Gears of War Judgment review – Halvo, Goodbye 
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Geoffrey Tim
March 18, 2013 at 8:00 am

Fan favourite Damon Baird, the blonde-haired snarky and least overtly muscular member of Gears of War’s Delta squad has always stood on the side-lines, cracking wise, the narrative focusing mostly on Marcus Fenix and his chest-bumping bromance with the increasingly sullen Dom Santiago. That changes with Gears of War: Judgment, which places Baird squarely in the spotlight.

It’s mere months after the end of the Coalition of Ordered Government’s 79 year-long Pendulum Wars against the Union of Independent Republics; and mere weeks after Emergence Day and Sera’s devastation at the hand of the invading locust Horde. The leader of Kilo squad, Braid is joined by the familiar – if somewhat slimmer and looking less like he eats his morning cornflakes with steroids – face of Augustus Cole, or The Cole Train, if you’d prefer.

Rounding out his squad is fresh-out-the-Onyx-Academy Sofia Hendrick, a by-the-book sort who opposes the use of inventive tactics and Garron Paduk; a tough-as-nails former UIR prisoner of war who convinced the COG he’d be better served stomping in Locust faces than sitting in a cell. And of course, he sounds Russian.  

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Baird and his lovable band of roguish cohorts are on trial for treason; explaining their actions in the weeks following E-day. Their judge, a pencil-thin moustached military bureaucrat by the name of Loomis presides over the case, taking in each squad-member’s testimony, one by one; stepping away from a purely linear narrative.

As each chapter of the game is narrated through this testimony, there are far fewer cut-scenes, and significantly less in-game chatter; much of the story is instead told by the level design; Sera is a brighter, more vibrant world; still filled with colour instead of the stark and grim contrast of the original game’s 50 shades of grey and brown. Gears of War (outside of the novels and comic books) is not the series to turn to for any sort of grand, sweeping narrative – but there’s even less of that here. The plot is pretty bare, with more exposition coming from the environment; the stories not told. It’s so soon after the Locust have surfaced, evidenced by the abandoned city streets of Halvo Bay; littered with abdicated vehicles and bloodied, half-packed suitcases. They never stood a chance.

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No, Gears of War has always been an excuse to shoot at things, or chainsaw them in twain. That hasn’t changed – and the lack of the overdramatic machismo puts the emphasis solely on the action. Despite the new developer, Judgment is still firmly Gears of War, though it feels different. It’s tighter and faster paced; the action of fending off wave upon wave of the subterranean savages almost relentless. There have been some changes to the system and its control scheme to fit the accelerated action. Gears are no longer able to carry three weapons; instead they’ll have just a primary and secondary weapon – switched with the “Y” button instead of the 360 controller’s fussy D-pad. It makes weapon switching faster and more intuitive, leading to a more bullet-frenzied battleground. It’s also a move that’ll likely relegate the series’ pistols to a footnote in Gears history – barring of course, the hideously powerful Boltok pistol that’s beyond deadly in the hands of those who’ve taken the time to master it. Grenades, instead of being selected as a weapon, can be quick-thrown with a tap of the left bumper; or with that same button held down  to reinstate the familiar blue glow of the grenade throwing arc. Oh, and the vicious Sawed-off shotgun can now be fired twice before needing to be reloaded.

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That’s just the first change to the formula you’ll notice. Enemies now spawn on a semi-random basis; what that means is that each time you retry an encounter, you’ll be faced with different types of Locust  – and the barrage of grenadiers you just had a hard time dispatching with might now be Bloodmounts and wretches instead. If you play on any of the game’s more trying difficulty levels (and you really should, especially in co-op!) and you die frequently, it helps add the spice of variety. There’s also a successful attempt at adding some of Gears’ wave-based staple Horde Mode’s intensity to the single player game. Some sections will find you holed up at a choke point; with a limited number of sentry turrets and fortifications at the ready; with a countdown timer reminding you that the next wave of enemies will be along shortly.

There are some new weapons to help you mow down enemy locust, mostly forgotten UIR tools of war. You’ve got the Booshka, a grenade launcher of sorts that propels a clip of highly explosive, ricocheting pipe-bombs, and the Markza – a semi-automatic sniper rifle that’s less powerful than the Longshot, but allows you to pull off a couple of shots before needing to reload. The Locust have appropriated the Markza as the Breechshot, removing its scope and adding a blade to its undercarriage. There’s also a new tactical weapon in the tripbow, which allows you to lay down trip-wire traps. 

