Gears of War: Judgment
It’s been just over a year since the Gears of War trilogy came to an end and although the exploits of Delta Squad have come to a finale, it doesn’t mean that the COGs are done telling their tales. Gears of War: Judgment takes storytelling down a different path than past Gears game, and most games in general. It’s a prequel story that flips between the past and the further past and gives you the option to dramatically change the way the game is played out. It’s a unique and refreshing way to play through a prequel that easily could have been the usual boring throwback story.
Judgment starts with Kilo Squad, a squad of four soldiers made up of the well-known future Delta Squad members Baird and Cole, as well as a couple of newcomers; the Russian sounding UIR soldier Paduk and an Onyx cadet named Sofia, in a court room trial that is taking place during an attack by Locust forces feet outside the courtroom. It would seem the “Judge” of this trial, Colonel Loomis, has a bone to pick with Lt. Baird and whether there is a war knocking on the courtroom doors or not, the trial will deliver a sentence.
Judgment is not a long game by any means and each of the 6 chapters are broken up into 7-8 missions, each mission– which can be played in single player or with up to 3 other players in co-op– is usually nothing more than an arena battle where you’ll have an objective to defend or a goal to reach. Each time you play through a mission however, the enemies will dynamically change. One time through you may face a squad a Maulers, but a reload of the checkpoint will give you a squad of Boomers instead. The other twist that comes with each mission is within the Declassifying option.
In each mission there will be a glowing Blood Omen you can activate that will tell you what the original court case stated and what wasn’t included – being the declassifying of information- that will add a modifier to the mission if you choose to accept it. Some declassified missions will add modifiers of non-regenerating health, specific weapons only available, blurred vision, etc. Each mission is different and there aren’t two that are the same. Using the “Declassifiers” makes each mission have an immediate and unexpected twist, and gives that “LET’S DO THIS” feeling.
During the six chapters of Judgment, each member of Kilo Squad has their own chapter where they deliver their testimony, and there is a constant voiceover from that character that explains in present time to Loomis what they encounter while you actually play through it. However there are two chapters that are focused on Baird and sadly it doesn’t give enough focus on Cole as a returning character. Regardless, it’s an interesting take on the “throwback” style of gameplay and one that is actually engaging and interesting, even if the gameplay is the same that any Gears player will know and be used– with few changes. The most noticeable of differences is the lack of having to use the D-pad to select weapons. The Y button allows you to switch between two weapons, and the left bumper is now used to toss grenades.
Incorporated within each mission is a system that allows you to gain stars. These stars are basically a way to unlock items for the multiplayer, such as skins, characters, etc. but to earn stars- a maximum of three per mission- you need to kill lots and die less. Each time you kill an enemy, your star meter will rise and when you drop, the longer you are on the ground, the longer your star meter will drop. If you choose to accept the “Declassify” within each mission- and you should not even doubt to do so- your stars will rise faster and allow you to hit the max three star rating faster. To unlock the additional campaign of “Aftermath” you will need to unlock 80 stars, but sadly the 6 mission extra campaign feels like an afterthought add-on.
Aftermath takes place during the Gears of War 3 campaign, and explains how Baird and Cole met up with Delta at Azura. It has nothing to do with the Judgment campaign and really feels like an odd addition. It’s not needed, although the extra exposition is welcome but feels totally out of place. Aftermath doesn’t really introduce anything new and reeks of a “was going to be DLC” vibe, although during its brief story, it does bring up questions and answers of what happened to certain characters from the Judgment campaign.
Just like every Gears game, there is a heavy multiplayer component, but sadly one of the biggest draws of previous games, the Horde mode, has been removed. In its place there is a Survival mode, where there are only 10 waves to deal with. The other multiplayer modes range from the usual Team Deathmatch, the newly introduced to Gears, but a well-known mode type of Free For All, as well as Domination; which is the Domination found in many other different games –three places A, B, C to overtake- and the newly added Overrun; which is basically a reverse Conquest mode where you have an objective to defend within a certain time limit and get pushed back each time you get overrun.
Judgment has a lot going against it being a non-Delta Squad game, not featuring the Marcus Fenix, and being the first Gears game in a long while, but it does things differently than other Gears titles –than most games in general– and for that, it is a fantastic and unique presentation that is absolutely worth playing through. If you decide not to choose each “Declassify” within every mission, you are robbing yourself of what the game’s narration and purpose is about. Make it difficult, and enjoy a story focused on one of the most memorable characters in the Gears universe.
Title: Gears of War: Judgment