Gears of War: Judgement
There are two schools of thought when it comes to Epic's latest addition to the Gears of War series.
Gears of War: Judgment is either the swansong of a grizzly, much loved Xbox 360 staple, or, it sort of isn't. The previous title, Gears of War 3, for many was the magnum opus of the trilogy. Amidst gripping, furious, third-person shooter gameplay, it spun a passable yarn, and concluded the Gears trilogy on something of a high note. So where does Judgment go from here?
Set as a prequel to the trilogy, Judgment opens with stalwarts of the series, Damian Baird and August Cole (as well as some newcomers), in chains before a war crimes tribunal. They are held for their 'actions' on Emergence Day – the day of the apocalyptic alien invasion of their home planet, obviously. Gameplay switches between the characters as they re-count their testimony, episode by episode, in front of a miffed colonel. This fancy narrative technique is a step up from the usual Rambo-dross that the Gears' series is famed for. The addition of Tom Bissell to the Epic team (an award-winning novelist no less), is a concerted attempt to improve things. Even so, fans of the series will recognise the meat-headed approach to humour, plot and character. This was always going to be Die Hard rather than American Beauty, and the cringe-inducing one-liners come thick.
What has always set Gears games apart is their gameplay, and Judgment is no different. Fans of the series will be familiar with the run and gun format, diving from cover to cover, leaving a genocidal body count in their wake. The frenetic pace of the game is aided by the tweaked controls and smoother character animation. Most impressive though, are the truly cinematic set pieces. The destruction of the characters' world by the invading hordes has given the developers freedom to create (and destroy) a wonderful array of scenery. There are dark, sparsely lit corridors, as well as intricate, blue-skied, European cities – an improvement on the muddy palate of the preceding Gears games.
Judgment has plenty of features to keep gamers playing too: an additional unlockable campaign, and no lack of unlockable achievements. Like other Gears games before it though, the mainstay of longevity is multiplayer. Alongside the usual 'Free For All' and 'Team Deathmatch' modes are a few new introductions. 'OverRun' places five-player teams of COG soldiers and Locusts against each other, where COG soldiers must defend a point on the map. Players much choose between four different classes of character; each with different attributes, from soldier to medic, co-ordinating strategy between them. 'Survival' mode adopts this class system but requires players to battle against waves of Locusts instead. The gameplay is predictably frantic and hugely enjoyable. Particularly gruesome kills are met with suitably dark one liners: 'skull confetti' was one remark, after a run-in with an opponent.
Overall, Gears of War: Judgment is an outrageously fun game; Epic's approach has been evolution rather than revolution. There's nothing ground-breaking to see here, just lots of violent fun.
Gears of War: Judgement is released 22 March exclusively on Xbox 360