Review: Gears of War: Judgement
Testify! Judgment shifts into gear.
Until I picked up Gears of War: Judgment, I had little experience with the GoW franchise.
When I say I had little experience, what I mean is I saw some people play the original at a party one time and watched for a few minutes.
I had also seen the covers of the games, and come to the conclusion it was mainly about roided up army men killing each other with chainsaws while wearing Warhammer power armour. After playing the Judgment I now realise I am a genius, because I absolutely nailed that description.
You might be thinking me reviewing a franchise I've never touched before is pointless, and if you are thinking that, please shut up, I have a thousand words to go. In many ways, it actually makes perfect sense to start with this entry to the franchise, given that it is set before the events of the original game.
You're in trouble! For the whole game.
In a narrative move I highly appreciate, Gears of War: Judgment begins at the end. Instead of focusing on some other person that people liked in the other Gears games, this time the main characters are super-muscular duo Damon Baird, who is a cheeky bastard, and Augustus Cole, who I would never dare to call anything except ‘Sir'.
They head up Kilo Squad, a group fleshed out (please do not twist my words into foul double-entendres) by Sofia Hendrick, who is the only squad member that doesn't look like she was breast-fed (once again, just because I said ‘breast' does not mean I am opening myself to criticisms) on anabolics, and space-Russian Garron Paduk (there is still a Russia in space).
The cast is fine, and there's enough of a dynamic between the team, particularly with the addition of Paduk who is joining his former enemies in a bid to exact revenge on his enemies, which as ever are the Locusts (or Locust; I wasn't sure if it was plural already. It's Vietcong! Not Vietcongs! You wouldn't say Chineses!).
So, right, narration. Judgment begins at the end (which should have been the tag line) with Kilo Squad facing a court martial for undisclosed reasons.
This is one of the coolest things about the game, because you get to participate in what feels a little like a murder mystery the whole way through: we must have done something horrible at some point. WHAT DID WE DO?! To find out, you play through each section of game as a chapter of each character's testimony; when Baird is testifying, you play as Baird, Cole for Cole, and so on.
This is livened up by the option to ‘declassify' each chapter, which is essentially activating hard-mode.
As soon as you activate declassified mode, a new set of rules comes into play. You might be forced to use just one or two of your weapons, or have hardly any ammunition, or you might get swarmed by fifteen million enemies instead of just eleven million.
It adds another layer, and it makes you feel like you're a little bit more in control which is really crucial in a game that is very firmly structured. Bust heads, win prizes.
Another important role of the Declassifying system is its effect on scoring points. That's right, like Donkey Kong, Pacman and Pong, Judgment has a scoring system, and it works much better than you might expect. Pulling off kick-ass stuff like blowing up heads and executing Locusts will earn you more points and more stars, potentially unlocking bonus content.
At the end of each section of testimony you're awarded points, and those translate into stars. Once the game goes live there will obviously be more people online and the competition this promotes will become more obvious, but as it stands it's a function that will work and that fits the narrative style nicely.
This is, after all, the soldiers telling their stories, and as such pauses and variations in every telling make total sense – you never tell the same story twice, particularly if you're a gigantic badass.
I referred to the storyline as a murder mystery before, but that's perhaps not quite accurate given the game revolves around you murdering people pretty much constantly.
What was accurate was the term ‘mystery', and in an attempt to retain that mystery (and because I got a press warning telling me I couldn't spoil the ending – always ruining my fun) I won't be giving any further details about the story here. Let's just say the story is solid and very much enjoyable, and you won't be disappointed by how things turn out.
What's even more not disappointing is that once you finish the main campaign, odds are you'll have collected enough stars to have unlocked Aftermath, an additional epilogue campaign that adds another couple of hours of game time. It's the Johto/Kanto of Pokemon Crystal, and it's much appreciated.
To look at, Judgment is lovely. I'm not a huge stickler for appearances anyway, and I tend to work on the basis that if it is noticeably ugly I'll mention it, but if it isn't leave it alone. In the same way, if there's something outrageously gorgeous, I'll probably notice.
I wasn't disturbed by anything I saw, and there were a few moments when I thought ‘that was pretty damn cool, actually'. It's slick and violent, and gory when it needs to be, and there was no point when I could really criticise how the game looked.
Same goes for sound; music in all the right places, bone-crunching melee hits and gunfire aren't particularly hard to get right these days (this is where I get mauled by foley artists and sound engineers; oh well, they, like me, never leave their bedrooms).
Bring a friend with drugs and/or snacks.
To speak of multiplayer, I must first explain something briefly. I hate playing games with people. I don't mean that in a vindictive, oh-god-life-is-hard-someone-bring-me-a-whisky kind of way (that would be good, though); it's just a fact.
For the most part I play games single-player and then I'll play online, but there's something I really don't like about having somebody watch me play video games. But after playing about an hour of Judgement's multiplayer I invited people to my house to play it with me. It's fun, and it's more fun with friends.
The best fun to be had is from the OverRun mode, which pits five players against wave after wave of Locust scum in a desperate bid for survival. It's class-based, and each is very different; the soldier kills stuff and drops ammo, engineers repair and deploy defensive turrets and sentries, scouts are snipers and recon experts, and medics throw magic healing dust to dead allies.
Each class is ‘vital', although give it a few weeks and I'm sure better nerds than me will have uncovered exploits to get away with not being a medic. Nobody wants to play medic. What mixes things up a little bit is the ability to play as the Locusts every second round, swarming over your enemies like a really ugly wave of minger aliens. Almost exactly like a really ugly wave of minger aliens, in fact.
Survival mode is essentially the same as OverRun, with the same class-based play, except this time you have to survive against ten waves of increasingly demonic minger aliens. It gets a little tough at times and requires genuine teamwork to nail, but there will be cheering when you finally complete the tenth round.
This is a very good game. It's not incredible, or mind-blowing, but it is very good. As an early-year release in what could well be the last year of great games for this generation, it's a front-runner against some strong competition.
Bear in mind this is coming from someone who is not a fan of the series, doesn't have any nostalgic investment in the franchise, and doesn't even know what a Marcus Fenix looks like.
If you are a fan of the series, this is clearly a must-buy for you. In preparation, I order you to hit the gym, order some Space Marine armour, and brush up on being six and a half feet tall with a chin you could break other chins on.
Replay Value: 9 for multiplayer