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There’s now also a new meta-game, joining the ribbon and XP from Gears of War 3. You can now earn stars which you’ll acquire by adding a bit of flair to your gunplay. Headshots, gibs, and executions – oh, and earning ribbons from specific displays of badassery – will all add to the bar, netting you up to three stars by level’s end. if you see the Gears Crimson Omen on a wall, you can choose to play a “Declassified” version of the mission; adding tougher condition for success, and an increased rate of star farming. The Declassified challenges modify the levels, but have no narrative outcome – adding an extra challenge by way of time limits, a restricted arsenal, reduced visibility or an uglier, more ferocious barrage of enemies. Having to fight off entire armies of locust with little more than a pistol and a Boomshield makes for an exhilarating experience. Stars unlock new character skins and other vanity items and, of course, achievements.

This game-within-a-game, while adding some welcome variety also, unfortunately, takes away the game’s cinematic feel; with score and star tallies coming up all time time, you’re constantly reminded that yes, you’re playing a videogame and not a functional part of some Hollywood blockbuster.

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It’s highlighted by the meta-game free secondary campaign, Aftermath, which you unlock by earning 40 stars in the campaign proper. With Aftermath, you’ll play as an older, more rugged Baird and joined by his older, larger and louder buddy Cole as they encounter an old fiend, piecing together one of Gears of War 3’s puzzles. Aftermath offers a purer, less constrained Gears of War experience, and is all the better for it.

Multiplayer

The game’s multiplayer has gone through a similar overhaul. In the standard adversarial modes you’re now only able to select one main starting weapon (Gnasher, Lancer, Sawed-off, Retro Lancer, Hammerburst or the Markza) and a frag – you’ll have to find other augments to your arsenal on the map. It’s probably prudent to mention that active reloads, in multiplayer at least, no longer grant a damage buff – something that’ll likely enrage the Gears elite, but open the game up to newcomers.

Gears of War’s multiplayer has always been centred around being part of a team, but that goes out the window with Judgment, which includes a free-for-all deathmatch mode, joining the standard team deathmatch. It’s decidedly un-gears, but it works thanks to the rapid pace of play. The down-but-not-out revival system is removed, but it makes sense – why would any of your 9 foes, bent on turning you into chunks of meat, want to help you? It doesn’t quite fit in with Team Death Match – but for better or worse, it’s curiously absent from there too. Both modes are initially a little jarring, as locust aren’t playable; you’ll be going up COG against COG.

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Domination exists as a fairly standard King-of-the-Hill mode. Two teams of five are each tasked with capturing and holding 3 rings within each map. The more your team holds those points, the more they score. It’s Annex, with a different name.

A touch of class

OverRun is the  brand new, class-based defend-and-attack multiplayer mode , and it  feels like a mix of Horde 2.0 with Beast mode from Gears of War 3. One team of players plays as COGs and are tasked with defending a series of objectives, while the other team plays as Locusts on offense. after each round of, roles are reversed and players get to do what they just tried to prevent the other team from doing.

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Playing as the COG, you’ll be able to select from the following classes:

  • Engineers, as Baird, are armed with a Gnasher and repair blowtorch. They can deploy a Sentry Turret that automatically targets enemies, but they’ll spend most of their time repairing the  damaged fortifications  keeping the objectives safe with their blowtorches. As fortifications cannot be rebuilt when they’re gone, the role of the Engineer is vital.
  • Soldiers, the lovable Cole Train, wield the explosive Booshka and the trusty Lancer, and are able to  also drop ammo crates to replenish allies’ ammo.
  • Garron Paduk’s Scout class is equipped with the Markza and a Snub pistol as a default. They can throw a UIR Beacon grenade that helps allies spot enemies – as well as take advantage of the game’s verticality by climbing to Scout-specific sniper points; perfect for long-ranged combat.
  • Medics in Judgment aren’t the soft and squishy targets they usually are in class-based games; carrying the  Lancer and Snub pistol for offense, they’re also able to deploy healing Stim-gas grenades that are the only way of reviving allies – making them one of the most important classes available.

