Posts Tagged ‘pc games’

Gears of War: Judgment comes from a good “‘F’ it, what we wanna do?” place. With Epic having concluded the core Gears of War trilogy last year (and this console generation concluding next), People Can Fly’s Judgment embraces its Bravo team status of having something to prove, playing with franchise formulas, but staying true to the franchise’s established rules.

Despite being a prequel to the events of the trilogy, Judgment works off the Gears 3playbook of stronger storytelling and gender recognition. The levels of bro-tosity are tolerable with the soldiers of Kilo Squad, Judgment‘s protagonists. Kilo is lead by series favorites Baird and Cole, who are joined by a former UIR (enemy of the COG during thePendulum Wars) major Garron Paduk and the book smart, but not yet battle hardened, Sofia Hendrick.

Judgment‘s story opens with the members of Kilo Squad brought in chains to a military tribunal of one, led by Colonel Ezra Loomis. Kilo must testify to and defend their actions that are played out through the game. Loomis is sleazy to the point of being a caricature, an old Pendulum Wars vet injected into a new type of war. With the game taking place a mere 30 days after Emergence Day, the implication is that Kilo Squad did something super bad to convene a trial as the planet Sera is overrun.

The most immediate and recognizable change to the Gears standard in Judgment is a new control scheme. The old control scheme is gone – no, there is no option to have it back, I asked. The d-pad’s services as weapon selector are no longer required, replaced with the Y button, like it is in most modern shooters. Also, weapon swapping is super fast. If you’re a Gears vet, it’ll feel like chunks of weapon-swapping animation have been removed. Grenades have also been mapped to the bumper for a quick toss, which can be depressed for aiming.


Epic says it’s “trying to make [Judgment] the most intense Gears yet,” and from the two levels of the campaign I played, the pacing is pretty relentless. Although you’ll still have a mini-breather to find a dropped COG tag whenever you see the Gears emblem, most of the time Judgment will have you push forward through a hail of gunfire. There are moments of levity. Early in the game there’s a shop sign that’s a subtle nod to the doomed Carmine family of Gear’s main trilogy: “Carmine Family Life Insurance – Protecting the ones you love.”

Each level concludes with various calculation on how well the player did during the section and will award up to three stars. These stars are needed to unlock somethings that’s referred to as the “aftermath campaign” and other bonuses. Extra points are awarded for completing sections of a level in a specific way based off Kilo Squad’s account of events. Testimony variations are presented as big, red glowing Gears symbols that are impossible to miss and are activated by walking up to the logo. Although these are presented as optional rulesets during a specific section of a mission, I didn’t come across a single one that felt like you’d reject it. These optional variations were simple things like destroying ten egg sacks or only using shotguns for a specific section. They weren’t hard choices to make and offer a bonanza of bonus points toward your star score. In the levels I played, it didn’t even make sense to ask if I’d like to do them. Perhaps it’s a tougher choice later on, but the bonus points help the player swallow that jagged pill.

Although Judgment is a prequel, there are some new items that would have been super convenient to have in the days of future’s past. Top of that list are Stim Grenades, which are healing gas grenades. The campaign also features Horde-like “Dynamic Defense Scenarios,” where sentry guns will be available. These sentry units come in shotgun, machine gun and flamethrower variants. New weapons to the universe include the Markza, a URI semi-automatic weapon which fills the Longshot role. The Markza is converted to the Breechshot on the Locust side, with an added blade attached to the bottom. Finally, the Booshka is a UIR grenade launcher with a three-shot clip of pipe bombs that bounce and explode – unless they hit an enemy, which cause the rounds to explode instantly.

To create a higher level of replayability, Judgment uses the “Smart Spawn System” (S3), which will change up the enemy spawns each time a section is replayed. Meaning, if you fail a particular section, it won’t spawn the same Locust upon reboot. This may not be necessary at the relatively easy “normal” setting, but for those redoing a section over and over again at higher difficulties, the S3 system should help keep the experience fresh with a random selection of Locust enemies.

Gears of War: Judgment’s campaign is expected to be as long as previous installments in the franchise. The key takeaway I had from the preview experience is that Judgmentdoesn’t feel like a lazy sequel. Although Epic and People Can Fly could have phoned this one in for Microsoft, effort was exerted to test new elements in the Gears franchise and I plan on playing it with a couch buddy and two friends on Xbox Live come March 19, 2013.

The heavy chord at the end of a Gears of War battle used to be congratulatory. Your chainsaw roared, corpses crumpled, and a thundering hum warned the world what you’d done. In Gears of War Judgment, the sound that used to celebrate success is a comforting signal to unclench your teeth and start breathing again. You probably won’t make it out next time.


