News, Views, and Reviews
Thanks to a special promotion from GameStop, I’ve been playing the multi-player mode “OverRun” early! That means I can get the multi-player review done first, and jump to the campaign review after I finish it. Gears of War: Judgment releases Tuesday, March 19th, exclusively for Xbox 360. Epic has passed development duties on to the “People Can Fly” studio for GOW: Judgment, and they breathe new life and energy into the series. PCF is only known for their one previous game, also published by Epic, “Bulletstorm” but you couldn’t tell this is only their 2nd game by its quality. It’s very, very polished. The pace has been quickened, thanks to a combination of slight adjustments to the controller layout and interesting map designs that force players to keep moving. It’s still a third-person, cover-based shooter, but it’s been energized!
Features: Judgment has four versus game modes and eight maps. Four of the maps are shared between Domination, Free For All, and Team Deathmatch. Another four maps are unique to the preview mode that everyone has been talking about, OverRun, and the 5 player co-op mode Survival. The campaign also features 4 player co-op. Two player split-screen is still supported, and all co-op and versus matches can be played online or via system-link. Private matches can be filled with bots.
“OverRun” is a round based 5 VS 5 mode, COGs VS Locust, with teams switching sides between rounds. The premise is similar to the Battlefield “Rush” game mode: the team on defense has six minutes to stop the team on offense from destroying three objectives. If the team on offense, the Locusts, destroy the first objective in time, the clock starts over and the team on defense, the COGs, gets pushed back to the second location. If that is destroyed, the COGs get pushed back again, and the Locusts have six more minutes to reach the final objective. The objectives also fit the Gears of War struggle. The final objective is a generator that is powering a “Hammer of Dawn” orbital laser, set to destroy a Locust base in six minutes. By capturing the first two objectives, the Locust uncover new “sinkholes” to spawn from, essentially pushing the frontlines of combat closer to that final generator.
The COGs have built in defenses like barbed-wire barricades and turrets, and it’s the Locust’s job to get past those defenses and destroy those objectives. Each team have classes to choose from, which really pushes strategy and team work. The COG classes include a “Scout” or sniper class, a “Medic” class that can heal or revive teammates, a “Soldier” class that also throws out ammo packs for the other Cogs, and an “Engineer” class that can spawn automatic turrets and repair barricades.
The Locusts start with four available classes – TIckers, Grenadiers, Wretches, and Kantus – and as the match progresses, bigger and more dangerous Locust classes become available to players that earn enough points. The Locust “Tickers” are small dog-sized creatures with bombs strapped to their backs, and it’s their job to tear up barricades or detonate themselves near turrets. Those COG turrets are very, very lethal, so the Locust “Grenadiers” class should also focus their grenades on destroying them. The “Wretches” are capable of jumping over barricades and even climbing up and over certain walls. The “Kantus” healers have to maintain their chain-heal effect, but it will also revive teammates. By spending their points, players can play as the Serapede, Rager, Mauler, or Corpser creatures. The “Serapede” worm can claw at barricades or “rear up” and shoot toxic bombs from its mouth and can only be killed by shooting its tail and destroying it segment by segment. “Ragers” play as mid-range sniper Locust soldiers, but can “Rage” out and become temporarily invulnerable and melee enemies. The “Mauler” carries a shield and flail, but can only use one at a time. If the Locust team gets a “Corpser” the match is going to end soon. These devastating, spider-like creatures can burst out of the ground anywhere, are really hard to kill, and can easily destroy an objective.
Scoring is simple: destroy as many of the three objectives as possible on offense, and try to prevent the other team from destroying them on defense. If both teams score as many objectives, the team that did it fastest, wins. A “mercy rule” can be used, so that if one team claims one more objective than the previous team, the match ends. Switching classes when needed and using teamwork are vital to success. OverRun is a great versus mode, and Microsoft should consider selling it, alone, on the Xbox Marketplace. It’s that good.
“Free For All” is a 10 player mode, and believe it or not, this is the first appearance of FFA in a Gears of War game. The faster pace, brutal weapons, and smart map designs are best demonstrated in FFA.
“Domination” is a 5 VS 5 team mode. Teams compete to control three points on the map, and points are scored the longer those points are held.
“Team Deathmatch” is also a 5 VS 5 team mode, with no other objective than to score more points than the other team.
“Survival” is a 5 player co-op mode, which is a scaled down version of “Horde” mode from previous Gears of War games.
Maps and Cover: Keeping players mobile, as they sprint from cover to cover, is the main reason Judgment feels faster paced. Make no mistake, cover is still very important, it just feels like the cover you do find doesn’t protect you from many directions anymore. The maps often feature a level of verticality not seen in previous Gears of War games, so hiding behind something might protect you from left or right, but someone above you will have a clear shot. The mid-range weapons feel more lethal than ever, again pushing mobility. The maps can feel a little maze-like, so it’s a good idea to practice in some private matches versus bots.
Weapons: The weapons feel a lot more balanced; keeping players pinned down at a distance seems just as viable a strategy as rushing them with a shotgun used to. Except for OverRun, the versus modes also feature “power weapons” on the maps. Weapons like the sniper rifle, flamethrower, and “boomshot” grenade launcher respawn at certain points on each map. Different grenade types also appear as “power weapons” and like the weapons, will replace what you are carrying or add more ammo if you are already carrying the same type. But don’t overlook the default weapons, the “Lancer” and “Hammerburst” are more effective than ever. In private matches, customization appears in the form of “power weapon” placement, substitution, or removal. Like Gears of War 3, players have character models and weapon skins to choose from, and a number of more skins to unlock or even purchase from the Xbox Marketplace. The variety of models and skins is impressive, and lets players feel more unique than ever.
Conclusion: I normally value games with more maps and game modes higher than those with fewer options, and I especially value customization. GOW: Judgment, including both co-op and versus modes, has a total of only eight maps and five modes, six modes if you count the campaign. There is a fair amount of customization in private matches, from “power weapons” and limiting respawns, but nothing on the level of a Halo or Call of Duty game – that also feature more maps and more “regular” game modes. Gears of War games, however, are hard to compare to other games. There just aren’t as many third-person shooters as first-person shooters, and the Gears of War franchise has ruled that third-person, cover-based shooter genre for years. Judgment may annoy die-hard fans of the original, but I think many of the changes are for the better. I can imagine “OverRun” tournaments with many 5-player teams competing, or 2 players enjoying split-screen sessions against bots. All things considered, I can easily recommend Gears of War: Judgment. Without even considering the campaign, there is definitely enough value just from Judgment’s multi-player to justify a purchase.
Gears of War: Judgment is an Xbox 360 exclusive, available March 19th. It is Rated ‘M’ for Mature for: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Strong Language.