Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Gears of War: Judgment Review

In the world of entertainment, prequels have the opportunity to go back before the events of a main storyline to offer some insight on how certain characters got their start as well as to show the events that led up to the main storyline in a given series.  The results can be good, but sometimes the tale that is told isn't as interesting as it should have been.  Gears of War: Judgment is one of those examples, it's set before the events of the first game and it focuses on one of the other members of Delta Squad, Damon Baird, but as we find out, his tale isn't that interesting.

Set before the events of the first Gears of War, Judgment follows Damon Baird, who was originally a lieutenant and in charge of his own squad known as Kilo Squad, which includes Augustus Cole, who would later be part of Delta Squad, Garron Paduk, and Sofia Hendricks.  They are standing trial before Colonel Loomis after performing an unauthorized launch of a lightmass missile to try and kill a Locust general named Karn.  From there, the events that led up to the launching of the missile and the squad getting arrested is shown in flashback and it's where the majority of the game is set.  Besides the main story, there's also a bonus section called Aftermath that can be unlocked and it shows how Baird and Cole got their hands on a ship during the events of Gears of War 3.

Despite having an interesting narrative setup, Judgment's story never really takes full advantage of the narrative.  Not a single moment in the main campaign was memorable or interesting, and the main bad guy of the story, General Karn, is one of the most forgettable villains I have encountered in a video game.  The Aftermath section is also forgettable as well, unless you're familiar with the story of Gears of War 3, you may find yourself not that interested in the events that are happening, even though Aftermath does have some connections to Gears of War: Judgment.  A former Kilo Squad member joining Baird, Cole, and the third Carmine brother, Clayton Carmine, as they try to find a ship, and we learn what happened to certain other characters from Judgment as well.

The third person shooting is largely unchanged in this installment, but some changes have been made to both the controls and gameplay.  Swapping weapons is now handled by pressing the Y button and grenades are now thrown by pressing the left bumper, these controller changes aren't significant, but it does make the controls much more smoother.  The larger changes have been made to gameplay with the introduction of a ranking system and special modifiers called Declassified Testimonies.  At the beginning of a level, there will be glowing Gears symbol presenting an optional modifier that has varying conditions.  Choosing to accept it will result in one of many different modifications to the current level, including additional special enemies, being only allowed to use certain weapons, or having to beat the level before a time limit expires.

Accepting the challenge will also increase the rate at which you can earn stars, of which there are three to earn, and you can fill up the star meter by also killing enemies or for eliminating them in certain ways.  At the end of a level, everything gets tallied up and you earn stars, but you will get penalized if you went down and needed to be revived during the level.  This concept works and it provides a good incentive to replay levels.

Most of the enemy types and weapons are pulled from other games in the series, the only new enemy type introduced is a Locust soldier that transforms into a violent, rampaging beast once it is shot up enough.  Weapons-wise, there's a sniper rifle that has a large magazine clip and a grenade launcher that fires bouncing projectiles.

The gameplay is still enjoyable but where it falters is in the lack of variety during the main campaign.  Almost every level in this game is just one shoot-out after the other, outside of one level where you take control of a suit of armor that can easily lay waste to enemies, there are no other vehicle sections or anything else to keep the game varied.  In contrast to some of the changes mentioned to the gameplay, the Aftermath section does not feature a ranking system or use of the Declassified Testimonies, but it is still decently enjoyable.

As expected, the visuals of Gears of War: Judgment look really good, with no real problems at all.  A nice touch is that since the game is set only a few weeks into the war with the Locust, the world of Sera doesn't look entirely decimated, and some areas have noticeable bright colors to them.  Additionally, the voice acting is also good, and you can expect some fun one-liners to be spouted off by the members of Kilo Squad.

While Gears of War: Judgment  is still a good game, some certain aspects of the game, including the wasted potential of the story and lack of gameplay variety, make it feel like a step backwards when compared to the other games in the series.

Final Score: 7/10

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