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As the Locusts, teams will be playing out a mode similar to Beast mode, deploying an increasingly larger and more destructive torrent of nasties. enemy tiers are more simplified, granting players access to just two tiers of four Locust, ranging from explosive tickers, all the way up to the expensive, but nigh unstoppable Corpser, able to burrow under fortifications.

The class-based warfare adds a more tactical, faster paced  element to Gears of War’s multiplayer repertoire, and is genuinely both fun and engaging – and should keep Judgment a firm favourite for months to come.

OverRun is joined by Survival, which essentially replaces Horde mode. Employing the same class-based gameplay, it pits the COGs against wave upon wave of increasingly challenging Locusts. It plays out exactly the same as Overrun, except with AI controlled Locust. As a warning, it is pretty challenging, and completing all ten waves is going to take considerable team effort.

There are concerns though; there are just 4 maps available for the adversarial modes, and a further 4 for OverRun and Survival. You know there’ll be more coming, and that they’ll be available as DLC – which I fear will end up fragmenting the game’s playerbase – something we’ve seen with previous instalments of Gears of War. A new level of player customisation, via player and weapon skins that can be unlocked or purchased by microtransactions  The game even makes provision for season pass holders, with a special VIP playlist just for them. Two free maps will soon be made available – but the rest will have to be paid for.

While Gears of War: Judgment is perhaps burdened by the pall of over-familiarity, the changes that developer People Can Fly have implemented are enough, for now, to keep it feeling fresh – and certainly worthy of your time.

Conclusion

Not an average: Despite the changes, Gears of War fans will be getting what they expect; intense firefights and bowl battle with unmatched gunplay - along with an extensive selection of multiplayer offerings. It's worth picking up for Overrun alone- though it's dragged down by a lack of maps and a DLC minefield
7.9

Gears of War: Judgment was reviewed by Geoffrey Tim on a Xbox 360

I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces. I am also the emperor of the backend

  • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

    I used to have a pet peeve about arcade scoring in a violent game, and then I played Saints Row 3’s Professor Genki, and I saw the light. I’ll probably get this gears only later this year, for now I need to first find some cash for Hitman, then Tomb raider and finally… GOD OF WAR!

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      I think in the next few weeks, I’m going to replay Gears of War. It’s definitely the franchise that I have developed a love/hate relationship for. I love the setting, but I hate that the game never really reflected the essence of that game world, the politics, the characters… Of course, it’s all pew pew, and I’m going full-mass-effect-retard here.

      Stupid brain… :(

      • Admiral Chief Erwin

        Talking to yourself again eh Jimmy?

        • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

          Seems like it, these days it’s just me having these lengthy discussions on stuff… I get upvotes but no one comments. It’s like I’m in an ironic sort of hell… :( It brings a tear to my eye. Will you chat with me?

          • Admiral Chief Erwin

            Does a bear poop in the woods?
            Add me on skype, then we can chat every day. Name.Surname (you know what it is)

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            But then you’ll learn that the awesomeness of the Banana is a myth, and in fact a strange gnome-like creature that hides from the sun!

          • Admiral Chief Erwin

            Just do it banana man, just do it

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            I’ll DO IT! I’ll DO IT!

    • http://twitter.com/mathuthe Mathias

      Of course you’ll want God of War first :)

      • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

        lol, I’ve actually been eyeing Hitman since December… :o

        • http://twitter.com/mathuthe Mathias

          Well, get it, because it’s a pretty damn good game.

          Don’t expect Blood Money, though.

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            So it’s been casualised? :/ Shucks… that sucks. I laboured hard for months to get silent assassin rankings on all the missions.

  • Admiral Chief Erwin

    How doth thee get to 7.9 from 9, 8,8?

    • http://twitter.com/SaveTheQueenIX umar bastra

      by having a beer a before tallying the scores

    • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

      It’s not an avrage. It’s an overall score

      • Admiral Chief Erwin

        Are you part of the matrics that got less than 20% for maths :P ;)

        • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

          tee hee! :P

          • Admiral Chief Erwin

            WAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAA

          • FoxOneZA

            Geoff is an escapee from The Matrix.

    • Prolific

      You are witnerssing the Law of Pi. Add the scores and divide by 3.142. The universe wills it.

      (OK I know it rounds to 8 but it’s so close!)

  • Reaver

    Wait, all the sub-categories are 8 or above, but the total is below 8?

