Gears of War: Judgment makes the third-person shooter interesting again
Epic Games and People Can Fly return with the latest instalment in the Gears of War series, titled Judgment. Fortunately, the way the title is spelt is all that's dodgy about it, because what lies beneath is a top quality shooter, which, while not perfect, gets a ridiculous number of things right.
Just when you thought third-person shooters were beginning to get boring, something like Judgment comes along. Arguably, the gameplay is formulaic and derivative, but Judgment proves there's always room to transform a seemingly monotonous shooting gallery into something interesting. First, it gets the gunplay absolutely spot on. Whether it's the bread-and-butter weapons like the Lancer, which lets you hold down the trigger button till the clips run out, or the Gnasher Shotgun which spells doom for foes that creep up on you, or the semi-automatic Hammerburst or the Retro Lancer which requires careful, calculated bursts of fire. The dynamics in the weapons are perfect — those of the longer range variety included. Second, the pacing. There's never a dull moment in Gears of War: Judgment, and this is a testament to the level design, which has given us the perfect compilation of battlegrounds filled with the even more perfect mix of enemies. There always seems to be a challenge lurking both in the shadows as well as out in the open, which, incidentally, looks rather pretty now with the expanded colour palette. Finally, the set pieces. While these are not as grand as in previous iterations (traditional boss battles have been replaced with skirmishes that are more situational), they're beautifully challenging. A neat addition to each segment is an optional increase in difficulty level — you can accept a Declassified Mission before each section for a bigger challenge.
As an added bonus, Gears of War: Judgment tells a story. Well, at least it tries to tell a story — differently. A prequel to the Gears of War series, Judgment takes you back a few years, to the immediate aftermath of Emergence Day. If you don't know your Gears history, that's the day the Locust launched an all-out offensive on the human-populated Sera from underground. Playing as various members of Kilo squad led by the inimitable Damon Baird (or all four of them at once if you choose to play the game co-operatively) who are accused of treason by Colonel Ezra Loomis, through a series of flashbacks, you get to participate in the incidents that lead up to their trial. Each squad member has a story to tell, and through the campaign you learn something about each of them, their motives, and intentions. This is uncharacteristic of Gears, and strangely, the effort is not wasted.
Gears of War defined the third-person shooter genre, and with Judgment the series' legacy is certainly not tarnished. With a substantially improved colour palette and new visual effects, it's one of the best looking games on the Xbox 360 — the gunplay on the other hand, is near-perfect. No game captures the weight, recoil and dynamics of weapons the way Judgment does — the sheer variety in its arsenal is another matter entirely. It's easy to forget how immersive the action in Gears really is — traditionally, it's pretty much all it had going for it, (the story and characters were merely incidental elements) and it simply had to get it absolutely right for the game to work. Not only does it get the action right this time around, there's significant advancement on the narrative front. The campaigns, while not as filled with spectacular set pieces like its predecessor, are still quite the thrill ride, and the multiplayer is just as polished a time-sink as we've seen in the series so far. If you're a shooter fan, and you own an Xbox 360, picking up Gears of War: Judgment is a no-brainer.