A new challenge-based campaign structure and some fresh multiplayer action make Gears of War: Judgment a worthwhile scion of the celebrated franchise.

The Good

  • Difficulty modifiers spice up combat
  • Character classes engender teamwork in Survival and Overrun
  • Free for All and Domination are great multiplayer additions.

The Bad

  • Narrative flow is regularly disrupted
  • Aftermath campaign is lackluster.

With the conclusion of the Gears of War trilogy, the Locust threat has been exterminated and Sera’s humans can begin to rebuild their devastated world. Marcus Fenix and his surviving Delta Squad brethren have laid down their arms, but a fictional setting as rich as the Locust War provides the potential for many other stories to be told. Gears of War: Judgment ventures back to the early days of this conflict to tell a tale of a disobedient squad standing trial for treason. Though it’s a decent story, the campaign structure favors action over immersion, delivering rousing combat challenges at the expense of narrative flow. It’s a change of pace for the series, but Judgment successfully serves up the tense, brutal action you know and love, and an assortment of new online modes make it an exciting game for competitive and cooperative players alike.

Paduk doesn’t get mad, he gets covered in the blood of his enemies.

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Before he was the wisecracking private in Delta Squad, Damon Baird was a wisecracking lieutenant in command of Kilo Squad. Just about a month after Emergence Day, Baird finds himself in Halvo Bay, a coastal city that looks a lot like every other Locust-ravaged city. With him is series regular Augustus “The Cole Train” Cole and two new characters. Sophia is an Onyx guard recruit who does things by the book, offering resistance to Baird’s crazy plans and sporting an unfortunate hairdo that looks like molded plastic. Paduk is a former enemy of the COG conscripted to fight Locust, and his disgruntled anti-COG potshots are the highlight of the otherwise unremarkable squad chatter.

The story is told in flashbacks as the squad stands trial for treason, with each member taking a turn as the narrator and primary player character. The sneering colonel who prosecutes them makes a good antagonist, and the narrative tells a decent story from the annals of the Locust War. Yet it never achieves the dramatic heights of its predecessors, and this is partly due to the fragmented mission structure that isn’t very conducive to long-form storytelling.

It plays out like this: Once the campaign is under way, you walk toward your objective while voice-over and squad dialogue set the stage. Almost immediately, you come upon a big glowing red skull-and-cog, the logo of the Gears franchise. Press a button, and you are presented with the option to deliver declassified testimony, which changes the narration and adds difficulty modifiers to the upcoming combat section. As a soldier testifies about the extra hardships that Kilo Squad faced, these modifiers impose limitations on things like your time, visibility, ammunition, and weapon selection. On normal difficulty, these modifiers are a welcome challenge; on harder difficulties, they make things very challenging indeed.

Ravagers: ya gotta shoot 'em in the pulsating, enraged head.

Ravagers: ya gotta shoot ‘em in the pulsating, enraged head.

The combat in Gears of War: Judgment is the same brutal, weighty gunplay that the series has thrived on for years. It’s still inherently fun, and the modifiers mix things up enough to make firefights feel fresh. There are new guns and enemies to contend with, as well as a few tweaks that serve to streamline things. You can carry only two weapons now, switching between them with the press of a button, and the hey-they’re-sticky-now grenades are mapped to the left bumper for quick release.

With modifiers activated, combat is as lively as ever, but while this structure benefits the action, the focus on scoring disrupts the flow of your adventure. Beginning each combat section is painless, but at the end of each one, you are given a star rating and shown tallies of your accomplishments. With that section complete, you soon come upon another glowing red logo, and the cycle begins anew. The interruptive tally screens and the regular notifications comparing your stats to those of your Xbox Live friends make it feel like Gears of War: Judgment is primarily concerned with encouraging you to perform combat feats for glory. This tallying can be fun when you’re playing cooperatively or striving for perfect three-star runs, but the regular appearance of the game-halting score reports makes the campaign feel oddly stilted.

A new challenge-based campaign structure and some fresh multiplayer action make Gears of War: Judgment a worthwhile scion of the celebrated franchise.

By Chris Watters