    /facepalm

    • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

      It’s not an average. It’s an overall score- dragged down by the limited number of maps, and DLC minefield.Oh, and the lack of WOO-ing on Cole’s part.

      • http://twitter.com/SaveTheQueenIX umar bastra

        Wouldn’t it be better to mention what dragged the score down in the overall score box?to avoid confusion.still a good review

        • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

          All mentioned in the review itself. :)

          • http://twitter.com/SaveTheQueenIX umar bastra

            true, but everyone seems to have gotten confused by the overall/not average score lol but hey, not a big deal really. excelsior !

          • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

            Updated the overall score to reflect that, maybe stem a bit of the confusion. ;)

  • Melasco

    I played through Gears 1, 2 and busy with 3 in the last 2 weeks. Definately awesome games, especially 3, but they wont pull me away from Sony or make me buy a second next gen console. I’ll go rent Judgement from our local video store one weekend before selling the XBOX. I don’t even wanna talk about the dissapointment Halo 4 is to me :( I guess it’s all about multiplayer or something…

  • http://twitter.com/SaveTheQueenIX umar bastra

    I describe this game the same way I describe GOW….gears of war judgement is well…gears of war…

  • Admiral Chief Erwin

    One thing I like is the unlocking of more content if you play well.

    Now, where is MAH PC VERSION?? :P

    • FoxOneZA

      Go buy an Xbox already before the price goes down :P

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      Sir, join us… the true gamers of the world, creatures of PC and Console! Buy a PS3 and Xbox!

      • Admiral Chief Erwin

        Buy it for me and I will change mah mind

        • FoxOneZA

          It’s only like 2 months DSTV money :P

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            Lol so true… so very true!

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      Spotted this on twitter: For those needing a replacement Xbox 360 or just late to the party, DionWired 1 Day special R1950 250gb bundle with Forza Horizon. #NotBad

      • Admiral Chief Erwin

        Not bad, now I just need R1930 more to afford it :P

  • Kingkappie

    IGN 92; Joystick 90; LG 79. am i missing something?

    • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

      60 from Giantbomb; 80 from the Official Xbox Magazine; It’s good game – but there’s just a spark missing.

  • Deano

    Im enjoy gears of war but im not a super hard core fan.
    But giving a game a overall 7.9 after giving it a 9 for gameplay and 8 for the other two categories just makes 0 sense.

    • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

      Once again; it’s not an average, or tally of those scores – it’s an independent overall score.

      • The Bearded Dutchman

        So…. what you are trying to say is that 8 + 9 – 8 x 7.9 = Friday? Friday being an awesome day because its the last working day of the week but not as awesome as Saturday (which would be a score between 8.6 and 10). You can also review games according to a color code: Pink for kitteh friendliness; Green for horse, whale and rat friendliness; Black for an evil scale: DMC, No Russian, My Little Pony; Red for blood and gore; etc, etc, etc. And finally I get to the Beard scale! The ranges from the top: Leonidas (300) or Gandalf the Grey (or White depending on spoiler level); to the bottom: Justin Bieber.

        • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

          PRECISELY.

      • Deano

        Yeah I fully understand, but it still doesnt make sense to the average reader as to why its being marked down.
        For instance if I were to review a car and give it 9 for value and 8 for drivability and 8 for quality and then give it a overall 6, it wouldnt make sense as to why i’ve marked it down.
        Maybe if there was another category “reliability” which it falls short in to have a mark of 4 would make more sense.

        • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

          Yeah, I hear you. We’re looking at ways of changing our system to make this sort of thing never happen again.

  • FoxOneZA

    If your overall score is less than the average of the individual score’s then you should just drop the individual scores. It’s confusing to say the least.

    So that’s it then Xbox? Done and dusted going out all guns blazing?

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      I have to echo you on this, I think having the three categories being independent from the main score muddles things up a bit. I agree with my buddy Foxy (even though he’s xbox mad :P). Maybe drop the three preceding categories or use their scores to determine the main score?

      Banana and Fox Gaming Alliance: Day 1

      • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

        I’m actually inclined to agree; possibly shift to a single score; details on everything else can be included in the review proper.

        • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

          I actually like having the individual summaries, and prefer to keep the three categories. Since a lot of people never really read my reviews, I sometimes feel comfort in the fact that they probably read the bottom summaries.

