Gears of War: Judgement review (Xbox 360)

Serving as a prequel to the original Gears of War game and structured in a episodic fashion, Gears Of War: Judgement is developer People Can Fly’s take on the now iconic series. Keeping the basic shoot’n’cover mechanics of the series intact, the developers refine the entire system until it’s polished to its absolute best: the controls are tight, the shooting spot-on – playing this new entry in the Gears of War series is never less than a joy.

The level design in the game works as a series of ever-expanding set pieces: the game is fast-paced and over-the-top but not in a way that would lose its audience: the sense that you’re involved at all times is prominent and constantly re-iterated.

Like their previous game Bulletstorm, People Can Fly really understand how to set an incredible shoot-out: defending locations, storming crumbling mansions and co-ordinating what looks like suicide attacks on heavily defended locations, Kilo Squad rampage through the destroyed cities with finesse dragging the player into an action frenzy the like of which we have not seen for a while. Add to this the reports you find along the way which amp the difficulty and you have a killer game which can make even the seasoned players swear. The reports which set out certain perimeters for finishing the objective (for example use only pistols or take out at least 25 waves of enemies) certainly create worthwhile additional challenges while creating a hitherto unseen complexity within the Gears Of War narrative: the series storyline has been, so far, a mish-mash of big budget science-fiction and action – however these little Rashomon-like asides add a subtlety which works very well within the overall structure.

Judgement not only plays well but also looks and sounds gorgeous. The cityscape is detailed and infinitely beautiful in a derelict, devastated way and as the squad moves through from location to location, each place ; be it a museum or a city square ; comes alive with little touches: the cracks on the walls, the fallen arches, the rooms with destroyed furniture. There’s a sense of history which hides the fact that these are essentially giant battle rooms and nothing more quite well.

The story in Judgement is no more complicated than in any of the previous Gears games – but making the structure episodic and allowing different characters from Kilo squad take up the storytelling mantle certainly injects a breath of fresh air to the whole thing. The basic premise is that Kilo Squad have been captured, charged with desertion and treason – a make-shift court is erected while battle looms all around them to hear their story and sentence them. Their chances are slim as the colonel in charge of the court has already made his mind to sentences them all to death – however for the sake of appearances he allows each Gear to come forth and tell some part of the story letting the player play through the erratic adventures of this rag-tag group of misfit soldiers.

Alongside the single-player campaign which takes what’s best with the series and refines it – the multiplayer also brings some very welcome additions to the series.

As in the previous games, there’s a whole host of multiplayer modes for the players to get into including some local co-op ones. Overrun and Survival are two game modes which see the introduction of a class system: players are given the choice of four classes, each with their unique set of skills. By bringing in this system, People Can Fly change the flow and rhythm of the game in a way that allows for more varied and interesting firefights: the expansion of the maps in Survival mode is another positive addition; with the three tiered maps creating an epic feel for the battles taking place.

Gears of War: Judgement is a welcome step in the right direction for the series – it’s good to see that Epic Games and People Can Fly are trying to evolve the series rather than serving up a tweaked-up formula each year and one can only hope that with any more Gears games, they’ll be able to create even more involving and refined experiences.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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