Since 2006, the “Gears of War” franchise has been one of the staples of the Xbox 360’s exclusive library. Epic Games has told a story of redemption for series protagonist Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad in their fight against the Locust Horde. “Gears of War: Judgment” sees the series in the hands of a new developer, People Can Fly, and takes the limelight off Marcus and shines it on Damon Baird, the smart-mouth engineer of Delta Squad, who led his own squad during the early days of the Human-Locust War.
Set 15 years before the events of the original games, “Judgment” places players in the role of Baird when he was the Lieutenant of Kilo Squad. Under his command is series regular Cole, along with new characters Sofia, an Onyx Guard recruit, and Paddock, a veteran of Pendulum Wars who served in the Union of Independent Republics against the Coalition of Ordered Governments. Kilo Squad is brought before a tribunal to explain its actions during the battle of Halvo Bay, a city on Sera inspired by West Coast cities like San Diego. What follows are a series of flashbacks that reveal what led up to Kilo Squad being placed under military arrest. This setup is a unique idea that has a lot of potential for the story, which proves to be nothing more than serviceable at best. This does not necessarily make it bad, but compared to its predecessors, “Judgment” seems to lack at many points during the story, which is only hurt by a less-than-stellar ending boss. However, this does present one of the game’s unique additions to the campaign, the declassify system. These are modifiers that appear just before combat encounters and provide variety by changing the encounter by restricting players to a certain weapon, limiting visibility, etc. This, along with the new smart spawn system that varies enemy spawning in these areas, gives an extra level of challenge to this new “Gears” game. This adds into the new scoring system, with stars being totaled at the end of each section. Earning three stars on each section unlocks a secondary campaign, titled “Aftermath,” set during the events of “Gears of War 3” when Baird, Cole, and Carmine return to Halvo Bay to find a ship to help Marcus.
The multiplayer has also seen some significant changes, including the change to Horde mode and Beast mode. In their places are survival mode, a variation on Horde that has players defending different positions on the map from AI-controlled locusts, and overrun mode, a class-based competitive mode with one side controlling human and the other spawning as locusts. These two modes change up the normal “Gears” gameplay by encouraging much more movement around the map rather than the normal cover-based, slower style of play. This creates a much more chaotic multiplayer than past games, and while these are fun, the lack of Horde is not going to sit well with a lot of faithful fans of the series.
People Can Fly, to its credit, has changed up the normal formula of the series. Putting Baird up front and removing Horde mode, as mentioned, may not sit well with a lot of series fans. That being said, this is still a very solid and fun game that is definitely worth checking out if you have the chance.