshots and executions allow you to earn them quicker and gaining a certain amount unlocks the games epilogue. It’s actually a nice touch and all adds towards a more arcade like experience.
Of course, multiplayer has been a stand out feature in Gears of War for years now and Judgment is no different. In fact it is very much self-aware of multiplayer characteristics that have been praised in the past so much so that it has incorporated some of them into the single player campaign. Aside from the desire to be played as a four player co-op game, it also allows experience points and levelling up to be done in single player, of which I am very pleased about but there is also gameplay elements that creep in. Remember organising your fortifications with your friends when trying to best the number of waves you could be victorious over in Hourde mode? Well prepare to do a lot of that in Judgement’s single player for not nearly as much enjoyment. I enjoyed that way of playing at first but now it feels a bit cheap and lacklustre compared to some action packed sections from past Gears. A timer appears on screen indicating that you need to prepare before a wave is about to descend.
Multiplayer mode itself is pretty solid and reliable enough. It’s questionable why this is a full retail title rather than a large expansion for Gears of War 3 but there’s sufficient on offer. Overun is a great addition to the multiplayer mode rota, welcoming co-op play as choosing different classes lets you approach rounds in specific ways. You could choose the ability to be able to maintain the fortifications, be the sniper or perhaps you would rather be the loose cannon of your team, running into thick of the action at any given opportunity. Prepare for a bombardment of extra content being released. Customisation pages are overwhelmingly littered with items ‘available to buy in the Xbox Marketplace’ which makes it feel like a harassing street vendor but don’t worry, your gun shoots just fine no matter what colour it is.
The scale and impressiveness of how Judgment looks is not obvious. It feels like it should be but it takes a while to actually approach a point that makes you stop doing that weird run they do to observe around you. It’s a real shame they haven’t tried to really blow everyone away with this prequel. Nothing here really expands on the world’s timeline or universe as a whole. While obviously fun to play because it’s still Gears and I like Gears but no advantage has been taken to try and impress.
For a third person action shooter, Gears of War: Judgement is reliably fun to play, is home to another great multiplayer experience and a good enough excuse to play in this universe again. Another title can and almost certainly will be made and I hope that one is when they actually try to impress us again and include a worthy storyline to boot although I fear it will eventually become a multiplayer only title.