Another game we took a look at last week thanks to Microsoft and their X-Series was first-party exclusive Gears of War: Judgment. The game that was actually announced just before E3 2012 last year maintains a lot of what is familiar with the series but changes enough up that there’s a lot to look forward to as well.
We sat down and had a chance to play about an hour worth of Judgment and based on what we played, it was probably the most enjoyable Gears yet.
The storyline of the game is such that Damon and Baird are put on trial, and as you begin trial, you actually play through the events as they state them in their testimony. You actually end up taking control of a few different characters and following a few different storylines in a campaign that is of a “competitive length,” one of the reps at the event told us. If the storyline sounds familiar, it’s because Halo 3: ODST followed a similar path with their multiple storyline recounting and going through events in an almost mysterious way that is new to the series.
When we asked Alan Van Slyke, Senior Producer at Epic Games, about replayability of the game, he let us know about something awesome called declassifications. As you progress through the game, you’ll see graffiti-like Gears markers on walls and buildings, which will signal that you have the option to play through the game under the declassified account of the event as opposed to what someone has testified. It makes the game a bit harder and makes it different during every play through, which is a nice, if not Assassin’s Creed-y touch.
The game ranks each area you play on a three-star rating system and let’s you go back immediately and replay the section if you’re gunning for all three stars. Each time you play through will be different as spawn points and the number of enemies coming from each point is not identical in every play through. We love little touches like this because it makes it more about the strategy of duck-and-cover that Gears made so popular, and it means you can’t just run-and-gun your way through everything.
The game, much like BioShock: Infinite is subtly lighter in some places and much darker in others. The overall tone of the game stays tru to the others in the franchise, but there is a very slight ambiance change, something Van Slyke confirmed.
Gears of War has long been a series of crushing sounds and brutal kills. Judgment doesn’t stray from that at all, and that’s a great thing. You should play this game in a quiet room with a good surround system or an amazing set of headphones. The game deserves it because the audio has been crafted beautifully. And we could tell even while sitting in a crowded room with people talking over the game.
The art style is different from traditional Gears games but not in a way that changes its immediate visual impact. Van Slyke told us that the game looks different just by virtue of being set in a time when the world is not completely destroyed like we saw in the other Gears games. “The trees are on fire, the bags are packed but not taken, there’s evacuation signs,” he says, adding that, “things are being destroyed right in front of your eyes,” and that certainly feeds into the urgency of the game’s story.
We didn’t get a chance to try out multiplayer, though we’re told there are a bunch of new modes, including Cog vs. Cog, which any player of the series can figure out.
Controls have been remapped a bit, the most notable change moving away from the d-pad being the way to switch between weapons. Weapon swaps are now relegated to a much more Halo-like Y button, which makes gameplay a lot smoother, especially if you’re used to other shooters that opt for a similar control scheme.
It’s hard to imagine that the last Gears game we played was Gears of War 3 and that it was almost a year and a half ago. Judgment looks to build on the series in every way, though ironically, it takes place long before it, and our play through of Judgment only gets us more excited for the game to launch on March 19th.