In 2006, Epic Games
brought grit, and a chainsaw bayonet, to the Xbox 360
launch party - and shooters have never been the same since. Seven years later and the third person cover shooter has become almost as ubiquitous as its first person alternative, with many still harking back to Cliffy B’s
Just 18 months on from GoW 3
has teamed up with Painkiller
and Bulletstorm (read our review)
developer People Can Fly f
or the fourth entry in the series, bringing in a host of changes and iterations which might just be enough to refresh a formula that was becoming rote.Gears of War: Judgment’s
first innovation is in not only shifting the timeline back 15 or so years but also abandoning long time stars Marcus and Dom. Partly, I imagine, because they’re really boring. Instead we get to spend some time with the much more personable Baird and Cole - yes that’s the Cole Train, a former Thrashball player.
Together with series newcomers Sofia Hendrick and Garron Paduk, the quartet start the game hauled up in front of a jury, just a matter of weeks after the horrors of Emergence Day. They’re charged with unlawful use of military hardware and asked to explain themselves, and the rest of the story unfolds, semi-Rashomon
style - with each of the four telling part of the tale.
This gives players the chance to jump into the boots of each of the four characters during the initial campaign, signalling yet another change for the franchise - four player co-op. So while you can churn through the locust scum solo with plenty of AI aid, there’s room for up to three friends to accompany you on your journey.
Rather than just ramping up the number of enemies to cater for more players, People Can Fly
has worked hard to make the sessions as engaging as possible. The encounters are frequently intense and follow the familiar form of corridors and pitched larger battles but there’s more variety than ever before, including siege moments where you’ll have to stock up on weapons and place highly effective gun turrets before a Horde-mode like wave approaches.
What’s more, levels are split up into bite-sized portions of a few minutes apiece meaning fatigue isn’t an issue, and each portion is crowed with a point score and a gift of a number of stars - which goes towards levelling your character. The rewards are constant and perfectly placed to keep your attention on the next goal. And Declassified missions add another inventive extra. These are essentially level modifiers which suggest that some elements were left out of the original mission report and gives you the option to put them back in. It’s a nice play on the nature of storytelling and also ups the difficulty considerably - ranging from more powerful enemies to changing weather conditions.
The campaign runs 5-6 hours depending on your difficulty, but it’s just a small part of what’s on offer. First up is Aftermath, which presents an entirely self-contained new narrative that neatly bookends the GoW
saga to date. You’ll hook up with Baird and Cole again in a story set during Gears of War 3
that gives you the chance to reconnect with Paduk and pick up some new backstory.Aftermath
doesn’t last that long, adding around 90 minutes of extra gameplay, but it provides a nice change of pace and tone from the campaign, with frenetic fights and a more claustrophobic, horror-movie feel - complete with some lambent zombies. And again you can experience it all with three other humans or alone with AI.
Naturally, there’s also the multiplayer. The original Gears
broke new ground in its competitive online modes, giving you the chance to chainsaw kill your friends. But simple Deathmatching is no longer enough and thankfully there’s a wealth of new content here.Survival
is a separate multiplayer mode where up to four players take on 10 waves of increasingly difficult Locust
enemies who are trying to open up Emergence holes. Each hole lost pushes the COG
forces back across the map until a final showdown to defend a generator or, if the COG
prevail, the Hammer of Dawn comes online.
There’s some serious strategy in defending each area, and you can also choose different classes. Each comes with two weapons and a special ability which works for attack or support. The Soldier can drop an ammo box to help his comrades, the Scout deploys a sensor to reveal enemy positions, the Engineer erects a turret and the Medic sports a grenade which heals themselves and their team-mates. In addition, the Engineer carries a blowtorch that can repair barriers and gun emplacements, both of which are vital to keeping back the Locust scum.Survival
retains the frantic action of the older Horde
modes but adds a layer of strategy and the goodwill aspect of support actions to provide a more well-rounded experience, with the added bonus that every attacking or defensive action earns points towards unlocking new items and skins.
Every mode in Judgment
also benefits from some considerable refinements under the hood - including increased movement speed, streamlined controls and a limit of just two weapons. They’re all positive additions, upping the pace of encounters and keeping you constantly aware of the hardware you have available.
And this new focus is felt keenly in the significantly revamped multiplayer. The new OverRun
mode takes some cues from survival with the same evolving battles across a map but let’s players embody either COG
forces. The humans have the same four classes but the Locusts
have two tiers with eight in total, the more advanced types unlocked by in-level actions such as destroying barriers. So while a Scout might titter at your puny Ticker exploding in a hail of hissing fire, he’ll change his tune when a lumbering, mace-carrying Mauler lumber his way. And likely soil himself if a Corpser bursts from the ground.Domination
is 5v5 for the command of control points and the ever popular Free For All
sits alongside Team Deathmatch
for the nostalgic. All are pacy affairs in well-designed levels, with more focus on tiered play than before - something which might help to give series newbies a fighting chance.
Criticisms are few. The story remains thin and vague, with no sense of the characters and too little context, though Aftermath fares better on this score. Melee attacks are still - literally - hit and miss and the level of difficulty can spike, especially when you’re playing solo.
But, for the most part, Judgment
is an impressive achievement for Polish developers People Can Fly
. There’s enough familiar GoW
material here to satisfy most fans but the formula has been tweaked extensively, bringing the mechanics into line with its genre contemporaries and pushing matchmaking and integrated online elements to the fore to keep you constantly connected.
But it’s the generosity of the package which struck me most, the addition of a second story mode, a new addition in Survival and the full suite of expected multiplayer options. It feels like a Gears of War
game but, more importantly, like People Can Fly
concentrated on delivering a quality title first, regardless of the franchise. And while some may balk at the changes, this is an impressive step forward for the title, and a fitting finale for the signature series of the Xbox 360