Gears of War: Judgment Preview (Xbox360)

From the beginning, you know the end. Emergence Day is something that any Gears player will have heard so much about and yet know so little. It’s where it all began; it’s where Dom lost his wife, it’s when the Locust first appeared… it’s a pivotal moment in Sera’s history, and if you were going to carry on with another Gear’s title, but not a direct sequel, then covering Emergence Day would be a smart choice to do. Microsoft and Epic Games specifically polled their audience to find out what they wanted to see next, and the first of two key results was to see what happened during Emergence Day.

Which I suppose explains why, in Gears of War: Judgement, you don’t see Emergence Day at all. Still, at least they followed the second key result, which was the fans wanting to see more of Baird. In Judgement, the loud-mouth sidekick is in command of his own team as they fight their way through the town of Halvo Bay, thirty days after Emergence Day when the Locust threat is very real, but not overwhelming. Told in a backwards fashion, Baird and his team are on trial for treason, while Halvo Bay crumbles around the COG military force – it’s a great insight into the hubris of the COG before the start of the first Gears game, which by then is when everything really had gone to hell. During the trial Baird and his team are required to give testimony about what they’ve been up to, and it’s during these testimonies that the levels actually take place.

Free-for-all Gears. Should be interesting

The flow of the Judgement campaign is a lot more start/stop than in previous games. Levels are broken up into sections, and at the send of each section you are scored and rated on how well you did. For each section, you can earn a maximum of three stars for every segment, and you use these stars to unlock content like characters, weapons etc… If you manage to get to 40 stars (which we don’t think will be too difficult), you unlock an epilogue campaign called ‘Aftermath’, which ties in with the events of Judgement but is set during Gears of War 3, and helps fill in some gaps with regards to what Baird and Cole got up to during that game.

It’s different; we’ll give it that – not sure whether or not the start/stop nature of the campaign will become annoying in the long-term, but gamers may be thankful for the regular breaks. Another feature the campaign has is built-in challenges. Since you’re telling a story, at the beginning of some segments you have the opportunity to ‘Declassify’ information, which essentially means you change something about the telling of the story, and thus the level. Declassifying information makes that portion of the level harder, but allows you to earn stars easier, so it’s very much a risk/reward trade off. Furthermore, if you fail to meet the added objections – for example on challenge may be to only use Locust weapons, then you essentially fail the mission and have to start again. It’s done segment by segment, as opposed to level by level, so you may choose to declassify in one part, and then not like the extra conditions on the next part and skip it, and then choose to declassify on the part after that, and so on.

You have to keep those defences maintained to keep the Locust out

No Gears game would be complete without multiplayer, and in Judgement you got both a serving of the classic Gears set-up and some new stuff as well in the form of new game-modes, and a class-based system that tries to force some more coherent team-work. OverRun and a free-for-all mode mark the new additions to Gears multiplayer, with OverRun being the class based mode where you have to defend a central objective from waves of Locust – if you fail you get pushed back, so there are several chances to make a solid defence. Levels feature static defences that only an Engineer can keep repaired, whilst only the medic can revive people before they have to re spawn, and only the soldier can drop ammo, and so on. This almost forced co-operation is a risky strategy, given how hollow team gaming can be when not played with people you know.

At the moment, Judgement still feels and plays a lot like every other Gears game – whether that’s a good thing or not is down to you. Fans might appreciate an insight into the earlier days of the COG-Locust War, but really it remains to be seen whether Judgement answers more questions than it aks. Microsoft have to be careful that the Gears franchise doesn’t get too stale, and to be honest there’s not a lot here that truly inspires. Halo 4 may have ultimately disappointed slightly, but at least at the time it looked exciting and tried new things. There’s no such experimentation that we can see here so far. Gears of War: Judgement is due out on Xbox 360 on March 19th 2013 in North America, and March 22nd in Europe.

Most Anticipated Feature: In all honesty, whilst it looks like a well-made game, there’s nothing in particular that really strikes out. It’s just more Gears.

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