Friday, April 5, 2013

Review: Gears of War: Judgment (Xbox 360)

So, I am super late with this one but I will claim distraction due to Game of Thrones Season Three starting up and Bioshock Infinite coming out only a week after Judgment. Of course, I played on the Xbox 360 as this is a console exclusive. Regardless, here is the review for Gears of War: Judgment.

The cover for Gears of War: Judgment.


Unlike my last review on the new Tomb Raider, I have been playing Gears of War since the original came out and my friend got me to play it just to scare the shit out of me. As the Gears of War saga has moved on, it became less of a fright and more of a straight cover-based shooter. The story of Marcus Fenix ended with Gears of War 3. This new game, titled Gears of War: Judgment, focuses on Daimon Baird and Augustus "Coletrain" Cole before the events of the original Gears of War, right after E-Day. These two are fan favorites and are known for their constantly witty banter as well as inappropriate, but well-timed jokes.

And that was, at least, somewhat of what I expected in this game. However, I got pretty much none of it. The game focuses around the trial of Kilo Squad, which consists or Lieutenant Baird, August Cole, Garron Paduk, and Sofia Hendrick. The squad is being tried by a clearly deranged Colonel who thinks it wise to hold a court martial in the most obvious place while under siege by the Locust. Each section of the campaign is told by a member of the squad and you play as that character. The premise is a little weird and makes little sense.

Kilo Squad, assembled for trial.

The writers are clearly different from the last Gears of War, as this effort was developed by People Can Fly apparently under the direction of Epic Games. They seem less comfortable with the characters or it might just be that Baird and Coletrain function better as the comic relief and occasion conflict characters. This is especially apparent when playing the Aftermath mini-campaign which is available once you gain enough stars (no, not those kind of stars). Aftermath feels and play like Gears of War. The pacing is different, the characters seem more lively (never thought I would describe Gears of War characters as lively), and the story is simply more interesting.

The problem with prequels in an environment like Gears of War, is that anyone who has played the first games knows that the city of Halvo Bay is ultimately fucked. It is even worse using characters that you know survive to go onto the next game. No main characters die, at all. Not even the deranged Colonel who pops out near the end and gets gun-ho and all buddy-buddy for no apparent reason. How can I care about the predicament of the characters if I already know the two main ones survive.

This is where a game like Halo: Reach pulled it off correctly. I already knew that Reach was fucked, but I did not know about the characters. Sure, all of them died, but Bungie actually made me care and you truly felt like no one was safe, not even the player. Judgment may have functioned better if you had a completely new set of Gears so the player does not already partially know the outcome. And, again, it is sad when the mini-campaign after the game is better than the main campaign.


Judgment does not deviate all too much from the typical gameplay of the Gears of War series. Taken down to its bones, it is the same third-person, cover-based shooter it has always been. Some alterations are definitely enjoyable, while others are hit or miss, so let's dive into a few of them right here.

First off, the "Declassify" mission are actually a fun addition. Typically, players will go through Gears and stick to a few specific weapons as crutches due to comfort and what is available. The "Declassify" mission force you to alter your style of play by changing the types of enemies, changing your weapons, change the player attributes, or putting a time on specific sections of the game. I can imagine that having a full co-op game with everyone only using Boltok pistols and Boomshields on Insanity is probably a ton of fun. Even on solo gameplay it provides some interesting moments.

Get used to seeing this screen a lot.

One thing I was not to fond of is the campaign scoring. I am typically a big fan of this but the star system used, instead of just straight numbers, seems like an unnecessary dumbing-down to make it easier for players. I also wish there was a way to turn it off and the awkward scoring screen that has to come up after every mother fucking section in the game. It makes you stop to often and ruins the flow of what could be an okay game. Instead, I feel separated from the game because there is no flow.

The controller configuration changes rub me the wrong way as well, but that may only be because I was so used to how they were before. There was really nothing wrong with the control scheme and it just felt like it was changed just to be changed. I do miss being able to hold two primary weapons, a backup, and a grenade all at once, but I can live with that change.

These are the controls now.  Get used to them.

