Gears of War: Judgment is the best Gears of War game yet. Hands down, there's just no other to say it. I could go on and type an opening paragraph in an attempt at coming off as clever or witty, leaving you on the edge of your seat in suspense while yelling, "Just tell us if you liked the game!" I could write vaguely for the next couple hundred of words describing the gameplay, the graphics, the campaign, how annoying the gnasher is all while not giving a verdict until the last sentence. I could show blatant disregard for the inverted pyramid and just list a bunch of nonsensical ramblings. Or, I could do what I just did and tell you in the opening sentence - this game is fun.
Admittedly, I've never been huge on the Gears of War franchise. Every previous installment was given to me, either as a gift or a friend/relative saying, "You have to play this!" It's always been something I've found enjoyable in small doses, an hour here, an hour there, but I've never been one to self identify as a Gears fan. It's always sort of been an exercise in suspending disbelief for me. Gears fans let's face it - everything about this series is utterly absurd: The stout, ridiculously unpractical physiques of every male character; the random profanity laced dialogue, spaced out just to make the game seem edgier; a goddamn chainsaw bayonet. But...it's fun, and at the end of the day isn't the purpose of playing a video game to have fun?
Now, a lot of fans have been slightly apprehensive to this title due to all of the changes. The combat mechanics have been changed, there's no Marcus Fenix, and Cliff Bleszinski isn't a part of it. Okay...in what world are any of those factors bad things? The combat in Gears always felt chunky, Marcus Fenix was kind of annoying, roided up version of Solid Snake for fans of Spawn comics, and Cliffy B? Come on. He anointed himself the "rock star" of the gaming industry. Speaking of Spawn comics, I've always thought of Bleszinski as the gaming industry's Todd Macfarlene. Depending on who you ask that's either a good or a bad thing. I'm leaning towards the latter.
Let's talk about the gameplay. Like I said, the last three games prior to Judgment all felt clunky. They worked alright and did their job in the single player campaign, but when it game to multiplayer it became an extremely frustrating tuck and roll shotgun fest. From what the obscenity laced tirades I've heard come through my TV (I'm not putting a headset on to play with you random, angry gamers) this is where some fans are divided. There is a complaint that, by making Gears more accessible, they have essentially made it easier and less challenging. Gears online always felt sort of like a chore to me, you had to put in a lot more than it felt like you would get out. The %1 of this frantic third person shooter became those who could dive, duck, dip and go ape shit with the gnasher.
While it could be frustrating at times Gears' multiplayer was also very rewarding when you succeeded. The changes made to this installment streamline the action, and it's about time. It took this series until 2013 to figure out that you didn't need to manually select different weapons, and that you could assign a single button to the grenade. So yes, it plays a little more like your standard first-person shooter and a little bit less like Gears of War. Gears purists will be a little put off by the more action oriented approach that its taking for multiplayer, but if you found yourself not enjoying it as much as you felt that you would have then this is the Gears for you.
In keeping with the "Let's make Gears feel more modern" shift in the combat each player is now only allowed to equip two guns at a time - a primary and a pistol. It was an attempt to balance gameplay and negate the overuse of the gnasher. So main weapon, sidearm and grenades. You pick which primary gun you want and your grenades and then you're thrown into the action. Unlike the other games though weapon classes are not dictated by slots - so you can ditch your pistol for an opponents lancer or gnasher after you kill them.
Horde and Beast modes are both absent, but they've been replaced by the vastly superior Overrun mode - a combination of the two. Instead of teaming up with your buddies to mindlessly gun down wave after wave of NPCs, you are put on one of two teams - the Locust or the COG. Depending on which team depends on your objective, either attack or defend. It's incredibly fun, and probably my favorite mode because you get to play as different classes. For the Locust, the more points you earn the higher level of creature you get to play as; and for the COG you have access to all classes from the get-go. Also new to the Gears of War multiplayer is the Deathmatch mode, your typical balls to the wall, kill anything that moves free-for-all mode. I'm on the fence about it because, while there have been some tweaks to the combat of Gears, it's still not really the style of gameplay that lends itself to FFA.
When you're on the team based modes (Team Deathmatch, Domination) there have been a couple of changes to the character side of things. No longer is Locust vs COG, now it's full on human vs human combat with each team being designated either red or blue. There is also character customization, which was toyed with in Gears of War 3 with weapons skin but Judgment takes it to the next level by allowing the player to unlock different attire for their character.
The single player is pretty much what you would expect. Run, shoot, take cover, repeat. The story is actually pretty strong for having one of the most cliche premises that an action story could have, and expands upon a lot of the dynamics and character relationships from the original Gears of War. Just like Cliffy B. exiting the series, so too has Marcus Fenix (for the most part), and honestly it's good riddance. Like I said earlier, between the chainsaw bayonets and 90's comic book look of the characters Gears of War has always been a franchise that appeals mostly to a demographic whose favorite adjective is "extreme."
There are some nice changes in that they introduce the option to take on extra objectives to increase how much backstory is told. Doing well in these additional missions yields a higher star count, which can be used to unlock more things for the multiplayer. Overall the story feels like a sixty dollar chunk of DLC, and the changes are nice enough to make the game feel fresh, without there being drastic enough of a shift to alienate the core audience. Baird gets a little more fleshed out this go around which is nice, and Cole continues to be a giant racial stereotype.
Graphically this is definitely the highlight of the series as the visuals are stunning. It combines the aesthetics of all of the previous three games so that there is a nice balance between dark, shadowy areas with a largely gray palette and sunlit areas with bright foliage and some awesome lighting effects. But! This is a PREQUEL to Gears of War which means, very unfortunately so, that the Krill are back.
CONTINUE: This is the definitive Gears of War title when it comes to the overall gameplay experience. Since it's a prequel it is also a great jumping on point for players new to the series, or for those who only dabbled prior without ever fully committing.