Gears of War: Judgment is actually the fourth release in six years in the exclusive Xbox 360-only series, and this time, Marcus and Dom step aside to give Baird and Cole the limelight.
Apparently before the whole affair began, Damon Baird was just a wiseass lieutenant in command of Kilo Squad, with Gears regular Augustus “Cole Train” Cole. Along with the two other members of his team, he fights the Locusts in the first few battles of the war in and around Halvo Bay, the city at the center of the action. If you like blasting aliens in the face with your sawed-off shotgun, you’ll find a lot to like in this one.
With the conclusion of the Gears trilogy, which eliminated the Locust and Lambent threat (and killed off several characters, notably Marcus Fenix’s brother and sidekick Dom in Gears of War 3) and saw humans struggling to rebuild their planet, the story had ended, but apparently game developer Epic Studios and new additional developer People Can Fly decided they had a lot more stories to tell in that universe. So they went back to the very beginning, and came up with the prequel story of Kilo Squad, on trial for treason as the game begins. We have more of the same action and madness that is the hallmark of the Gears franchise, and some new stuff.
Essentially a prequel that starts 14 years before the first Gears of War, Judgment starts with our four protagonists, Baird, Cole, Onyx Academy cadet Sophia Hendricks and seasoned veteran and COG conscript Garron Paduk, in chains, appearing before a COG tribunal to answer some charges that we will come to know about as the game plays on. Gears of War: Judgment unveils itself in a series of flashbacks as our heroes testify as to their doings in the battles that take place. In the aftermath of Emergence Day, the first Locust and Lambent strike against humanity, Kilo Squad has to defy orders to save the planet from the enemy.
Amid the tired old mechanics, there are several new things that Gears of War: Judgment comes up with, and they are mostly winners. For one, there is the new multiplayer objective-oriented mode called OverRun that lets teams of five players alternate between COG soldiers and the alien enemy Locusts, and it’s the first time a competitive, class-based experience has been introduced in Gears of War. Another first is Free-For-All: up to nine players can compete for survival, even COG soldiers against COG soldiers, and is a do-anything-you-can battle for solo dominance, throwing out everything you know about team play this time.
Another new thing in Judgment is the use of the optional Declassified Missions, which is essentially a game modifier that adds challenges to your standard missions, like time limits, adding special objectives or forcing you to complete the missions with only a select number of weapons or limited ammunition. These modifiers give an added boost to your rankings, which come up with every mission. You also experience more challenging gaming situations, achievements and scenarios by uncovering critical information during the mission.
The game unfolds as we hear the testimonies of the various characters, and you take the character that is doing the testimony, and you relive that character’s moments as the character goes through his/her story. You get slightly different character qualities this way: the wisecracking Baird, the reliable Cole, the hesitant Sophia, and the bitter, angry Paduk. You play through around six or seven missions per character in the single-player campaign. Multiplayer, like I’ve said before, has plenty of new stuff for you, and some improvements to old stuff: for example, Horde Mode is now known as Survival Mode, with some slight changes.
(One thing that has always bothered me about the Gears of War series is the fact that you literally had a hard time dying. You got shot down, and your teammates can revive you and bring you back as long as it’s within the generous time limit the game gives you. If your teammates aren’t within easy reach and can’t get to you right away, your health slowly degenerates until you die, but that hardly happens. That feature is still in this fourth iteration, and it sorta still rankles with me. Kinda.)
I’m still in the middle of the game and haven’t finished it yet (hey, it just came out a coupla Tuesdays ago), so I can’t give you the full, complete skinny on Gears of War: Judgment yet (I’m currently in the first few missions in Cole’s Testimony, after going through Baird’s, Sophia’s and Paduk’s), but I think it’s a great first look at this latest edition of the Gears franchise. There’s an additional single-player campaign called Aftermath, which goes through a missing mission from Gears of War 3 involving Baird and Cole, but I have yet to get to it.
When I finish, and if I find some other things about the game I think you should know about, I’ll be back with an update. But for now, we’re all good. Wish me luck.
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