          Maybe just use the total score as an average?

          • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

            That wouldn;t quite work for me; a game is made up of so much more than its value, gameplay and design; as an overall package, there’s more to a game than just that.

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            But the overall score is already influenced by everything, so if you say the value is high (8) or the design is superb (9), then surely at the end when you’re trying to create a holistic score, it makes sense to just average. I get the independence of the individual scores argument, but at the end of the day, the total score isn’t independent in itself.

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            But all of this talk of scores and averages are taking away from the fact that as always, Geoff has penned an awesome review. You sir, are an artist of the pen. One day, I hope you finally decide to write the definitive book on South Africans and gaming.

            Now that I’ve done my brown nosing… :P Can I review something please?

          • AndriyP

            Woah! your rants are actually reviews? :P

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            LOL! hell no, they’re bile-flavoured chicken scratch, intended to leave you shocked and appalled, or desperate for an alcoholic beverage…

            :P

          • AndriyP

            That sums up the feelings i go through when i read your work XD
            Its been sometime you actually reviewed something or did i miss some of your work?

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            True story or made up story? The made-up story is that Warfighter and my positive review of it, sullied me in the eyes of Lazygamer. So they instantly drop me from the prospective staff list. Cough! Allegations of doritos were made.

            The true story… I’ve just been really busy of late (with work) and had to take a break from reviewing (I know it doesn’t seem like it, with all the Lenoirian spam on the site) hehehe :P

          • AndriyP

            I hear ya i have been very busy too these days dont even troll much these days :(

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            This time of the year is notorious, a bit like towards the end of the year.

  • Skyblue

    I’m happy with all the low-ish scores these sequels are getting. How many times can you possibly play the same game over with a few minor changes at R 600 to R 700 a pop. At least Tomb Raider had an entirely new approach (yes, after many horrible sequels) and deserves more of a look in than this game, God of War or Assassin’s Creed.

    Well scored, now it’s up to the hardcore fans to make their decisions.

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      I think harsher reviews as the price of games increases should be the order of the day. The reviews SimCity have gotten from the gaming media (metacritic: 60-something now) brings a smile to my face, because while the game itself might be good, the anti-consumer shenanigans should be brought up and the game should be penalised for it.

      I actually agree with Geoff on the microtransactions bit, I don’t think gamers should become comfortable with this.

  • Sir Captain Rincethis

    Sounds like reliable fun, will be getting it!

  • http://twitter.com/mathuthe Mathias

    Now I’ll have to wait until someone actually sells the damn thing. Here in Spain Gears 3 was sold a week before release for some reason, and having already beaten Ascension (BEST God of War game after II, imho), I need my dosis of wallbouncing. I only hope they release it here before the 22nd.

  • Tidycpc

    Picking mine up on friday!

  • Admiral Chief Erwin

    I see article has been edited with three extra words…..NAA

    :P

    Jokes aside, the Gears series is one reason I would get an EGGSBAWKS

  • OVG

    I still dont understand how the Humans still have time to piss arse around with Court cases when the entire species is about to be curb stomped.

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      Our ability to form committees and hold tribunals in the face of complete and utter annihilation is what separates us from the BEASTS!

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  • PrimeS

    This Game does look Mighty fine for a console Game, a good excuse to start up the X360 again. Ps Just love this site have been coming here for gaming news and reviews for a long time.

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  • Circuitflow

    i love the series, but really another one!!! Enough is enough. Very short Story. Scorring WTF?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003127268139 Siva Kumar

    WOW!!! I just got a free Xbox live codes at http://mscodes.info/

  • Samir Faraz

    Judgement was pretty intense with the action, but very disappointing with the storyline. Too many loose ends. For example, the sarcastic demolition-man Damon Baird is too much of a good-boy in Judgement, and the story doesn’t give enough ground for him to have changed to the cynic who goes “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, group hug…”

    Second, this Garm, the Locust general, seemed like as much of a badass as General RAAM or Skorge. Why was he so obscured? Why is there no encounters between him and Kilo Squad before their final battle? And why does he go down so easily? Marcus kills RAAM with a sniper, and RAAM has been by far the meanest villain in the Gears storyline. Garm survives a direct hit from a Light-mass bomb, and still feels like a pushover… Disappointing.

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