Horde mode is gone, at least as anyone knew it before. In my opinion, Gears 2 had the best Horde mode with Gears 3 seeming to add stuff that just does not fit into the game. Now, it is called survival and is a ten wave, objective based romp through very similar maps. In fact, all the maps in the game are basically long corridors divided on different level of heights and with a few random walls thrown in between. This "Survival Mode" would have been fine if it was in addition to Horde Mode as a sub gametype, but that simply did not happen. The Overrun gametype in multiplayer is just a copy of Survival Mode with both side being playable on the same maps.
Besides the Breachshot, this is my new favorite weapon; the Markza Rifle.

Speaking of multiplayer, I actually found some positive here. Due to the expanded weapon collection, the traditional Shotgun spam is somewhat diminished. A lower-power, faster-firing, sniper helps this as well as simply having larger maps with more open spaces, diluting the Gnasher's effectiveness. Still, I really found nothing drawing me to keep playing the multiplayer as it just wasn't enjoyable enough. I will say, however, that the class structure for the COG in Overrun was somewhat interesting, but seemed like it needed some more balance.

An engineer at work in Overrun or Survival.  Kind of hard to tell the modes a part.

Again, the medals and ribbons return in Judgment as well as the live tracking of these stats, which is one innovation I deeply thank Gears for. As before, all achievements will also be tracked during your gameplay and displayed to you every so often when you hit certain milestones.

Graphics and Audio:

So the graphics do look slightly nicer in Judgment. This is probably helped by their strict 'sectionalized' structure of the campaign that has you loading a new section during every stat screen. I am amazed that I actually found myself missing the Locust architecture present in Gears 2 and Gears 3 as well as the utter desolate landscape featured in the original Gears. With these upgraded graphic, it is a shame that we are not treated to more nice panoramic landscape, which are only really seen in the Onyx Island portion of campaign or during the Aftermath Campaign.

So, a little sharper than Gears 3.  From

Characters look sharper than before but that sharpness does not seem to carry over into multiplayer. Though there are new models and locales, the entire trip through Seahorse Hills feels like the lackluster romp through residential Vegas in Rainbow Six Vegas 2. In other words, it sucked. Not only did it feel entirely out of place in a Gears game, it didn't look good at all, specifically the textures.

In terms of audio, not much changed at all with the sound design. I play in stereo since I lack a surround system but that would likely add to the experience for Judgment. The new weapons do not sound all that memorable but nothing was ruined. It still sounds like a typical Gears game.

The voice acting is just okay. I didn't find anything particularly wrong with it but we have been hearing two of the main characters for the entire Gears of War series. Sophia sounds forgettable but the lone Grosnayian soldier of Kilo Squad, Paduk, is at least interesting, albeit extremely stereotypical. I didn't realize, however, that the Pendulum War's were apparently fought between the US and eastern Europe.


All games have achievements or trophies now. Might as well critique them in a review then, since I consider them to be part of the gameplay. Judgment features you typical Gears achievements, but no "Seriously 4.0" sadly (like I ever complete them). This clearly a team that is new to achievements, however, since there are some serious head-scratchers in here.

Perhaps it is the weighting of the point per certain achievements, but only thirty collective points for all of the COG Tags in the game is a little shitty. And I know that they want to emphasize the campaign scoring and the Declassify mission, but a combined two-hundred and seventy point put towards those features is pushing it too much. Speaking of campaign, there is a ten point achievement just for watching the Aftermath trailer and a twenty point achievement just for unlocking that campaign. WTF?

And, as was introduced through title updates in Gears 2, leveling plays a role, though only up to fifty now, instead of a hundred. However, you can hit basically Prestige now, just like CoD. The basic leveling gets you a hundred and fifty-five gamerscore spread over sixty achievements. That is fine and sounds about right but you starting over via 'prestiging' will get you another fifty points three times over as there are three different achievements for it. That is called overkill.

It seems like they were struggling for achievement and just started taking whatever anyone suggest. Do us all a favor and actually utilize the levels and gameplay next time.


I think disappointing just about sums this up, don't you? I can't say that I had very high hopes for this game but I did expect better than this. The dismissal of Horde for the lackluster survival is almost as bad as Firefight being dropped for Spartan Ops in Halo 4. Almost. It is more the main campaign that eats at me. They had two of the most popular characters to play with in a time period that hadn't been touched yet. Not sure how you mess that up.

2.5/5 Stars

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