Before Gears of War: Judgment even arrived there were two distinctive camps: those offering unconditional support for the franchise and those who already considered this prequel little more than a cash cow. These two audiences have already made up their mind, and surely the former will be enough to ensure the videogame’s profitability, but what remains is the less vocal populace; those who quietly sit on the fence.
For these gamers Gears of War: Judgment will provide the expected experience. It’s not exactly a videogame that furthers the argument for the power of interactive storytelling but nor is it shy of its high calibre shooting agenda. This is an action videogame after all, and you could well forgive its meat truck depiction of almost every character because, in reality, all they are is props to place a gun upon.
And with that firepower in position you will surely be entertained, as Gears of War: Judgment prides itself on being part of a series that has time-and-again received commendation for exactly that. All of the familiar mechanics return, from the active reload and lock-in cover system to the roadie run and cog tag collecting, but in addition Gears of War: Judgment offers the Declassified scenarios. Before every bit of combat you’ll find a large red glowing logo on the wall, offering you the opportunity to raise the stakes. This could be by limiting your abilities, adding new cosmetic affects that limit your range or increasing enemy capabilities, but choosing to accept the Declassified scenario will offer greater rewards. Namely in that of the new rating system.
Each combat section will offer you a rank out of three stars based on performance. These stars count towards your overarching level in the same way as the returning challenges (kill X amount of enemies in this manner etc.) and the multiplayer gameplay. Earning enough stars will unlock the second campaign, Aftermath, which is a welcome addition to the package seeing as how it continues the story after Gears of War 3 in the same way that a new downloadable content (DLC) package might. Sadly, the stars system seems to be a little misjudged, as it does force a break from the action far too frequently and will also be reset when choosing to begin the campaign on a different difficulty setting.
Coupled with these two campaigns are the multiplayer gameplay modes and Survival. The former is undoubtedly a highlight of Gears of War: Judgment’s package, with OverRun mode arguably the best innovation on offer. Here, two teams of five battle against one another in an effort to destroy/defend a generator. The cog team defend until the time runs out or the locust team are successful, with a rudimentary class system providing enough variety to keep things interesting long after it probably should. Of course, this gameplay mode is accompanied by team deathmatch, a free-for-all deathmatch and Domination gameplay modes as would be expected, but in place of a Horde mode is the aforementioned Survival.
Essentially OverRun played against waves of increasing difficult AI enemies, Survival is surely a nice idea on paper but fails to excite in practice. And this is perhaps the best summary of Gears of War: Judgment possible: it does exactly what we all expect it to. Developers People Can Fly shot to credibility after their PC conversion of the original Gears of War, and in Gears of War: Judgment they are once again being lead by Epic Games’ example. Gears of War: Judgment will perform well at retail and rightfully so, but in years to come it will stand as an aside, unlikely to be thought of as a genre defining title of it’s era in the same manner that Gears of War 3 surely will.