For many, Gears of War was the reason they bought an Xbox. The game boasted amazing graphics, an eye-catching cast and third-person cover mechanics quite unlike anything else. Now, on the eve of the Xbox 360's demise, the Gears gang has returned for one last fling.
Just like with the PS3 and God of War: Ascension, the new Gears sort of ran out of storyline at the end of the last game. This means Judgment takes the prologue approach when it comes to story. But does it end things with a bang? We took charge of some massive ladies and gentlemen to find out.
With no Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad in sight, the story in Gears Of War: Judgment shifts to a time 15 years before previous games. It follows Baird and Cole, as well as Sofia Hendrik and Garron Paduk. The four COG soldiers are much more engaging and human in their interactions with each other than in previous titles.
This is helped in part by Judgment's approach to storytelling. Each level is a flashback, told by one of the squad, who are in front of a military tribunal for what they get up to in the game (we don't want to spoil it). Each cut scene between levels helps build on the story, explain things you might have missed and give characters the chance for some dialogue between shooting.
So what exactly do the chunky footed gang of angry young men and women get up to? Well, without ruining things, Judgment starts where it ends. You remember the escapades the young Baird, Cole and the rest of Kilo squad get up to as the game goes on.
Expect the usual burning buildings, war-torn skylines and general apocalyptic feel as the Locust destroy the planet Sera. Really though, we can't say much else, as in all honesty it will ruin things for you. The story in Judgment is definitely separate to that of previous games, but is unique and interesting and helped, in part, by the excellent flashback concept.
If you own an Xbox 360, chances are you will have played Gears of War. At its core, Judgment doesn't change too much. You still get the "follow cam" while sprinting through levels and the satisfying clunk as the heavy suited COG soldiers hide behind cover.
What has changed, is the way in which enemies are placed around maps. Now, rather than appearing in set groups from pre-determined points, Judgment uses dynamic enemy spawning so that you never know exactly what you're going to get. It forces you to rethink each battle, ramps up the difficulty and makes sure that you truly master the fighting methods of Gears of War.
Alongside random spawning, you now also have special "declassified" sections of each level to contend with. These basically are little gameplay tweaks, related to flashbacks. So if one member of Kilo squad says you only had pistols, then you only have pistols. They can vary from thick fog, making it hard to hit the bad guys, to weapon restrictions.
Declassified missions will bring you increased points which, coupled with Judgment's new scoring system, then translate to increased star ratings at the end of each level. The higher the rating, the more content you can unlock elsewhere in the game.
It is enough of an incentive to make you want to explore the declassified missions, while adapt your playing style to bring in more points. So rather than simply gunning down enemies in typical Gears fashion, you might get creative with things, using melee attacks for example to bolster your score.
The weapon system itself has also had a change. Now Gears is basically controlled like Call of Duty. No need to stop and use the directional pad to switch to grenades, you can hold RB to throw them. Y will switch weapons. It is a minor tweak, that makes it far speedier to cycle through your guns and do damage.
There is now also a sort of mobile horde mode included in the single-player campaign. You can place sentries at certain points and will be tasked with defending areas for set periods of time. It is a nice addition, which we are glad to see integrated into single player.
Multiplayer is a Gears Of War staple. It has been built on consistently since the first game. Adding to an already bulky features list, is a new OverRun mode in which you basically pit teams of five Locust against COG soldiers who can put together defences to stop Locust destroying their base.
Its a sort of multiplayer mash up of the horde mode and beast mode from previous games as well as team deathmatch offerings. Of any multiplayer mode we have played so far in Gears of War, OverRun has to rank up there as the best.
There is also a "free-for-all" mode, as well as the other multiplayer staples, such as team deathmatch. Character choice is wide and you can customise your kit just like you could in previous titles.
Survival mode is another new addition. This uses AI-controlled Locust enemies, which come in waves and tasks multiplayer teams of COG soldiers to fight against them, battling out to see who can do it quickest. Survival is enjoyable, but we prefer Horde mode, simply because of the option to control Locust troops.
We feel like Gears Of War: Judgment's graphics deserve special mention, simply because they are so outstandingly good. Sure on a big television you can spot aliasing issues and the Unreal Engine 3.5 just isn't as exciting to look at in a world with the new CryEngine, but it's Judgment's art direction which proves particularly special.
The whole colour palette has been given a big lift for Judgment and it makes a huge difference. Things just aren't as grey as they have been in previous titles. Instead the whole title is vibrant, packed with visual flourish and interesting environments with which to do battle in. A testament to what the Xbox 360 is capable of producing, graphically.
Gears Of War: Judgment represents the pinnacle of the series on Xbox 360. While it might not follow the story of the classic previous games, but it is an exciting one none the less. The clever flashback mechanics complement the Gears universe, which is more complete and colourful than it has been previously.
If you fancy one last blast with the Gears gang on your Xbox 360, then give Judgment a go. If you are a fan of the series, you won't be disappointed. If you are yet to play, what are you waiting for?