Gears of War: Judgement is the newest edition to the Gears family and is set before the events of the trilogy, following the events directly after Emergence Day. It follows Kilo squad which is the home of Baird and Cole from the original games as well as introducing two new people, Paduk and Sofia. All of whom you will play as during the campaign learning about each character as they tell their testimony through game progression.
Being an avid Gears fan having followed the story from the beginning in Aspho Fields during the Pendulum Wars to the end in Azura, it was nice to be able to play and see what happened with some of the characters before they were the saviors we expected. Having said that I know I may seem biased and that I will not be giving a fair review, but this game has quite a few downfalls so hear me out. I will keep this as spoiler free as possible.
What I liked about this game is that you have options for how the campaign will play out. You play as all four characters learning about their experiences while chasing down Karn, the antagonist in this game. But while you are doing this there are what is being deemed “declassified missions” where you will use different weapons or the enemies will be given different weapons, they can also be made harder or come in larger groups, there are also a few declassified missions where your vision or health regeneration is impaired to ramp up the difficulty. The reason this is cool is because the game plays as an interactive narrative while the squad tells their testimony in court so the “declassified missions” are allegations that would have otherwise been omitted. Though this serves no real purpose, it feels like a cool add-on.
Also they have included what feels like DLC for Gears 3 called “Aftermath” which is a small set of missions set in Gears 3 time and it has you playing as Baird with Cole and Carmine in a squad. They go in search of a boat and backup for their landing in Azura and decide to seek Paduk back in Halvo bay. This was a nice glimpse into what was unknown and looked over in 3 and is appreciated from both a fan and consumer stand point as it was not paid DLC, even though you can tell that was its original purpose.
Something else I like is that the weapons have been slightly redone so they feel more evenly powered, the first one that comes to mind is the sawed-off. In Gears 3, the sawed-off was introduced as a super powerful one shot weapon that will do maximum damage at very close range. While this is accurate I never felt like it was quite right until I got a hold of it in Judgement, it has been redone and now offers two shots while still feeling super powerful at a close range.
The new Overrun mode in the multiplayer is awesome, I love objective based multiplayer where you jockey with a team for control over something tangible. Also the new Survival mode is fun as hell, it is pretty much horde mode in Overrun and now that I have said that I feel a bit cheated.
So in this new iteration in the franchise there have been a rather large number of changes. The major of which (at least for me) is that the four weapon system is now gone so you only have a primary and secondary instead of being able to equip three guns and grenades. While grenades are still there, the third gun being taken away feels wrong. Though many people probably never got around to really using the pistol that was equipped it just feels wrong not to have it there. The game seems to make up for this by offering more ammo especially if the declassified mission you accept has the locusts using COG weapons then ammo is plentiful.
A few of the multiplayer modes have been removed as part of the changes like Horde and Beast mode. While Gears feels (to me) to have really defined the Horde mode I cannot seem to wrap my mind around why it is not included in the game, this mode has been one of the most influential from Gears and not having it in this game just seems, wrong. Since Gears 3 had introduced an awesome new mode that lets you play as the locust against AI COG opponents we all kind of expected to have it included with the new game, I even expected it to be better since most games upgrade with new versions being released. Overrun mode does let you play as the locust and break the fortifications and all that but it just does not have that same awesome feel that beast mode did.
One major downfall for the game is that it feels terribly short. While the Gears franchise is not exactly known for having super long campaign play, this just felt exceptionally short. While you play through the testimony of the Gears depicting what happened leading up to the court hearing, you catch up to modern time entirely too fast and the game ends shortly after.
Another issue I have is the character choice. Paduk and Sofia do not resonate with me what-so-ever, not that they feel tacked on or added in as fluffer to make to story longer or anything, they just seem temporary and like the relationship just does not matter. You play through each person and get to know them and their agenda (Paduk is an ex-UIR soldier and Sofia is an Onyx Guard cadet) and while that is a good aspect for the narrative and fits it well, you cannot really connect with them knowing that they have no other place in the storyline outside of this particular game.
