2013 seems to be the year of prequels and reboots. Last week, it was “God of War 3,” “Tomb Raider,” and “Devil May Cry” – this week is “Gears of War: Judgment.”
When “Gears of War” came out it in 2006, was very innovative and original. The “Gears” series is a third-person military action game that set the standard for games of its kind. Despite being exclusive to the Xbox, “Gears of War” has gone on to be one of the top best-selling games of all time, and with good reason. “Gears” is one of the hallmarks of the action shooter genre with its polished controls, epic cinematics, gory kills, breathtaking graphics, and great story.
The story is about war between a seemingly unstoppable subterranean enemy known as the Locust and the human army called the Cogs. The original trilogy revolves around a specific group of Cogs called Delta Squad as they launch a last-ditch effort to save the human race. If you have played “Gears of War,” you know the story of Marcus Fenix, Dom, and the rest of the crew, but with “GOW: Judgment,” we get to hear the tale of what happened before the events of the original trilogy to leading up to Emergence Day, or the first appearance of the Locust Horde.
In “Judgment,” you play as the Kilo Squad, telling the story of Baird and Cole Train before we meet Marcus and Dom in the events of “Gears 1.” The action in “Judgment” is just as intense as the older games, and it's really cool to learn about some of the back-story of the other characters as they fight to save the city of Halvo Bay.
One of the most immediate things you notice when you first dig into the campaign is the tone is very different; the Kilo Squad is not as grizzled and battle-hardened as the crew of later games. They are young, brash, and full of attitude. It's nice seeing these characters in their formative years and watching their first reactions to the overwhelming circumstance of the new invading Locust Horde.
Another thing that is interesting to see is the story of the other characters in the squad that where involved in the conflict. “Judgment” introduces Garron and Sofia, and they couldn't be more opposite. Garron is a former enemy of the Cog that has joined to fight the Locust, and Sofia is young disobedient girl that wants military success. Their constant bickering adds some levity and helps set the tone for the Kilo Squad.
The story starts with the Kilo Squad under arrest and in military court. The game is retold through their accounts of how and why they are in trouble. The story has always been pretty good, but where the game really shines is the gameplay. This is an interesting way to tell a story, but it loses some of the grand appeal of the other games because you don't have a sprawling adventure; it's just a bunch of missions strung together. It's cool, but it doesn't have the punch the other games have had.
Something new in this addition is the Declassification System, which changes the gameplay by adding conditions to each fight that you have to meet, such as impaired vision, stronger enemies, or another array of extra challenges that dramatically alter the standard game we have come to know. One thing that is good about Declassification is you receive a ranking on each level and you can compare it to leaderboards and also replay missions on the fly to get better scores, adding a lot of replayability to the game.
Even though the main campaign is pretty good, most people play “Gears” for the multiplayer. As always, the multiplayer is a cut above the rest of the other shooters on the market. The popular Horde and Beast modes aren't here anymore, which is a bummer, but the new OverRun mode is an interesting hybrid of the two.
OverRun is the most entertaining multiplayer so far in my opinion. On one side, you are defending an onslaught of Locust, or you can take control of the Locust, which is a blast. Another interesting mode is Survival, which has you and AI partners defending generators from the Locust; it's very similar to Horde Mode, but not quite as good. The old matches, like Deathmatch and Domination, are also available if you are looking for classic gameplay.
In some ways, “GOW: Judgment” is better than the old games, even though it doesn't feel as epic. The game is just as polished as ever and creates a ton of replay value, especially if you want to play online multiplayer. Even if you don't buy any DLC, the game has enough content to keep you slaying Locust for a long while to come and is a fitting end to the “Gears” saga on this console generation.
-Robbie Vanderveken is the digital operations specialist at The Times Leader. E-mail him at rvanderveken @timesleader.com.