Gears of War: Judgment Campaign Hands-On Preview – Night at the Museum
Written Monday, February 18, 2013 By Dan WebbView author's profile
I’ve got to admit, it’s rather odd – especially with a franchise of Gears of War’s stature – that it’s taken us this long to actually get our hands on the campaign portion of the title. Usually, from a cynical games writer’s perspective, that means there’s trouble on the horizon and publishers are nervous about putting it into the hands of us critical monsters. What’s even odder is that after waiting a good nine months to play since the game’s announcement, there doesn’t really seem to be a valid reason to keep it out of the press’ hands.
Let’s get this out the way straight away: Gears of War: Judgment has the typical Gears high presentation values, plays like a Gears game and is a lot of fun. What it isn’t is a title that’s really raising the bar all too much for the franchise, though it does enough to say, “Look! There’s a lot of new stuff, plenty of tweaks and new approaches and we’re looking to deliver incredible value for money.”
Don’t think of it as reinventing the wheel for the Gears franchise, think of it as rounding off of a few edges, adding some rims… and maybe some badass spikes.
Taking centre stage for Gears of War: Judgment are fan favourites, Damon Baird and Augustus Cole, set 14 years before the events portrayed in Gears of War 1. Told via a series of flashbacks, you’ll follow Baird and Kilo squad as they recollect the events that lead up to their incarceration and subsequent trials that precede the game. As a soldier remarks as Baird and co. walk to their trial, it tells the story of how Baird went from lieutenant to war criminal in less than a week.
Our hands-on with the opening chapter of Judgment takes place in and around the Museum of Military Glory as the city crumbles around them and Locust descend upon the streets. It’s your standard Gears of War setting then, and the opening hour or so feels like your traditional Gears of War game.
What makes Judgment unique, and generally makes it feel like the most arcade-orientated Gears game yet is what Epic and People Can Fly are calling “Declassified” missions, indicated by a bright red glowing omen on the walls of every section. They go some way to assisting – and making the game harder – with what’s at the core of Judgment: the three star scoring system. They’re essentially mission changing objectives and scenarios that allow you to accelerate the speed at which you’ll gain stars.
In the opening chapter we were tasked with destroying Serapede eggs that hatched if we didn’t, clearing a room with a Nemacyst thrown in for extra inconvenience, taking down foes with just Locust weaponry and fighting heavier grunts, whether that’s Dark Wretches or Cyclop Drones. Yes, it makes the game harder, and if you don’t complete the objective, like clearing an area in a set amount of time, the outcome is deadly, but they all allow for extra challenges, a slightly different gameplay experience and you can rack up stars quicker. That said, accepting the optional Declassified Mission doesn’t necessarily guarantee you 3 stars, so don’t say you haven’t been warned. It is something of a risk.
It wouldn’t be a new Gears game without new weapons and new gameplay elements, and Judgment has a few new choice mechanics thrown in for good measure. The new simple control tweaks are among the most noticeable. It’s bizarre how being able to change weapons on the fly with the Y button and throwing grenades with the left bumper makes things so much smoother, but it does. Granted, it makes it a little trickier to plant grenades on a wall, but it’s still possible. The big one, for me personally, was what Epic is calling “mobile horde,” which is essentially horde style levels within the campaign – fresh with fortifications too, as well as mobile turrets like the ranged sentinel to help assist you. The new weapons I refer to are the; Markza, a medium-to-long range, medium power, semi-automatic sniper rifle; and the Breechshot, the Locust repurposed scopeless sniper rifle with a blade strapped to the underneath. Both interesting weapons in their own right, but nothing too innovative or game-changing.
Aside from the campaign, which Microsoft is saying will be longer than Gears of War 3, there’s a whole host of other options, especially online. That means things like 1-on-1 deathmatch are in, as well as the already announced OverRun mode, which is class and objective based – attack and defend – and has each team taking control of the Locust and taking it in turns to take down a COG defended target. Guess what? It works and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Balance wise, it didn’t seem like there were any glaring oversights. The extended OverRun mode, which works a lot like Battlefield 3’s Rush mode, was actually the highlight, tasking players with targets that they need to take down to open up their next target.
Gears of War: Judgment as an experience is definitely not an exercise in rewriting the tried-and-tested Gears of War formula, or even changing it up too much. Instead it’s tweaking it somewhat. If we’re being honest, it doesn’t feel like Gears of War 3.5 and feels more like an arcade-orientated spin-off rather than a true advancement for the series. If you were a fan of Gears of War 3’s gameplay, then you’re going to be a fan of this and with that being said, it’s still as impressive in terms cinematics.
With new additions like the campaign mobile horde segments, the more arcadey gameplay, the tweaked (and improved) controls and some of the new multiplayer options like Overrun, there seems to be more than enough to satisfy Gears fan’s needs until a new trilogy in the Gears of War universe emerges.
Check back next month for a more in-depth hands-on preview of Gears of War: Judgment's campaign. You know, when we’ve played a fair bit more of it. Consider this us just whetting your appetite.
Gears of War: Judgment is out March 19th and March 22nd in North America and Europe respectively.