|System: Xbox 360|
|Dev: Epic Games, People Can Fly|
|Release: March 19, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language|
by Matt Walker
When Gears of War 3 came out, we all thought it was the end of the series. In fact, we all knew it was going to be the end of the series. Some secretly hoped there would never be an end to the franchise that helped secure Microsoft’s reigning dominance in the online multiplayer arena. Thankfully, those people were correct. I couldn’t be happier that not only were those people correct, but also that the fine folks at Epic Games delivered a game that is not only one of the greatest Gears experiences but focuses on two characters I have enjoyed more than Marcus and Dom. I think we all can agree we needed a break from the most prolific bromance in gaming.
With structure like a Tarantino film, the game has you playing through segments of the story as members of the Kilo Squad. The two prominent members are Baird and Cole Train, with Sofia and Paduk filling things out. They’ve all been arrested and are standing trial for “crimes” they’ve committed. From this point, each member of the squad presents their testimony and the game plays out in flashback segments.
While I can agree this removes any true sense of urgency or fear of characters dying, it allows for a level of fun that’s been missing from Gears since the first installment. Sure, the campaign of the second was fun and over-the-top sci-fi awesome, but the third one was slow paced and retained a level of tension that never really allowed you to cut loose as you did in prior installments. This is part of the magic of Judgment. However, it's also a double edged sword for the campaign.
Judgment’s lack of fear creates story telling issues, and almost detracts from the main point: deepening the mythos of the franchise for those who have not read anything outside of the prior games. Thankfully, the characters relaying the story to a pretty despicable antagonist helps push things past the norm and allows for some great story moments. This is also helped in large part by the voice cast. Baird and Cole Train give you more insight to how their characters are with the quieter dialogue. Cole Train softly exclaiming, “I would’ve done more if I could,” upon seeing a smattering of corpses along a path is a perfect example of character depth through voice actor commitment.
This commitment to quality continues to come through in the controls of the game. While those who are familiar with the franchise will have absolutely no issue jumping in and being the best COG there is, new people will find why so many games have copied elements from the Gears of War franchise. The best thing Judgment does, though, is introduce the world of Gears as a fast paced, over-the-top, macho infused game to new players without excluding veterans.
What’s more, it introduces a challenging element to the campaign that I honestly hope other franchises pick up on. During each section of the game you will find the Gears symbol highlighted at various points. Upon investigation, you will discover that “according to the report” Kilo squad had to deal with the upcoming enemies in a certain ways. For example, defending a location with only torque bows and shotguns. You are allowed to accept this as truth or decline it. This adds an amazing layer of choice to each difficulty level. It also increases the Horde mode playability of the campaign. While not every section is the same, a lot do feel like glorified waves of enemies designed to make you prove your mettle. This, to me, adds to the chaotic fun of the game.
All of these elements are brought together into a beautiful package. Judgment is the best looking Gears game to date. Not only are we now looking at the Gears group as normal characters instead of the hulking masses so many made fun of in the past, but the characters' faces spring to life thanks to better animation. In the beginning of the game, watching Baird relay emotional confusion and pain adds a wonderful elegance that has been missing from the franchise. Not to say that Marcus never relayed an emotional reaction, but now it is easier to pick up on. Mixed with the excellent voice cast I mentioned earlier, the characters are more alive than they’ve ever been.