Reviews Gears Judgement.

Published on March 28th, 2013 | by Ben Gray

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Review: Gears of War Judgement

Review: Gears of War Judgement Ben Gray
Innovation
Value
Enjoyability

Summary: Colours, classic gameplay and sustainability rival imbalance, familiarity and a lack of innovation in a Gears built for the fan, not the newcomer.

3.5


User Rating: 4.3 (1 votes)
Gears of War Judgement was reviewed with a copy provided by Microsoft. Colour seems like a rarity in shooters, particularly the poster child of third person shooters, Gears of War. Environments are bleak, dull and uninspiring, and give little to feed the imagination in a medium where imagination brings so much to the table. Injecting vibrancy into an exhausted genre can be done easily, yet rarely ever is. Thanks to a different head at the helm, a franchise known for its monochrome ways has just found its vigor. From the onset, Gears Judgement feels like an arcade revisiting rather than the birth of a developed narrative, as its campaign clearly indicates. Whilst acts consist of short, sweet sections strung together by a universal setting for each, it feels like the right format for a shooter where satisfaction comes from the stylish execution or the controlled chaos. Stars are now earned in each section for gibs, executions and headshots – essentially the bloody aspects of Gears – and are earned faster through declassified missions, optional enhancers that ramp up the difficulty from reducing visibility to the constraint of time. In my Hardcore playthrough I attempted each and every one, and admittedly despite the subtle changes they bring, ultimately they create a challenge that reinforces the arcade direction in which the campaign takes. Get your shotgun out. Thanks to the prequel’s mostly pre-disaster setting, the game has a chance to show off something it couldn’t under the murky ash clouds and ruined landscape of post-E-Day Sera; colour. Banners hang high above an abandoned victory parade underneath blue skies; ironically one of Judgement’s best additions. Sera’s equivalent of Beverly Hills looks unscathed by the war that surrounds it, meaning firefights are all the more destructive; the flash of an orange explosion contrasting against the picturesque brickwork. The Unreal Engine as usual does a terrific job of bringing environments into full vibrancy, making this not only the best looking Gears entry, but demonstrates the pinnacle of the 360’s graphical power. If games can look this good now, imagine what they’ll achieve at the pinnacle of the next console cycle. However, the narrative is largely uninspiring. How Emergence Day is depicted in the events of Judgement seems nowhere near as disastrous or as catastrophic as it was proclaimed in the original instalments, and the plot itself feels like an isolated few days in what was a grandeur event. It is told through a series of flashbacks from the four soldiers’ perspectives followed by a final act in the present moment, and never seems to ever truly begin or climax; Judgement feels like a picked moment in time. Baird, Cole, Sofia and Paduk, whilst interesting characters, never seem to have the same chemistry that Delta Squad had; even Cole has lost some of that charisma and optimism that characterised him in the first three games. Overall, it never quite meets the extravagance of the trilogy’s conclusion, but is satisfying enough to captivate for the six or so hours you’ll spend working your way through it. Judgement’s weapon arsenal remains largely the same to Gears 3, with some new additions; yet these only feel like variations on other weapons; nothing feels inventive. Take for example, the Booshka – without the fancy name, it’s just a grenade launcher. The Breechshot and Markza fall somewhere between the Hammerbust and the Longshot, and the Tripwire Crossbow essentially shoots explosive traps. There are some new grenade variations; Stim-Gas can be incredibly useful with teammates especially on Insane difficulty, and the Beacon grenade spots enemies. Whilst the increasingly expanding arsenal is appreciated, it feels now that new additions are just filling in the gaps. Do we really need any more of the same? Is that... colour? There’s only one new enemy type in Judgement; the Rager. Albeit the only new foe, it does provide an interesting conundrum on how to approach it. Beginning like any other Locust grunt, unless gibbed or insta-killed, the Rager will quickly bulk up and transform into a relentless bullet sponge that on Hardcore feels reminiscent of L4D’s Witch. Does your entire squad waste bullets pouring lead into a single foe that could easily be disposed of with caution? In a hectic firefight with several Ragers waiting to potentially go berserk, it can prove exacting. Worth noting is a “deleted scene” from Gears 3 that’s included in the game as a separate, standalone act when having achieved a required amount of stars from the main campaign; Aftermath is an hour-long chunk that emphasises the vibrant, colourful environments of Judgement by taking you back to the contrastingly bleak world of the third game. Whilst set in the last Gears game, it still uses Judgement mechanics, and is nothing too stand-out apart from a nerve-wracking section involving lambent humans. Multiplayer has always been as significant of a component as the campaign has in every Gears game, and Judgement makes no exception. With Gears 2’s introduction of the fan-favourite Horde mode and followed on in Gears 3 by Beast mode, People Can Fly decided to combine the two with the introduction of Overrun. Class-based, humans defend emergence holes against the Locust team, being pushed back further into the map with every loss, holding off against a time limit. It’s an inventive, but unbalanced mode; the Locust have a significant advantage as defences are taken down within seconds (new ones can’t be made unlike Horde), Wretches can completely bypass most defences and Grenadiers can spam the emergence hole with regenerating grenades once in a position close enough to do so. For the humans, it is a constant struggle, almost reflective of the struggle posed on Emergence Day. However, a good enough strategy should be enough to scrape victory against the time limit. Not only has Beast gone because of this but so has the staple Gears mode Horde; in its place, Survival, a ten wave affair that is essentially Overrun with AI Locust and no time limit. Unlike Overrun, this shorter affair is a ridiculous challenge no matter how strong the strategy, and highlights the flaws mentioned in Overrun more prominently. Unlike Overrun where only five Locust troops can be on the battlefield at any given time, in Survival you’re pitted against plenty, and the inability to place defences means it’s unlikely you’ll see it past wave 7. Horde mode, whilst hardly an original concept, was at least void of these niggling issues. Judgement’s other modes are limited to Free for All, Domination and Team Deathmatch; a wise, more focused selection than some games that choose to have ridiculous amounts of playlists with little to no players on each. Self-explanatory, these modes do the job right. There have been some wise tweaks to multiplayer; Gnashers, which usually dominated above all weapons, now have limited ammo, and the perfect active reload has been removed to make firefights evenly matched. Big bugs. Despite its flaws, the multiplayer component is one built to last. Featuring a wealth of unlockable characters, character and weapon skins through “prizeboxes”, medals/ribbons to achieve, it’s bound to keep the Average Joe occupied for a good few weeks or months (likely depending on your love of the franchise). Declassified missions, dog tags and those star scores will have you revisiting the campaign; this is where its arcade approach proves effective for re-runs. Judgement will not convert any players who didn’t enjoy the franchise before, at its core is still the same bloody, cover-based gameplay that it’s come to establish over the years. Gears of War Judgement doesn’t do anything revolutionary or game-changing from previous instalments but does prove how a little reworking can go a long way. The lacklustre narrative lets down an otherwise fast-paced, varied campaign and some balancing issues ruin fresh modes. Enemy wise, there should have been more additions, but Judgement does enough to satisfy the Gears fan and justify itself as a full-priced affair. Review copy was provided by Microsoft

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