Review: Gears of War: Judgment has a bad name, but it's a great game.
Forget the silly name. Gears of War: Judgment takes a distinctly different tone and shift towards a more arcade-like sort of gameplay that's light on story and heavy on action. It's the right direction to take, keeping Judgment from becoming just some superfluous prequel.
It’s been a year and a half since we’ve seen a Gears of War game, and in that time games have changed. Thankfully, so has Gears—gone are the big set pieces and instrumental narrative moments, replaced by quick, arcade-style campaign sections split across easy checkpoints.
While Gears of War: Judgment takes place years before the events of the original Gear of War, not much is different. You play as Baird instead of Marcus Fenix, but you still have all the same weapons, kick open just as many doors, and shoot plenty of Locust scum. Your characters still yell out the most ridiculous lines, but because of the drastic shift towards a lighter story it feels like a completely different game.
That said, the simple arcade-like campaign breakdown jives with one of Judgment’s biggest additions, Declassified missions. When activated, a set of parameters is displayed, altering the gameplay conditions and thus, Baird’s memory of the events (the game relies heavily on flashbacks as a narrative device.) These challenges are fairly unique, often limiting line of sight or the weapons you can use, bringimg a new dynamic of play into each scenario. These modifiers afford you the opportunity to change the game and keep it interesting, something that the series was in dire need of. There are a few Declassifed missions that are easy to miss though, so it quickly becomes necessary to start hunting for one before doing anything else after a section loads.
Unfortunately, this also comes at the cost of a proper story, which is all but absent from Judgment. You simply clear out Locust from room to room, stumbling upon a cutscene or character somewhere along the way. You won’t find any big cutscenes or serious exposition anywhere, as most attempts at shifting towards a somewhat serious tone come off as nothing more than laughable. In the end, Judgment’s story ends up being the most forgettable of the series, feeling like a last ditch effort to string together a series of fun skirmish scenarios.
Thankfully, alongside Judgment’s main campaign sits Aftermath, a continuation of the storyline from Gears of War 3. It returns to the classic Gears style of over-the-top narrative drama and big set pieces, ditching Judgment’s quick, arcade flow in the process. It’s a short return—about an hour or so—but ties in directly with the events of Halvo Bay in Judgment’s limited narrative, so it doesn't feel out of place.
Judgment’s new multiplayer modes are where the game really shines, with Overrun, Domination, Survival, and Free-for-All joining the returning Team Deathmatch.
The most interesting is Overrun, which tasks one team of COG soldiers with defending an objective from another team of Locust enemies looking to destroy it. If the Locust succeed and destroy the E-Hole cover, the COG fall back to another point and try to defend it, until they’re forced to fall back to the final position protecting their generator. It’s an interesting take that combines a Horde Mode-style of survival with multiple objectives, similar to Battlefield’s Rush gametype. It requires a unique, class-based strategy, no matter which side you’re playing as. It’s fun, and makes for one of the most well-designed Gears multiplayer modes ever made.
Overrun isn’t the only interesting mode—Survival manages to take the fast-paced, defensive nature of Overrun and amp it up with ten increasingly difficult waves of Locust enemies. It’s brutally difficult, even with a team of five on normal difficult. The game sends so many waves of difficult enemies at you in a row that it’s nearly impossible to run with the same strategy the entire way through. Instead, it requires you to be constantly communicating and evolving your strategy as the game throws random waves at you.
Despite a dull and forgettable story, Gears of War: Judgment manages to reinvigorate itself through the use of a new gameplay style that keeps things rolling and unique, thanks in great part to the wonderful addition of Declassified challenges. They shake things up and challenge the player in new ways, though they can sometimes feel a little predictable. Add in the fresh new multiplayer modes and Judgment marks a strong return for the Gears of War series that has me dying for more missions, even if that comes through DLC.