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Gears of War: Judgement (Xbox 360) Review

Judgement brings Gears of War back with a vengeance in a prequel that you’ll actually want to check out.

Prequels can be such a touchy exercise. For the most part, you already know where the story goes and if you’re a fan- you probably know where it’s been as well. I can recall quite a few movie prequels that have tanked or gotten critical beatings over the years, but it seems like video games seldom go back to a time before a franchise began.

It was more than a little odd (I thought anyway) that the next Gears of War title was to be a prequel when it was announced. Was there really all that much to tell about the fall of the planet Sera and the humans who lived there that we hadn’t already seen in the original Gears trilogy? Apparently, the answer to that is a resounding ‘yes’.

Judgement is told as a set of flashbacks, or more appropriately – testimony, as fan favorite character Damon Baird stands trial with his squad in front of the seemingly insane Colonel Loomis for disobeying orders during the collapse of a city called Halvo Bay. Halvo was one of the elite hangouts of the human world, known for its mansions and wealthy folk. Was being the operative term there.

Many times during gameplay, the story flashes forward to the trial and the war torn chambers that it’s taking place in, then goes back to the past to continue the action. It’s not a ‘new’ story mechanic per say (not in film anyway) but it works effectively to convey just what it is that’s happening to the world. That being that it’s pretty much ending.

The game switches between Baird, Garron Paduk (a new character and former UIR soldier), Sofia Hendrick (Onyx Guard cadet), and Augustus Cole (who should need no introduction) for its playable characters. I was initially a little surprised by that as I had assumed that the only playable character would have been Baird as he was the central figure in the ad campaign.

As the character changes that you control, you also get a little more of a focus on that COG soldier and I really enjoyed the change of pace. If anything, I would have liked to have seen a little more difference in how the quartet played in certain situations- but I’m not going to complain too much because so much of Gears of War: Judgement is just so darned fun.

The gameplay is classic Gears, for the most part. It seems faster paced and more action oriented than past titles in the series and I’m not going to complain about that either. Running and gunning is way more forgiving than in the past, which is not to say that grabbing some cover is a bad idea mind you, but you don’t absolutely have to all of the time. It’s a nice evolution for the series and shows the different thinking that went on in development with People Can Fly’s take on the franchise.

While the gameplay might be a little different, the classic look and feel of Gears of War is intact. Gears titles have always been good looking games, but this one’s downright gorgeous. Judgement’s graphics are sharpened to a fine edge and are some of the best I’ve seen on the Xbox 360.

I remember reading a press release before the game launched and seeing that, as opposed to the ‘destroyed beauty’ of the first three games, this beauty was in the ‘process’ of being destroyed. That’s a big difference and it was one that it’s hard to not take note of in Judgement’s campaign.

The cityscape of Halvo is beautifully rendered with lots of tall buildings and signs of the former lives of the citizenry. The sense that you’re fighting in a warzone is never lost, even when the game goes to the more exotic locales of the Bay city.

Also getting a thumbs up from me is the audio presentation. The music is good, but perhaps the best thing about it is that it doesn’t get in the way at all- the voice work however, is excellent. It might just be me, but I don’t remember the chatter being as heavy as it is in Judgement in the previous three Gears of War titles.

Baird and his crew do a lot of talking amongst themselves as they take on the Locust and do even more chatting as they give their testimony in front of Loomis. For different parts of the game, the testimony comes in as a vocal track that’s laid over the regular game audio. It might sound like a little too much bu don’t worry, it pretty much only plays during down moments when there’s little to no shooting going on, so as not to distract.

Threaded throughout the campaign are ‘Declassify’ markers that appear as the classic Crimson Omen logo that the series is famous for. If you choose to activate one of these sigils, you’ll be thrown a variable that works its way into the story as testimony that went against the grain or was unsubstantiated. It’s a very cool feature and really can throw the player for a loop. I particularly liked the one’s that limited visibility. There’s something oh so creepy about hearing the Locust breathing down your neck and shouts of ‘Grind’ or ‘BOOM’ echoing out of  duststorm before you actually make contact.

One other interesting thing about Judgement is that there’s actually two campaigns. The first is Judgement and the second is called Aftermath. Aftermath takes place during Gears of War 3 and fills in the time when Baird, Cole and Carmine left the main campaign in that game.

More than just filling in the spaces in Gears 3’s campaign though (which didn’t really need to be done anyway), Aftermath tells the tale of Halvo Bay after Judgement ends. Halvo lies in complete destruction now and the sinking of Jacinto in Gears 2 wiped out much of what was left with a Tsunami. Aftermath also tells the fate of Paduk and Hendrick, answering any continuity questions before they’re even asked.

It’s a short and tight ‘campaign’ that’s really just is meant as a capper to the game’s events, places and characters. You’ll get to see the characters as their older selves and in their Gears 3 outfits again, as well as get hands on with some of the weaponry from the later time frame and even fight some Lambent too. Was it a necessary addition to the storyline? No, but it’s more Gears to play through and that’s not a bad thing. And it is nice to get things capped off nice and neat.

Judgement also comes complete with the requisite multiplayer modes. There is no Horde Mode, which may come as a shock to some, but you will find Overrun here to take its place. There’s also a Survival Mode that pits you against a set number of 10 waves of foes and some standard versus type stuff.

I’m not a multiplayer junkie by any means, but it’s nice to have an extension to the campaign for fans who want to take part in more front line fighting past the story mode.

Final Thoughts

I’ve played Gears of War right from the start of the first game back in 2006 and, while Judgement is essentially the same core experience, it really has made the world of the COG and the Locust feel fresh again. You have to give People Can Fly all kinds of credit for that.

There’s just so much going on in Judgement’s campaign and the graphics are easily the most colorful and downright pretty that the series has seen. You’re also seeing the characters of Baird and Cole from new angles (not to mention that there are straight-up new characters as well) and as more well rounded people instead of the backgrounders that they were in Gears 1-3.

If you’re a Gears of War fan, you’ll be hard pressed to not love the heck out of Judgement. If you’re new to the series, then (as they like to say in the comic book biz) this is a great jumping on point. Either way, you can’t miss with Gears of War: Judgement.

About Jason Micciche

Jason's been knee deep in videogames since he was but a lad. Cutting his teeth on the pixely glory that was the Atari 2600, he's been hack'n'slashing and shoot'em'uping ever since. Mainly an FPS and action guy, Jason enjoys the occasional well crafted title from every genre.

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