Gears of War: Judgment Hands-on Preview
Interested in what Gears of War: Judgment has in store? Read on and find out!
I was fortunate enough to take part in the Xbox Canada XSeries earlier this week, thanks to @Rajio and the awesome Xbox Canada online community managers, and I had a blast. I unfortunately got there late, so I wasn’t able to play some of the upcoming games on display such as BioShock: Infinite and Tomb Raider, but I did get to play about 20 minutes worth of Gears of War: Judgment. If you’re not willing to read the rest of this post, let me sum it up for you: Get this game!
For those who haven’t been following along, GoW:J is actually a prequel to the series, set 14 years before Gears1, months after Emergence Day on the planet Sera. After a long-standing war between the COG and UIR factions, humanity is now tasked with banding together to fight this new menace.
The preview consisted of parts of Act 1 of the campaign, and is told through a series of flashbacks. Upon starting the game, you’re introduced to Kilo squad – headed by the wisecracking Lieutenant Baird, happy-go-lucky ex-sports star Augustus “Cole Train” Cole, former UIR major-turned-COG Garron Paduk, and Onxy Guard trainee Sofia Hendrik – as they’re being led in shackles towards a tribunal. For the entirety of the first act, you actually play through flashbacks of what transpired, as Baird recounts the story while facing judgment over some event that will be unveiled as you play through the game.
Presentation & Gameplay
If you’ve played Gears before, then you should know the basics. GoW: J like its predecessors is a third-person squad-based shooter. As is the case with all Gears games, cover plays a huge role in this game, and anyone not properly using cover won’t survive very long out there.
The game looks as beautiful as ever, both via cutscenes and actual gameplay. The opening levels have you running through ruined old-European-inspired cobblestone streets, as the city around you burns (literally, things are burning everywhere!). The cities in Sera have a distinct look about them that’s just beautiful, with gothic buildings and breathtaking scenery – something that I hope players take notice of while they constantly cover-slide into conveniently placed piles of debris.
I don’t know what kind of wizardry Epic does with the 360, but despite the beautifully rendered scenery, the game continues to play at a fluid rate. Granted, I only spent 20 minutes playing, but a lot of the texture pop-in that I experienced with the older games wasn’t present here, and I didn’t see much in the way of jaggies or anti-aliasing slowdown, even when being barraged by hordes of grubs, boomers, tickers and wretches.
Gameplay-wise, they’ve added new optional challenges to each mission called “Declassified” missions. Throughout each mission you’ll find large red Crimson Omen symbols on walls. Interacting with these will allow you to choose to enable a “Declassified” mission addition to make the level a bit more difficult. These might range from completing a section in a specific amount of time, to spawning more difficult enemies, to only limiting your character to specific weapons. These add an added difficulty element that should make veteran Gearheads happy.
Another gameplay addition is the inclusion of base defense portions. In the level that I played, you’re tasked with holding an area for as long as possible as hordes of Locusts attempt to overrun your position. This might be similar to Horde mode, and it is, but it works in the context of the story. You’re also given automatic sentry guns to place. The guns that I was given came in two varieties: a machine gun and a gnasher sentry. These guns are movable objects, but also need to be constantly reloaded as they run dry fairly quickly. Since I only played as Baird in the campaign, I’m not sure if class mechanics actually work, and whether the “engineer” class like Baird is the only one that can interact with these things. Nonetheless, it shows that Epic isn’t resting on its laurels, and they continue to implement game-changing mechanics in an attempt to differentiate each game.
Developer: People Can Fly
One of the biggest changes is the fact that they’ve brought in developer People Can Fly to take the reins of this installment. If you’ve read my best of 2011 article, you know I have nothing but praise for these folks ever since I played their underratedly funny and vulgar FPS BulletStorm, and I hope they continue to get tapped to do projects like this, unless they finally get to do BulletStorm 2, which would be awesome.
Those expecting to port over their skills from the previous game will soon realize that some tweaks have been made to the tried-and-true control scheme.
The most glaring difference is new (but actually conceptually old) weapon switching mechanic. You’ll no longer have to reach down to the d-pad to swap between weapons, as they’ve implemented what many games nowadays default to: Y-button weapon switching. While it may seem like a minor change, this opens up possibilities for much faster-paced multiplayer games. Gone are the days of having to remove your thumb from the stick and fiddle around with pressing the left or right d-pad arrow to switch. Simply hit Y and your character will equip the weapon not currently being used.
In the previous Gears games, you were able to carry three weapons: two primary weapons and a pistol. They’ve done away with that and now only allow you to carry two weapons in total. I’m guessing it’s likely because it’s easier to switch between just two weapons with the Y button, and to accommodate the new class-based system better. While this makes for more streamlined gameplay, it does make the already underused pistols rather useless in the campaign. Due to this, they’ve also had to slightly alter the meatshield/boomshield mechanic so that you can wield any weapon while holding a hostage. I’m not sure how this will play out in Capture The Leader type games, since hostage-takers will not be as handicapped when holding a leader hostage.