My personal most hated thing about the game was that they included new enemies. While it was good seeing the Kryll again since it was dated before the lightmass bombing, I felt that adding new enemies did not fit into the series well because it raises questions such as “Well where were they in the other games?” and “How were those specific types killed off?” The new additions did add a bit more variety and that was fine but from a purist view I cannot justify their existence in this universe as there is no answer to the questions posed.
The main enemy you chase after is named Karn, as we learn from Paduk he is a very powerful and feared general of the locusts. But his great power is never actually shown, he is seen commanding a few groups of locusts but his destruction is hidden so he just seems like some guy riding a big bug. There are a few more issues I have with the addition of Karn but I want this to be spoiler free so I will just leave it at where it is for now.
I actually have a bit of a large probelm with Sofia. Before I delve into that though I would like to preface it with the fact that the person writing the Gears games and books, Karen Traviss, did not pen this one and boy does it show. The story throughout the games has been overlapping and arcing to show you what happened in older more important times as well as present day so you know what is going on when old battles or hardships are referenced. The characters always feel real with their distinct personalities and you can level with them on a few levels.
Judgement however, is not like that. Judgement was penned by two new guys and it shows, it shows in a bad way. The always hilarious and level-headed Cole was mostly silent until you played his testimony and even then he just did not feel like the same guy, he just seemed dry and unattached, almost broody. Baird, known for his razor tongue and quick sarcasm was more friendly and cheerful, that just is not the Baird we all know and love/hate. Then we have Sofia. Rather than incorporate one of the already established female characters (Anya, Bernie, Sam) the writers chose to go with a new conventionally attractive red-head who wears a skin-tight black catsuit under her armor; unlike Anya, Sam, and Bernie in Gears 3, Sofia does not cover much of her lower body with pockets or accoutrements, so the player gets a nice view of just how tight her pants are.
The most notable thing about this feisty red head is not her looks but that she is an inexperienced cadet that always seems to be needing a talking-to from another character. Everyone else in the game outranks her, out-ages her, and outweighs her by well more than half and yet she still tries to make her naive opinions heard. This theme continues up until the last lines of the game, which I will not give away.
Gears are meant to be strong and resolved in their actions and she just seems out-of-place constantly being corrected and letting her emotions get in her way, this is not what women Gears are meant to be. It is demonstrated that she has a history of letting her emotions get in the way, in the campaign you find yourself tracking down something to help with your objective that leads you to the mansion of one of her old professors whom had a crush on her even though he was married and had kids. Anyway so everyone gets into the mansion and find the professor dead which sounds like it would be a cinematic moment for Sofia right? Wrong! Not even a little bit, it is like there is a scene missing or something, she just moved on with no care to the man’s demise. Maybe the writers were trying to show that she can be tough and not as cliche as she seems but they missed the mark by not acknowledging it at all after the lead-in. Or maybe we are just supposed to believe that she is now interested in someone else, perhaps an older man in the squad, perhaps Paduk.
Without getting into a complete diatribe over the whole situation, I dislike this premise because it is so very cliche, woman with a troubled past falls for squad-mate whom she is not supposed to be with blah blah blah. This feels like a step backward. Gears of War 3 gave multiple women guns, agency, and personality. Gears of War: Judgment gives its one woman a gun, an old lover who seemed like a jerk, a new lover who seems like a jerk as well, and then … off-screen torture, fade to black. All in a pair of sexy, skin-tight pants. I don’t expect that much of my military shooters, but Gears 3 had knocked the bar up a few notches. Judgment failed to meet the level that its predecessor set. Had Judgment included at least one other woman (or more!), Sofia’s hackneyed story-line might have stuck out less. I have no issue with women being sexualized in games, that is a certain style that people like including myself on occasion. But Gears is not the place for that.
Okay moving away from the sexism and cliche’s to a final verdict! Overall I would say I like Judgement, I had fun playing the short campaign and plan on playing through it again on Insane and playing the multiplayer for a while as well. If you are interested in the story then it is a solid buy, if you are only kind of interested then wait until it drops to the $30 price.