Gears Of War is one of the staples of any Xbox 360 gamer’s diet. The chunky-footed heroes have been bumbling about on screen, shaky cam in tow, since the Xbox 360 still had its training wheels on.
The last Gears of War was, without spoiling things, pretty finite in its ending. So when Gears of War: Judgment was announced, many were surprised to see the series coming back, others viewed it as an add-on more than anything.
We've had a decent bit of playtime with the new GoW game and can tell you this much: an add-on it isn’t; Gears of War it definitely is. This means more guns, graphics and grunts to chew your way through.
Judgment is a prequel to the existing series of Gears games and follows the story of Baird and Cole as they recount their antics while under trial in a military court. Baird is in trouble at the start of the game and has been put under court martial. It starts with his explaining to a judge exactly what went on and why he has ended up in court.
So, in a sort of twist on the classic starting at the beginning idea, you play through Cole and Baird’s memories. Cole and Baird are also joined by a pair of new faces in the form of Sofia Hendricks and Garron Paduk to form the Coalition of Gears
Together they are working to save Sera from the Locust. There's a Halo: Reach-type nostalgia to the start of the campaign which we definitely enjoyed, but the absence of Marcus and his ever enjoyable do-rag was a noticeable upset. Still, plenty of playing through and we can see Baird and Cole being just as engaging.
The level we played comes right at the start of the game and sees Kilo squad fighting its way through city streets while destroying plenty of Locusts. We really didn’t get enough time with the single player to pass any proper judgement on it. From what we saw, if you like Gears games, you will like this. The formula of duck-and-shoot feels as tight as ever and the environments and look and feel of the game are also spot on.
But we don’t want to ruin too much about the goings-on in our single-player demo session, simply because Gears fans deserve to find out for themselves. What we will say is that the new Mission Declassification sections are particularly fun.
They work a bit like off-the record memories, where Baird and Cole really did some damage to the Locust. Like a rampage moment in Grand Theft Auto, they involve destroying as many bad guys as possible within a time limit and result in an increased number of achievements at the end of each section.
Aside from the Declassified elements, the actual gameplay has been given a tweak. Now enemies spawn in random locations, with enemy types also being random. The idea is that each battle is different, although given that we could play through a level only once, we haven’t yet been able to test this. The game did seem a lot easier, however, helped in part by the rejigged controls, where Y switches weapons and L1 throws grenades.
Combat moved quicker as well and there seemed to be a lot more enemies getting piled on to the screen. There are also sections in levels which are similar to Horde mode in multiplayer, requiring you to set-up base positions while you defend certain areas. Single-player can of course be played along with three friends, as has always been the case for Gears.
Now on to multiplayer, which is what draws most people to these games. We spent a lot of time playing a new mode called OverRun, which we really enjoyed. It combines elements of Horde mode, with base defence and a bit of class-based Team Fortress-style gameplay.
The idea is that two teams battle it out either to attack or defend a generator. Those defending, the Coalition, have four classes: an engineer, medic, soldier and sniper. The engineer can repair defences and build turrets, medic has a healing gas grenade, soldier has a Boomer (which felt a touch unbalanced to us, although weapons load-outs aren’t final) and the sniper can climb up to high vantage points.
Attacking is the Locust army, which has the same enemy types as in Horde mode online. You can pick from Tickers to Cerapedes and so on. The more kills you get, the more big and bad guys you have to choose from.
Balancing was still a touch off, as this was an early build, but the idea is definitely there. It was the first time in a good while that we felt teamwork in a Gears multiplayer match was the only way to win. Definitely enjoyable.
Free-for-all, which is all about one-versus-one action, as well as a new mode called Survival are also being included at launch. Unfortunately, we are yet to test these, but will update the moment we have more information on them.
In the meantime, get yourselves ready for Gears of War: Judgment, it looks to be a worthy addition to the series and nice take on the story and world of Gears. Who knows, Marcus might even make an appearance.
Gears of War: Judgment launches on 22 March in the UK, 19 March in the US.