Gears of War: Judgment Xbox 360 Review
So, if you’d played through the regular Gears of War series, you already know what happens with the Locust, and what happens to the people on the planet Sera. If you haven’t, this is review going to try to be a spoiler-free as possible. Well, at least in relation to the rest of the series. However, there are a few things about the series that remains the same – your enemies are subterranean creatures called the Locust, the world’s major power source is a fluid called Immulsion, and the world is going to hell because the Locust are tunneling into human cities and killing anything besides them that moves. With Epic Games and People Can Fly still having Microsoft Games as a publisher, it’s also still an XBox 360 exclusive, which is something of a rarity these days.
As this is a prequel, it follows most of the rules. It starts well in the past in relation to the main series – fourteen years in this case. It focuses on characters seen throughout the series that aren’t main characters – instead of Marcus Fenix and Dom Santiago, the central characters include Damon Baird and Augustus Cole, who were with Marcus and Dom almost every step of the way. It provides background for the original games, specifically starting thirty days after the event that is the impetus for the whole plot. Most importantly, as a good prequel, it diverges effectively from the format of the original while still keeping to its spirit.
So, why is the game called Judgment, pray tell? Well, for one thing, you play as four different characters. Along with Baird and Cole, you also have sections where you play as a former UIR soldier turned COG recruit named Paduk and an Onyx Cadet named Sofia Hendrik. They’re all on trial for using a Lightmass missile without authorization against a target that the COG military brass believed could be taken down with conventional weapons. The player controls all four characters at certain points, because of the conceit that lasts for most of the game. Basically, five-sixths of the game are told in flash-backs.
The action takes place almost exclusively in a city called Halvo Bay, which was one of the first cities in the COG that the Locust attacked. The trial is being overseen by a man named Loomis, a man so intent on holding the trial that he’d rather stay in the judicial building instead of evacuating to a more secure location. He stays completely calm even as he’s made aware of soldiers under his command falling to overwhelming Locust forces. Loomis insists that Baird testify first as CO, but from there it turns to whoever seems the most relevant at the time. The final two chapters wind up having you in control of Baird as well. In the present, the justice center falls under constant attack, and finally the fight at the courthouse spills in to the trial area. Although Baird and Cole obviously escape execution for treason (they’re part of the original series, after all), they do get penalized.
The overall game play definitely takes advantage of the flash-back motif. The game play is actually scored, with stars being a measure of the success of play. Each section can get up to three stars, making for a total of 126. Technically, that is the maximum number of stars that can be earned on any of the three regular difficulties, and getting stars on higher difficulties cancels out lower ones. However, playing on the unlocked difficulty gets stars that both do not wipe out previous stars, and add to the regular count. If a player is having trouble with getting stars, they can choose to up the ante a little bit with Declassified Missions. These serve as modifications to the story, adding to the challenge, but also rewarding a player with a simpler path to three stars in a section.
As far as the combat goes, the controls and style are the same as the main series, and it is the right choice. The original formula is intuitive, and functions quite well. The weapons list is still roughly the same, with COG, UIR, and Locust weapons being available. Of course, the variants of the weapons offer some interesting trade-offs. For example, the COG shotgun has more shots available, whereas the Locust one has a higher stopping power. Similarly, the COG Longshot is a high-power sniper, whereas the UIR Markza is a mid-range sniper with a clip instead of a bolt-action fire. Players can fight how they want, because weapons litter the ground, at least on Normal. That includes melee fighting – the chainsaw gun is still in the game. It makes for a very fun experience.
The multi-player mode is similarly fun to play, even though there are only four modes available. While the PvP for most of the modes is human-versus-human (save for Overrun mode, which is Locust versus COG), it winds up being quite enjoyable. As most of the ribbons are earned in multi-player – though some can be gained in campaign if you’re good enough – this is where you also manage to get more of the bonuses in the game. You can unlock quite a few cool things, mostly skins for specific weapons and multi-player, player titles, and character models, for playing well. Tied in between the two is also a leveling system that acts similar to regular military simulators, allowing you to reset it after hitting fifty. Overall, the multi-player experience is quite fun, even with only four levels available for non-VIP members.
The game is not without its flaws. There are times where the game can seem a little choppy. Head shot kills sometimes do not record as head shots, even though they’re intricate to scoring. The levels are sometimes not easily navigable. The plot, although interesting and entertaining, seems to have some holes, especially because parts of it seem to lack purpose. Finally, the system to which you get used in the main missions is not present in the secondary Aftermath mission that becomes available after earning a certain number of stars. It means that somebody that isn’t used to shooters may not enjoy the game, making it more of a game for fans of the genre.
+ A well-made prequel that stands on its own
+ Game mechanics that make the story central
+ New characters that work well for the story
+ Varied weaponry options
– Some confusing level designs
– A few failures to record scoring bonuses
– Elimination of a system in additional content
– Game style limits the potential audience
Overall Score: 8.5/10