ripten-review-gears-of-war-judgment

Gears of War: Judgment is a prequel to the popular third-person Microsoft Xbox 360 exclusive franchise, Gears of War, and it’s broken up into three essential elements; campaign, co-op, and full out multiplayer. What you think of Gears of War: Judgment will all depend on what you are looking for in the game.

Are you someone who enjoys playing the “story mode” then shelving the game and moving on to something else? Or are you the type who’s looking to play with friends online until the servers are shut down? Maybe you’re a gamer that wants both. Well, lets “dig in baby” and find out if Gears of War: Judgment is worth tapping into your Thrashball reserves.

Campaign

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The campaign mode revolves around the trial of Damon S. Baird and his Kilo Squad, consisting of the familiar, albeit younger looking, Augustus Cole, and two new members in Sofia Hendrik and Garron Paduk.

This is where long time Gears players are going to feel most at home, I know I did. A few interface changes and some minor controller scheme tweaks are more than likely going to take a little getting used to, but once you’re past the “oh shit, LB makes me toss a grenade” outbursts, the campaign feels very comfortable and familiar.

The chapters in Judgment were a little bland early on, but I felt that things picked up as I got deeper into the campaign. That said, the constant need to throw Mini-Horde Mode defense encounters my way grew old fast, and babysitting the sentinel automated turrets at my disposal quickly became more of a nuisance than a perk.

If I had to give one gold star to a single new component in this campaign, it would be the addition of “declassified” chapter variants. This option, initiated by interacting with what amounts to Gears of War red skull Death Omen graffiti just before each chapter start point, adds variety and difficulty to the campaign in the form of things like harsh wind, visibility impairments, larger enemy hoards, reduced ammo, weapon handicaps, and other surprises. I enjoyed the implementation of this element almost as much as I enjoyed the element itself. It’s the video game equivalent of embellishing the past, but instead of just listening to someone gloatingly recant their tale, declassified mode lets you relive it.

Collectors will be happy to know that Gears of War: Judgment has plenty of things to keep them busy in the form of ribbons, stars earned by achieving specific statistical benchmarks during the completion of each chapter, and goodie-filled lock boxes that range from normal to epic in quality. After each completed session you can access your character screen to sort through your earnings. Those looking to shed Microsoft Points won’t be left out in the cold, because as you might expect, some of the cooler character and weapon skins are still only available through purchase.

The biggest gripe I had with the campaign in Gears of War: Judgment is that, despite introducing a few new enemies, it was a little light on the “holy shit” boss encounters. In addition, the unlockable extra bit of campaign titled “Aftermath,” which takes place during the Gears of War 3 time frame, doesn’t make use of the declassified mechanic. The plus side for Aftermath is that it brings back some of the more elaborate sequences we’re used to seeing in Gears campaign mode. Finding a way to incorporate more of that along with the new elements unleashed in Judgment would be ideal.

Co-Op

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As far as co-op goes, Gears of War: Judgment supports up to four players in campaign mode simultaneously, with the only downside being that the game now always features four players at all times, even when you’re playing alone. This makes for plot limitations that cause the pace to feel flat at times. You’re no longer able to experience a chapter from the perspective of two characters, complete it, then experience it from the perspective of two different characters. However, if you’ve been dying to play campaign with three other buddies, here’s your chance.

While playing the campaign on co-op mode with my colleague, Michael Futter, he noted that a chapter he’d completed earlier on his own with a three star rating was overwritten by the same chapter we completed together at a two star rating. If he wanted to get his three star rating back, he would have to go and do it again. If this is working as intended it would mean that jumping in to help your friend with a level they are stuck on would penalize you and potentially make you think twice about doing so.

Outside of campaign (which features enough Horde Mode elements of its own) fans of Horde Mode will now have something called Survival Mode to keep them busy. This is essentially the same as the old Horde Mode but with a class based approach. You and up to four other people must decide upon either engineer, soldier, medic, or scout before taking part. You are then tasked with surviving wave after wave of Horde onslaught. Sadly, the waves cap out at ten and that left me feeling a bit cheated.

Multiplayer

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This installment of Gears of War launches with the fewest multiplayer maps (four) in the history of the franchise and to make matter worse it also has the fewest multiplayer modes (four) in a Gears game since the launch of the original back in 2006.

