Gears of War: Judgment
Ever since it first booted the gaming world's door down with its massive armoured foot in 2006, Gears of War has followed an energetic if slightly formulaic third-person shooter routine: smash your way into an arena, run for cover, duck and shoot your way past the gun-toting reptilian aliens, move on. There were variations along the way but this was largely the bread and butter of it all, and it's something that Judgment stands firmly by.
The fourth entry in the series takes events back to before those in the first Gears of War, in the immediate aftermath of Emergence Day, when all hell broke lose on the Earthlike planet of Sera. Don't worry, you're not tested on the plotline. And in the same way that Star Wars prequels made things look more swish and modern than the films set afterwards, Judgment offers a far more graphically enhanced experience than its predecessors, with gorgeously vivid surroundings (that ultimately turn into blood-soaked war zones).
A new touch in Judgment is the manner in which the skirmishes are broken up into small, arcade-like chunks, with stars awarded for the variety of kills at the end of each battle. You can earn more stars by choosing the special declassified missions that pop up regularly. While fun, these curtail the feeling of an overriding narrative, creating a series of mini games to repeat until perfected.
The game is broken into two segments. The first and major campaign, Judgment, is told through a series of flashbacks following the series regular Damon Baird and his gruff-talking squad. The secondary mini-campaign, Aftermath, catches up with the team two decades later with a story that takes place during Gears of War 3. Despite presenting some impressive missions, Aftermath feels like a tacked-on extra.
Unless you've plumped for the easiest setting, you are likely to die - often. In fact, you're likely to die more in the first couple of levels than the whole of the previous instalment. There are, however, some cracking ways to minimise your death count, including a massive alien shield that you can use to crawl forward and deflect fire while still poking around the side with your gun. There are new weapons, too, but this time you're restricted to just carrying two at a time.
On the multiplayer side of things, Gears of War fans are likely to be disappointed by the lack of Horde, easily one of the best options from before. This has been replaced by Survival, which throws the same wave of baddies at you but feels far less strategic, and is not helped by the fact you can no longer choose the solo option.
In all, sadly, Judgment doesn't feel like a complete enough game to warrant a Gears of War 4 tag. While undeniably fast-paced and outrageously intense to play in parts, its new arcade style disrupts the flow while the multiplayer mode is left wanting. It's still good, with action sequences that will leave you breathless and in danger of falling off your chair, but for anyone not desperate to complete their Gears of War catalogue, it might not be worth the price tag.
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