Review by horror_spooky

"Gears of Bore"

Microsoft built Xbox 360 around Gears of War. As Sony and Nintendo were putting out their seventh gen offerings, PS3 and Wii respectively, Microsoft made sure that they had a strong new IP to represent the exclusive offerings on Xbox 360. The first Gears of War was excellent, featuring innovative gameplay and an interesting new world to explore courtesy of the folks at Epic. Gears of War 2 continued this trend of quality and innovation, and Gears of War 3 was certainly no slouch either. My, how times change.

Gears of War: Judgment is a huge misstep for the series. In 2006, Gears of War was exciting, new, and Microsoft boasted it as the cornerstone of their seventh generation strategy. Its sequels refined the formula and innovated until the franchise was as wide-reaching and successful as Microsoft's other flagship franchise, Halo. In 2013, seven years after the original game launched, Gears of War: Judgment feels completely and utterly pointless, shallow, and without soul.

The game is a prequel, starring Baird, my least favorite character in the franchise, and Cole, plus two other characters that are unimportant and that everyone will forget immediately after turning off the game. The story itself is told through a court trial of Baird and company, which turns out to be a dreadfully droll way to tell a Gears story. It doesn't help that even the characters themselves don't seem to be really invested in anything that they're talking about.

From a gameplay perspective, Judgment is just as shallow as the plot. It does almost nothing new, and the new things it does do just ruin the core Gears experience. All the levels are very short and paced strangely. Horde mode segments are forced awkwardly into the campaign, which results in a lot of repetitive "defend the area" moments that are not even close to as fun as Horde mode is by itself. The new "Declassified" missions system turns out to be a bust. None of the changes to the missions are all that dramatic, and indeed, there's never really a reason to not choose to do the Declassified missions.

A new scoring system that the game uses for the campaign is an interesting idea, but its execution is sloppy at best. Players are awarded points for doing well in the campaign for each mission, and these points fill up a bar which in turn fills up star icons. I like this idea, but People Can Fly completely botched it. Even if my co-op partner and I played terribly in a mission, as long as we completed the Declassified mission, we always seemed to get all the stars. Basically, the entire point system hinges almost entirely on the Declassified missions, which makes all the other factors, such as kills, amount of deaths, and all that, seem pretty pointless in the grand scheme of things.

Moving on from the dreadfully boring campaign, People Can Fly and Epic made the laughable decision of taking out one of the franchise's most popular game modes in Horde. Horde mode, debuting in Gears of War 2, was so popular that it has been endlessly copied by virtually every other shooter since then, no matter the player perspective. They attempted to introduce a new mode here called OverRun that is sort of a combination of Beast and Horde mode, but turns out to be very frustrating due to poor map design, and it fails to capture what made Beast and Horde fun in the previous games.

Multiplayer feels limited here and just as pointless as the campaign, with mediocre maps. Dedicated Gears of War fans have already dumped hundreds of hours into the Gears of War style of multiplayer, and Judgment doesn't make a good case to return to the fold. I blame the long console cycle for this, but I think it also would've been smart for Microsoft and Epic to wait to launch the next Gears game on the next-generation Xbox. Now the franchise feels saturated and overdone.

Controls in Gears of War: Judgment have been changed up slightly, but this adds nothing to the experience, and may even detract from it. The change in controls results in a slight learning curve for those used to the previous Gears of War control scheme, and overall, it was just a silly design decision. The core gameplay here is still tight and polished, despite the controls, at least.

But all the polish in the world can't make a game good. The problem with Gears of War: Judgment, even though it has gorgeous graphics and a great soundtrack, is that it just feels pointless. There is really no reason to play this game when the previous games in the series have better maps and are just better all around. Judgment feels like a waste of time, and completely pointless.

The campaign is incredibly short, the lack of fan favorite modes is just a ludicrous design decision, and the multiplayer is entirely unremarkable. It's rare for co-op shooters to lose out on replayability since they feel entirely replayable simply by their nature, but Gears of War: Judgment is one of those games. It doesn't help that most of the unlockable skins and such have to be purchased. Seriously, there is like two rows of multiplayer skins that can be earned through in-game methods, and then all the rest must be purchased with real money. Gears of War: Judgment honestly just feels like a quick cash-grab from all involved.

Fans of the franchise are likely to be hugely disappointed by Gears of War: Judgment. The game fails to live up to the high bar set by its predecessors, and with so many other games out that deserve your time, it's hard to recommend this to anyone. I have a feeling that releasing this unnecessary sequel may have put a damper on the future success of the franchise, but I want to see Gears rise from the ashes, and hopefully it can be brought back with some dignity.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 04/03/13

Game Release: Gears of War: Judgment (US, 03/19/13)

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