Friday, 29 March 2013

Review: Gears of War - Judgement (360)

Now that the Gears of War series has been ended, the only way to get more stories is to jump to an earlier time or give some side-stories. In Gears of War: Judgment we're getting some prequel. The method of story-telling for this game is an exploration of why Kilo squad was arrested and tried for treason.

The actual combat set-ups are told from the perspective of the tribunal; the dialogue sets the scene as you play. While Kilo squad has Baird and Cole as the core members we're familiar with, the other two members are Sofia (a by-the-numbers soldier who continually runs counter to the "by-the-seat-of-your-pants" style that Baird uses) and Parduk (the GoW equivalent of a brown-coat – on the losing side of the last war, but conscripted to fight the Locust horde. Now imagine what he would think about having the fight for the side oppressing him).

The squad dynamic is quite different with regards to the experiences of the previous games, but the action does not falter for this. Unlike previous games, the amount of perspective you gain for the franchise is almost worth the price of admission itself – getting explanations for more of the universe and getting an idea of what Sera looked like before the war dominated the planet is a definite plus.

The main game-play is much like we've seen before – creative balance of running and gunning with judicious use of cover to reload and take a breather for your health to recover. The core combat system returns un-messed-with to the sigh of relief of all Gears fans. Where Judgement stands apart from its' predecessors (or progeny, I guess, if you consider that it's a prequel) is the addition of the Declassify feature.

As you enter new areas you will see the COG emblem which you can interact with. By doing so, you can choose to challenge yourself in the next area with a handicap. These challenges run the gamut from half ammunition, forced to use only a specific weapon, reduced visibility, et cetera. Completing these challenges unlocks additional story dialogue and also gains you additional score for the level. Taking a page from the Devil May Cry franchise – your performance on the level is graded by your proficiency and by completing the Declassify challenges. For your score you are awarded stars which can be used for unlocks.

The level design and enemy wave design seems to have really taken a step forward this time – the combat is more fluid than previous versions. The former tried and true method of hunkering down and picking off the closest enemies does not have the effectiveness that it used to; enemy forces do a much superior job of balancing sniping with flanking so effective combat in Judgement has more movement than before. Even on replay of the same level, the spawn patterns for enemy forces change to some degree on each playthrough. Very impressive design.

Personally, I found the game flow to be a bit more uneven than previous games. With the scoring mechanic implemented, you go from the high of a frenetic gunfight to a tax-review scoring of your performance. If I can get the score without being stopped from what I'm doing, great! If you pull the lifeguard routine and tell me to stop running… you've just undone all the tension and excitement that you've successfully built up.

My only complaint is for the choice of characters – not that I have any particular issue with Cole or Baird it's just that, going in you know for sure who definitely won't die. Taking control of new or different characters in the franchise would have been preferable for this type of game.

All in all, I enjoyed playing the game – my concerns are mostly minor, but prevented the game from getting a higher score. Worth checking out for Gears of War fans.

- Tazman

The Good:
- Prequel with Baird and Cole – sure I'm cool with that
- Finally some exposition for the convoluted Gears franchise

The Bad:
- Kind of difficult to build tension in a prequel

Score: 8.5 / 10