Judgment starts 30 days after Emergence Day, just as humanity goes to war with the Locust. The COG doesn’t know its enemy just yet, which leaves them exposed to the grubs’ fearless aggression. Locust spawn by the dozen, popping out of the ground, crawling out of emergence holes, and knocking down doors in the largest, scariest groups you’ve seen in a Gears game. They are lethal individually, seemingly unstoppable in mixed groups of enemies new and old, and utterly terrifying for even the most grizzled Gears vet. At first, this challenge defines Judgment. Before long, that gives way to an impressive level of newfound complexity.

The common thread between difficulty and depth is variety – each enemy encounter is unique, both by design and thanks to the new semi-random spawning system, which generates different opponents each time you retry an encounter. If a group of Bloodmounts takes you down, don’t expect to see them a second time – Maulers and Grenadiers may replace them, perhaps with a half-dozen Wretches in tow.

Judgment doesn’t ever dial back because you’ll always have the tools necessary to scrape by. This is Gears at its quickest and most aggressive. I swapped between guns as opposed to relying on my Lancer, typically because I’d thrown it to the ground after running out of ammo. Early in the story, when Damon Baird’s Kilo Squad makes its way through the Onyx Guard’s home city of Halvo Bay, you’ll hunker down to defend the Museum of Military Glory using sentry turrets. The tower defense-influence works as effectively in a campaign context as it did in Gears of War 3’s Horde 2.0. It’s a stark change of pace from the push-push-push mission structure preceding it.


Baird, Cole, Paduk and Hendrick – Kilo’s key members – previously swapped Gnasher shotguns and close-quarters combat for the ranged superiority of the new Markza semi-auto sniper-rifle. They chainsawed grubs beneath the burning surface of Halvo Bay’s Old Town district, where they’d later mount turrets to chew through the horde. With Mauler, Boomer, Kantus, Cyclops, and Dark Wretch corpses behind them, Kilo should have earned a leisurely rest while turrets took down Locust inside the museum. Judgment never gives them that chance. I died three times trying to hold off incoming forces. Later, I’d die nearly 10 during a futile stab at the punishing Hardcore difficulty.

Moment to moment, Judgment always has something new and interesting for you to do, but it also presents the opportunity to add an interesting variable to each and every enemy encounter. Activating glowing crimson omens heralds not a hidden COG tag but instead unlocks the “declassified” version of an upcoming fight. Typically, these opt-in objectives limit your weapon usage to, say, Hammerbursts or a Gnasher/Sawed-Off combo. Others give the enemy an advantage. You may come up against Cyclopes with Lancers, grubs who attack from behind, or One-Shots with high-ground positioning. But why on Sera would you willingly make a tough shooter harder for yourself? What good could possibly come from wandering into a claustrophobic cloud of dense, blinding smoke when it’s unnecessary?

Two things.


First, declassification present narrative conceits that fits Judgment well. The story begins with Kilo Squad in a military court, and each mission we play representing a testimony of the events leading up to their trial. The testimony Kilo Squad delivers will change as you activate omens, revealing information you may not have known about the characters and world. Sometimes it relates to military rules, characters’ origins, or simply the COG discovering the intelligence of the Locust.

Secondly, declassified objectives tie into Judgment’s scoring system – and before you run off, it’s not as awful as it sounds. Earning stars for performing well adds substance to the combat without trivializing it. Fighting is more tactical and engaging than ever when you’re rewarded for speed, style, and efficiency. You’re always rewarded for headshots, executions, gib-splosions and other decidedly Gears of War kills, but playing with optional variables adds a multiplier to your score tracker. Earning more stars for kill combos feels even better when the pot’s sweetened. In turn, the way you think about Gears of War’s combat changes – not only because the actual flow of battle is different, but because you’re actively trying to do better than usual. Suddenly Gears of War feels smarter, even if it has more video game-y elements in the mix.


All of this plays hand-in-hand with multiplayer. Free-for-All remains an aggressive departure from the norm, particularly on the smaller-scale street map, while OverRun encourages a different kind of cooperative experience than fans are used to. Epic told IGN that completing challenges and goals across all modes contributes to character unlocks; each character can be customized in a way that’s comparable to past Gears’ weapon skins.

Really, the only way Gears of War Judgment is the same as previous games – core mechanics aside – is in the way its cast interacts. There’s some smart, funny writing behind the characters in Kilo Squad, and it comes through in the way they tease, mock, or outright dislike each other. The witty banter between these characters is exactly what you’d expect out of Marcus and Dom, which speaks volumes about how well this cast – whether they’re old friends or new – will carry its story.

Video Games: The Beginning of the End

Posted: January 14, 2013 by Areeb Fazli in Games
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