"Gears of War: Judgment" will let down multiplayer fans

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Kilo Squad members Lt. Baird and Garron Paduk will battle all types of Locust enemies in this prequel set 15 years before the events of the first "Gears of War" game. (Photo courtesy of Epic Games)

Developers People Can Fly and Epic Games jointly released “Gears of War: Judgment” on Tuesday for Xbox 360. As the fourth iteration in the “Gears of War” franchise, this new title has made some rather controversial changes to the original gameplay that will be ruinous for both old and new fans. 

Despite the fact that the campaign offers a brief eight-hour experience on “hardcore” difficulty, it’s apparent that the developers put a commendable amount of thought into redesigning the single-player mode. Told through a series of flashbacks, “Gears of War: Judgment” launches players into “medias res” as Lieutenant Baird and the rest of his squad are placed before a tense military tribunal. Forced to recount the events that took place, each character relays a chapter of the story from their perspective. 

This refreshing plot device paves the way for a new single-player star-rating system and “fully-declassified” missions. Based on various accomplishments like headshots and gibs, players are rewarded stars that can unlock skins and weapons later on in the game. “Fully-declassified” missions are denoted by large crimson decals at the beginning of each level, where gamers can choose to accept a more challenging version of the level. By opting into challenges like time limits, less ammo and obscured vision, players can earn stars at a faster rate. This dual-mode campaign allows for some replayability when the campaign is complete. 

Unfortunately, however, this arcade-mode gameplay creates a choppier story experience. After each small section of the chapter, players are paused to see their star-rating and review statistics. This might be an exciting feature after beating the game once, but it is used as a staple of the single-player mode and honestly inhibits any merit the storytelling features had. Graphics, though stunning in some locales, have remained unchanged from “Gears of War 3.” 

Since the “Gears of War” series is well known for its intense multi-player mode, a majority of players will be shocked to learn that a number of changes have been made to the original online gameplay. In particular, the controller scheme for “Gears of War: Judgment” now limits players to two weapons only. Unlike the previous games where characters could swap between four weapon slots with the directional-pad, only two primary weapons can be used in the multiplayer arenas. 

Switching between weapons is now controlled by pressing “Y” and grenades are thrown by pressing “LB.” On a similarly devastating note, Epic Games decided to scrap the “down but not out” feature of multi-player. Players who are hit critically can no longer be resuscitated; they simply die on the spot. This means that two subsequent melee attacks can kill, and players can no longer execute the enemy team when they are down. 

In continuation of this mournful liturgy, Horde Mode has also been cut out from the final product. In its place stands a rather insufficient version blandly dubbed “Survival Mode.” Choosing a preset weapon class, players will cut through 10 waves of diverse Locust enemies before the game concludes.

“Overrun” mode is one of the few redeeming features of the game. As a multi-player option, Overrun is a class-based, defend-destroy mode where players can either join the COG team or the Locust team. Though not a revolutionary new addition, the Free-for-all multi-player option has also been added to the game types to satiate players with
lone-wolf tendencies. 

Strangely enough, players who purchase a new copy of the game will be given a code to download the original “Gears of War” from the Xbox Marketplace. In some ways, this seems more like a conciliatory move than anything else, as if Epic Games is saying “I know our game isn’t that great, but here’s some free content.” Not exactly a promising message to send customers.  

So what’s the verdict? “Gears of War: Judgment” is nothing more than a revamp of the third game, with some minor control adjustments, one new multi-player mode and a brief arcade version of the campaign. Although Epic Games wants its fans to pay full retail price for their new title release, this particular game should be viewed more like downloadable content with a $60 price tag: not worth it.