Another major control change that works in conjunction with the d-pad switching I just mentioned is the grenade mechanic. In previous games, you use the d-pad up to select grenades to equip them, and then toss them using the RT (LT to aim). They’ve done away with that, and assigned LB as the grenade button. Simply tap LB to quick-throw a grenade, or hold it down to get the aiming popup. While it works, I was a bit thrown off by the system, and would accidentally quick-throw it when I really wanted to aim it at a cluster of enemies. Again, this will take some getting used to, especially when planting grenades, as you have to hold LB, and then hit the B button to plant them.
Another minor change I noticed was that your character will instantly pick up the small red ammo boxes, but you still have to hold X to grab ammo from the large crates. I liked this addition, and again seemed like a change that was meant to quicken the pace of the game.
Despite these changes, the game plays like any old Gears game, and I can imagine it being just as fun and frantic as the previous games were.
But what about the weapons, you ask? Don’t fret, as your favourites are still here, plus some new ones that we haven’t seen before. In my playthrough, I came across one new weapon: The UIR Markza.
The Lancer is pretty much the same, save for the fact that you can now just melee hit by tapping B, or revving the chainsaw by holding B.
The Gnasher seems to be the same beast you knew and loved, and still has the ability to gib at close range.
The Locust Hammerburst has changed a bit, and I can’t put my finger on it. Like the Hammerburst from Gears 3, clicking on the right stick brings up the iron sights, but they seemed to be different this time around. It also feels like they added much more recoil when ADS.
The Sawed-off, which was the bane of most players’ existence in Gears 3, seems to have been beefed up more by the ability to shoot two shots instead of one prior to reloading. Not sure if I like this change, and with the fast weapon switching, I can see how players can use a bait-and-switch tactic in multiplayer. Draw them in close by shooting at them with your lancer, and as they start rolling toward you looking for the easy gnasher gib, you switch out to the sawed off.
The only new weapon I got to try out, the Markza is kind of a cross between Longshot and Hammerburst. It’s basically a semi-automatic action sniper-rifle that holds ten rounds, with the ability to land headshots, but without the stopping power of the Longshot. It was great if you manage to score a headshot, but useless if you’re hitting center-of-mass.
I saw this on the ground, but didn’t actually bother picking it up because it would’ve meant sacrificing one of my more powerful primary weapons.
- Development is being handled by People Can Fly Studios
- Weapon switching with Y
- Grenade throwing with LB (no need to select using D-Pad)
- Ability to use primary weapon with shield/meatshield
- Declassified option for more difficult gameplay
- Integrated base-defense segments with movable gun emplacements
- New weapons (UIR Markza)
- Tweaked weapons (Hammerburst seems to have more recoil; can melee with Lancer or hold B for chainsaw; two shots for sawed-off instead of one)
- Instant pickups for small red ammo boxes
- Carrying two weapons instead of three
- Potentially more uses for the d-pad
- Class-based system (haven’t experienced it first-hand though)
The Old Guy in Me Says
Gears fans have already pre-ordered this, so this article just serves as more incentive for them to want to play the game. It looks as good as any other game in the series, and brings just enough changes to keep things fresh.
For those who have never played a Gears of War game, Microsoft is currently bundling the first Gears of War as a free download, so it’s a no-brainer to pre-order this title, and an amazing value.
I unfortunately haven’t had a chance yet to play multiplayer, or the new Overrun mode, which is a natural evolution to the Horde and Beast mode, but I’m looking forward to checking it out in the future.
Gears of War: Judgment comes out exclusively for the Xbox 360 on March 19.
An ongoing series where we play a new game for a short time and give our initial thoughts about it. We simply don't have the time to finish the game quickly. However, what we do have is enough gaming experience to be able to tell you what we think of the game and if it's worth it for you to invest your own time to playing it.
A note on our rating scale: We rate things out of five, but don't confuse it with ratings from other publications. We’re not professional reviewers who do this for a living, we don't get sent free copies of games, and we don't have the luxury to play a ton of games during our work hours - we buy/borrow all our games and do this during our off-time, outside of our jobs and families. Our ratings take into account the time and money spent, and are here to help you make an informed decision on whether this game is worthy of your hard-earned cash and limited time.5 – An almost flawless game with good graphics, sound and gameplay. You might even want to replay it many times, despite your busy schedule. A must-buy.
4 – It has some flaws, but it’s still worth a playthrough. Buy it if you like this type of game.
3 – An average game targeted to specific niches. It has its redeeming factors. Buy it on sale or if you fit its target demographic/niche.
2 – The game sucks, but some will get enjoyment out of it. Play it at your own risk.
1 – Broken, ugly game with few redeeming qualities. Probably shouldn’t have been made. Leave this game alone and don’t even look at it.
0 – Worse than garbage. Game companies should pay you for the time you spent playing this trash.