The Gears of War games revolutionised the third-person shooter with its cover mechanics, thrilling gunplay and multiplayer innovations. But Gears of War 3 marked the end of an era, providing a definitive conclusion to the much-loved series. Now Gears of War: Judgment is out to show that the series can survive the departure of its main character, Marcus Fenix.
With the tale of Marcus Fenix all wrapped up, Gears of War: Judgment opts to tell the story of Kilo Squad, a team of four soldiers who are standing trial for an initially undisclosed war crime. Their story is told through flashbacks with the player controlling each of the four at different points. It’s a straight-laced yarn and one that seeks to shake off the macho excesses of the Fenix era for a more subdued adventure. But shorn of the trademark butch-ness, Gears of War: Judgment loses much of the series’ over-the-top personality and distinctiveness.
The story might be as adventurous as a beige bathroom suite but as an excuse for another dose of Gears’ high-quality kill ‘em all action, it’ll do. The cover-orientated blasting might be overly familiar these days but Gears remains a masterful third-person shooter and Judgment delivers the goods when it comes to noisy, heart-pumping and explosive fun. The campaign, which can be played co-op or solo, lacks the big moments of the first three games but its thunderous action pulls it through as do new weapons such as the fantastic Booshka, which fires bouncy grenades.
Left 4 Dead
To spice things up, Judgment raids the Left 4 Dead playbook. Just like Valve’s zombie classic, every section of the game starts with a room packed with guns and ammo so players can pick their loadout. Then there’s the new spawning system, which mimics Left 4 Dead by sneaking in different types of Locust mid-battle based on how players are doing. This approach helps keep every play through fresh and when coupled with the extra challenges of the ‘declassified’ missions, it does a lot to enhance replay value.
Once you’re done with the campaign there’s plenty of multiplayer meat to get your teeth into. The standout mode is OverRun, a spiritual descent of the series’ trendsetting Horde mode. Players select one of four roles (soldier, medic, engineer or scout) and work together to fend off swarms of Locust and protect a generator. Its combo of class-based teamwork and feisty action works a treat. It is this mode that will have you coming back to Judgment time after time.
The rest of the multiplayer offerings are good but pale against OverRun’s majesty. There are five-a-side clashes of Domination, the Horde-like Survival, the ever-reliable Team Deathmatch and the everyone-for-themselves battles of Free-for-All, where the usual teamwork is abandoned. Gears of War also wisely sticks to its guns and refuses to embrace the trend for leveling-up in multiplayer, so every player gets a fair crack at the whip rather than just those who play the most.
War never changes and neither, it seems, does Gears of War. Judgment is predictable in many ways and it isn’t as good as the games that came before it. But it’s still Gears and when the action kicks in there’s still a lot to love.