The breakdown of modes included in Judgment at launch are as follows:

  • OverRun: A mix of Horde Mode and Beast Mode with the same class class based twist found in the co-op Survival Mode. Being that this is the only multiplayer mode option that actually features Horde versus COG, it’s no surprise that this is what I enjoyed the most, even though the class limitations were a bit quirky and not something I necessarily was a big fan of. Respawns galore.
  • Domination: This mode is very similar to Annex in that players are asked to secure a trio of locations spread across the map. The first team to 250 points wins. Respawns galore.
  • Free for All: Pretty much self explanatory, this mode features ten players fighting to survive in an every man for himself environment. This is the only mode that I would have supported the exclusion of the down but not out element, but even then, I could see this mode working with it in place as well. Respawns galore.
  • Team Deathmatch: A respawn lovers wet dream. Five on five action with almost no penalty for rushing in and getting yourself killed. The lack of this mode in the original Gears of War release is one of the reasons why I gravitated towards it in the first place, and the series’ willingness to keep their non-respawn modes around even after they started adding modes like this down the line was the reason I continued to support and enjoy it.

Suffice it to say, I’m not a big fan of the “every multiplayer mode now rewards stupidity in the form of instant respawns” selection Gears of War: Judgement has to offer. The game no longer has a mode that doesn’t support player respawn, and it most likely won’t until the free Maxim pack brings back Execution mode on April 2nd. This is truly upsetting when you consider the franchise was built on the back of non-respawning modes like Warzone, Execution, and Assassination.

Microsoft and Epic are promising two additional modes as a part of their DLC package, which will also add more maps to the game, but there’s no information on these game types. It’s unfortunate that, not only does Judgment come with a scant four multiplayer modes and maps to begin with, but the publisher is forcing us into an additional purchase at the same time.

Here’s one of the maps you can’t play until April 2nd unless you purchase the VIP Season Pass.

Publishers and developers have become a lot more savvy since the original Gears of War hit store shelves in 2006, actively recruiting “monetization experts” to help them find ways to squeeze every last dollar out of a consumer’s pocket without leaving them feeling too taken advantage of. If the trend in gaming is to give us as little as possible at release then hit us in the wallet a few months down the line with downloadable content offerings you could make an argument should have been included in the first place, we’re all going to end up on our hands and knees bleeding out.

Modes aside, I couldn’t have been more disappointed in the overall approach to multiplayer in this installment. The maps are so large that the addition of vertical gameplay, with five on five multiplayer, often left me feeling like I was running around by myself. An always present on-screen retical makes sniping, boomshotting, and shotgunning from the hip so easy that our grandparents could do it while watching The Price is Right.

In a move that seemingly erases years of feedback from frustrated Gears players who were tired of getting tagged by grenades from an extended melee range, Gears of War: Judgment now allows you to tag your enemy with a grenade by throwing it in their direction. That should go over well.

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Wall planting grenades has been shelved in place of a Tripwire Crossbow that feels like an unnecessary change, but maybe that’s the theme behind this latest multiplayer iteration. Gone is the damage bonus for active reload too, and if you enjoy downing your enemy instead of flat out killing them you’ll be cursing this game in no time.

The series’ trademark “down but not out” is non existent in Gears of War: Judgment multiplayer, and without it you can’t bait the teammate of your opponent, pull of a gory execution, or use your enemy as a meat shield. However, when it comes to shields, the Boomshield is more overpowered than ever as you can now use it with almost any weapon (including the Boomshot and sniper rifle).

The most puzzling aspect of Judgment multiplayer is the omission of Locust outside of OverRun. The “red COG team versus blue COG team” approach is so generic that it made me want to toss my game out the window while screaming “you let the humans defeat you!”

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Conclusion

Giving the Gears of War IP to a new studio resulted in some interesting campaign advancements, but the stale and thin multiplayer offering that seems to borrow from other franchises more than it builds upon the legacy of its own taints this release. People Can Fly have turned Gears of War multiplayer into a cover-based-clone, difficult to distinguish from pretty much every other shooter on the market.

My judgement of Judgment is in. I hereby find this installment guilty of premeditated mass appeal modifications and sentence it to a lifetime of mediocrity with a slim possibility of bail in the form of DLC. In light of this verdict I shall refer to this game from this day forward as Gears of War: Combat Devolved.

Here’s The Rundown:
+ Declassified Mode is a welcome addition
+ The campaign’s mini Horde Modes are a nice (but frequent) touch
+ Four player co-op will please the friend list heavy
- Pretty thin in the boss battle department
- Survival Mode is a watered down replacement for Horde Mode
- Too few multiplayer modes and maps for the money

- Multiplayer changes have taken the game away from its roots
- More like Red vs Booo!! Bring back the Locust!

ripten-rating-6.0

6 and 6.5 represent a game that doesn’t do anything spectacular or drastically fails to meet the high expectations people had for it. These scores are for games that you would only recommend to diehard fans of the series or genre, something that the average gamer wouldn’t miss very much if he/she skipped it. A game in this range has rental written all over it.

Gears of War: Judgment was published by Microsoft Game Studioes and developed by Epic Games in tandem with People Can Fly. It was released on March 19, 2013, at the MSRP of $59.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review. The game was played to completion on campaign mode and roughly ten hours were spent playing the multiplayer mode before I threw my hands up in disgust and went back to Gears of War 3.