Gears of War ushered in this generation of consoles with a bang. The gameplay was innovative and fun, the graphics were breathtaking and it introduced us to one of the most interesting video game universes. Gears of War helped to build the Xbox 360, which makes it unfortunate that the franchise will be leaving the only console generation it has known with such a mundane entry as Gears of War Judgment.
It’s obvious from the beginning that Gears of War Judgment is a different experience than the original three. When starting you will realize that no longer do you switch weapons with the d-pad, you are only carrying two weapons with no pistol, and you must use the left bumper to throw grenades. All these changes won’t ruin your experience, and some such as pressing Y to switch weapons quickly will actually increase your enjoyment, but for Gears fans it will tweak you in the wrong way just a bit.
Aiming with the left trigger then pressing the left bumper to throw a grenade never felt right and not having a pistol to fall back on was a feeling that I never quite got used to. These changes felt very unnecessary and didn’t bring much in the way of improvement. If it’s not broken don’t fix it.
Thankfully as for the core gameplay experience People Can Fly thought just that. The basics are still there, with the active reloading returning and cover is still your best friend. Shooting grubs snapping in and out of cover and roadie running all still feel as enjoyable as ever, and Gears of War Judgment’s level design at times is far superior then the original three.
The game doesn’t push you towards a funnel anymore. Enemies are thrown at you and you are free to flank or move around. The level design makes for more intense and difficult combat. No longer do you run it snap to a wall and just stand there until the guitar rift sounds. Enemies can work their way around you without you knowing and there is constantly multiple levels, meaning that constant movement is necessary. It brings a needed strategic feeling to the Gears franchise. Unfortunately unlike the original Gears of Wars, Judgment doesn’t mix things up very well. Gameplay becomes very repetitive.
There are no vehicle levels or any massive changing of surroundings. Players will be given a room or area to clear of enemies and as soon as the enemies are cleared moved onto the next room with little reward for their effort. Unlike the original Gears of War games Judgment makes it too clear that you are doing the same thing over and over again. Judgment does bring a new tower defense mechanic to the table which is enjoyable as well as a scoring mechanic for each part of the level.
Each section you can attain a max of three stars based on how well you played. Attaining stars unfortunately doesn’t provide much benefit, aside from unlocking armor and “Aftermath” which is a campaign addition to the Gears of War 3 story. There isn’t much reason other than score hunting to get three stars, but if you desire to score hunt Gears of War Judgment provides you with the option to “declassify” the missions.
Choosing to “declassify” the mission will add challenges such as add enemies, make you use certain weapons and finish the section in a certain time. This in return will increase the rate at which stars are awarded for that section. Score keeping is one of the things Gears of War Judgment does rather well.
The game will keep you aware of how you are doing and how you are performing against your friends. All stats are kept, from number of kills, headshots and even executions. It was a blast seeing where I ranked and how many kills I needed to get to pass my friends in that section. Other than increasing your stars and score declassifying a mission doesn’t add much to the story.
Players follow the story in a retroactive style. As each character is asked to describe a different part of the story during the present time, and the player then takes control of that character and works through the previous events. The story isn’t very interesting and never gives the player a reason to care about it, and really only advances at the end of each chapter. There aren’t any twists or intense moments to be had, and the game never gives you a reason to care about the story.
The story and the length, you can beat Gears of War Judgment in about six hours, made Gears of War Judgment feel like a DLC package for Gears of War 3. At times it was hard to remember that I was actually playing a $60 game. The story was short and not very engaging and the characters weren’t very likable. Unlike the original Gears no character seemed very deep and enjoyable to get to know, and the A.I. at times makes you despise your teammates.
If you are lucky enough to have the choice to play the campaign co-op with friends do so. I played through the entire campaign by myself and at times my teammates were frustrating. Dozens of times they would walk in my line of sight or just charge forward into a horde of enemies. At times they would take their time reviving me even though I would be lying right next to them, and I had to do everything on the final boss with little help from my A.I. friends.
The enemy A.I. is at times just as bad, twice I was fighting a Reaver and it just stood there letting me fill it full of bullets until it exploded. Grubs more often than not take the charge mentality rather than flanking you or using the higher ground, and it’s far too easy to pull off a chainsaw execution even when surrounded by dozens of enemies.
A.I. wasn’t the only technical hiccup that I encountered while playing. Although the game isn’t littered with bugs I encountered a few, more than once I was stuck in aim mode and I encountered plenty of floating bodies. The graphics are starting to show their age as the surroundings and character models don’t quite give off the same awe inspiring sense that the original Gears of War or even Gears of War 3 did.
Gameplay: Same Gears of War feel with better level design, but gets old quickly.
Graphics: The game is starting to show its age as surroundings and characters look very mundane.
Sound: Using the same sound effects as from the original Gears of War and they are starting to get old.
Gears of War Judgment keeps a lot of the Gears of War characteristics and that’s a good thing. It’s still fun to snap into cover and shoot in third person. Although without a great story to follow and a repetitive gameplay it gets stale rather quickly, and then finally disappoints with its length. Unfortunately the Gears of War franchise exits the Xbox 360 generation with just an okay game.