mikeinsc's Gears of War: Judgment (Xbox 360) review

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Not Your Normal Gears

Gears of War Judgment is the first in the apparently now-venerable AAA shooter not developed by Epic but, instead, by wholly owned studio People Can Fly (people behind the excellent Painkiller and Bulletstorm titles). It is the third major XBox-exclusive franchise that has been developed by a different studio (following Halo 4 and Forza Motorsports). The first one provided a huge change of pace while the second was more of the same. Both were, however, terrific. Now, Gears of War gets its big change at a fundamental change.

And PCF has produced a very different Gears experience. The game has changed from a large world with massive conflicts to arena battles with lulls in between the assorted arena conflicts. The arena conflicts either are you fighting off swarms of Locusts or just clearing all of the Locusts out of a small area and moving forward. The game really does feel significantly different, ratcheting up the intensity with the set pieces and providing much-needed respites before ratcheting up the difficulty and action yet again. Also, it is a far more beautiful game. The series has gotten better looking as time goes on (Gears 1 was just not that nice looking a game in hindsight) as Gears Judgment does work as a spectacular visual marker to show what the 360 can do just before it retires.

PCF's fingerprints can be felt in the scoring mode of the game. Now, Gears 3 had a fun little arcade mode, but the scoring mode is truly a vital part of this title. You unlock things via the stars you earn from your performance. Die in a battle? You'll lose progress in your level. Kill somebody via execution is more valuable than a normal kill. Killing multiples via explosives is better than execution. It does make one try a different array of methods in the hopes of maximizing your stars which makes replaying levels fun and not a chore. The swarm fights are similar in basic concept to Horde mode, where you have to defend an area from an invasion from a dozen or so Locusts. The change of pace is welcome and helps avoid the possibility of repetition impacting your enjoyment. The Declassification is one of the best additions for this game in a long time, providing fun little additional requirements for the mission. Some impact your vision, others impact your ability to regenerate healthy, and others provide time limits (easily my least favorite of the bunch --- but it will completely change how you attack the fight, so it does its job).

The story is the usual shallow stuff, yet the idea of retelling a story from 4 different viewpoints was a nice touch and helped deal with the absence of series star Marcus Feenix. The other COGs do not really have a wealth of charisma (Cole is the best of the bunch, but even he is more amusing than...err, I guess inspirational) and the developers seem aware of that. The enemy types are the usual ones, which are fortunately enjoyable enemies. The tickers are still annoying pains, but the rest of the bunch are difficult but fun. They aren't rocket scientists on Hardcore (on Casual, I am surprised they do not commit suicide to spare your ammo) but you will not breeze through the enemies.

The other change is Aftermath, the add-on for Gears 3 unlocked with about 40 stars in the campaign. It is really out of place with Gears Judgment, which is a faster paced affair with larger environments. I loved Gears 3 and tying the story into the later parts of the Gears 3 campaign was interesting, but I think it would've worked better as Gears 3 DLC as opposed to an unlock on its prequel. The mini-campaign is about 2 hours long and is competent, but it doesn't mesh well with what you completed in the main franchise. I assume the addition of that and Gears 1 as an add-in to the pack is an indication of concerns of the game selling (much as I loved Bulletstorm, it didn't set the retail charts on fire), but this really is a phenomenal title and I do want to see what PCF is able to do with more time and more work in improving Gears.

The game is worth playing. It is possibly not as great as Gears 3, but it is a terrific title. If you are bored of the Gears formula, try this as it is a definite change of pace.

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