Review

Gears Of War: Judgment

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Pwned

Gears Of War: Judgment is as unnecessary as a chainsaw on the end of a gun, but the formula still works.

By Drew Toal • March 25, 2013

“Locust has opened the E-hole,” reads the message across the screen. Really? E-hole? That’s the best name Gears Of War: Judgment’s creators could come up with for the point you have to defend at all costs in the game’s Survival multiplayer? I can just picture my fiancée walking in as I’m yelling into the headset, “Everyone get back to the E-hole, it’s under attack!” It sounds like the gristly aftermath of explosive hemorrhoids.

The fourth installment of the popular space-bug war series is a prequel of sorts. The single-player campaign, while blissfully free of E-holes, is not short on a-holes. When the game begins, Colonel Loomis, your commanding officer with the classic villain mustache, is accusing your team of treason. Fortunately, Kilo Squad will have its day in court. Unfortunately, that court is a military tribunal in the middle of a warzone.

It’s all Loomis can do to restrain himself from putting you all in front of a firing squad. He agrees to at least go through the motions of a fair trial. At worst, it’s a half-step up from Guantanamo-level jurisprudence. The main thrust of the campaign is the four members of Kilo Squad recalling the events that led to their arrest. You’re basically replaying their memories.

Gears Of War: Judgment

Judgment is the first Gears game missing the services of Marcus Fenix and Dom Santiago, the heroes of the main trilogy. But it’s not all new faces. Damon Baird and Augustus Cole, third and fourth fiddles in the original, now play a starring role. Kilo Squad is comprised of this wisecracking pair plus straitlaced cadet Sofia Hendrik and wry burn victim Garron Paduk. The characters all get a chance to tell their story, and it adds up to a relatively coherent whole.

Each stage is as brief as it is violent, and players have the option to play the game “Declassified”—adjusting the soldiers’ memories to maximize your personal enjoyment. It makes zero sense in the context of the story, but the mission tweaks are generally more fun and rewarding than playing them straight. Some declassifications fill the room with gas or smoke, obscuring your sight. Others require the use of only certain weapons. A few set a time limit before some catastrophe ends the mission. I was hoping one of the declassifications would reveal how to stop getting repeatedly shot in the face during the game’s Team Deathmatch multiplayer mode. No such luck.

Gears Of War: Judgment

Judgment’s story—penned by writers Tom Bissell and Rob Auten—is a fairly standard set piece. It’s not bad, exactly. It’s not really anything. There’s some banter, some ominous foreshadowing, and some laughs, but Judgment’s campaign lacks for believable motivations. It doesn’t feel like there’s anything at stake. And I like the idea of giving secondary characters their own game, but the second-banana dynamic is not exploited for all it could be. For his star turn, I was hoping for a little more screen time from the “Cole Train,” who’s voiced by Lester Speight (an actor also known for his turn as “Terrible” Terry Tate, Office Linebacker in Reebok commercials). The shining star of the group, though, turns out to be the disaffected Paduk. Hailing from the quasi-Soviet splinter state of Gorasnaya, Paduk’s sarcastic fatalism feels like the appropriate response to the rather gloomy situation. I kept waiting for the punchline: “In Soviet Gorasnaya, you eat Locust…”

There’s a lack of meaningful variety between the four accounts. Playing as Baird is essentially the same as Paduk, Cole, or Hendrik. Contrast this with the Survival multiplayer mode, where you’re tasked with fending off waves of Locust invaders. You can choose between an engineer, a scout, a soldier, and a medic, each with different abilities and weaponry. There are clear advantages and disadvantages to each, and the campaign probably could’ve benefited from similar distinctions between the single-player chapters.

Gears Of War: Judgment

There are a few notable changes. Judgment has bravely moved away from the popular multiplayer options of Gears 3. In place of Horde and Beast modes, there is OverRun. Each team gets a chance to both defend and attack the dreaded E-hole, playing as both the COG (humans) and Locust (not humans) by turn. Players who consider Gears 3’s multiplayer the pinnacle of the form—like my Gameologi-colleague Ryan Smith—will likely be disappointed by the changes. It seems more a gratuitous lateral move than an improvement.

But here’s the thing. Gears Of War has changed remarkably little since the first game’s release in 2006. I know this because the retail copy of Judgment comes with a download code for that big, beautiful dinosaur. It’s a testament to the first game’s design that subsequent installments have had to revise so little. So yeah, Judgment’s mere existence is gratuitous. There is no reason for this game to exist. But that doesn’t make it less enjoyable. Just don’t go in expecting a reinvention of the E-hole.

Gears Of War: Judgment
Developers: Epic Games, People Can Fly
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Xbox 360
Price: $60
Rating: M

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38 Responses to “Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Pwned”

  1. Citric says:

    I assume that the E-hole either dispenses drugs or anonymous sex, both of which seem oddly apposite.

  2. Good, Horde got f’in old after Gears of War 3 thought it’d be cool to slap everything and the kitchen sink on that mode.  I think GoW2’s tiny maps also just worked better for the game-type as it gave you more of the feeling of holing up against impossible odds.

    Also, Baird might be the most irritating character in history, I can’t believe he got his own damn game.

    • Bakken Hood says:

      Hey, some of us can relate to Baird’s plight of being surrounded by idiots who stubbornly refuse to worship us for being smarter than everyone else, no matter how many times we remind them of it.

      But seriously, I respectfully disagree about Horde.  I thought the RTS elements in Horde 2.0 were a welcome twist on the stock there’s-a-map-go-kill-everything survival mode.  

      Still, I can’t grumble about the new being different than the old.  I haven’t played Judgment yet, but if I want it to be just like Gears 3, I can play Gears 3.  A major rewrite does more than incremental tweaks to convince me to spend another $60.  I’m looking forward to trying out OverRun and whatnot when I have the time for a new game.

  3. Bakken Hood says:

    The Gears series fascinates me from an artistic standpoint– not because it’s ever going to be Exhibit A in the games-as-art debate, but because every game has elements that deserve to exist in service of a loftier work of interactive art.  The sometimes overwrought but always striking “Destroyed Beauty” environment design, the better-than-the-story-deserved voice acting (seriously, Carlos Ferro sold me on the Big Tragic Scene in Gears 2)…

    …and now, we have a Rashomon game, apparently.  If BioShock is a trenchant meditation on the nature of free will, as many reviews claimed, it sounds like Judgment has just as much to say about the porous nature of memory and the difference between the truth and the proverbial whole truth.  The reviews I’ve read, even the vaguely negative ones, have sold me on Judgment in a way that my enjoyment of Gears 3 didn’t.  I’m looking forward to playing it for myself.

    • Erdschwein says:

      I agree completely. It strange to say this about a game that has sold fantastically, but I definitely feel like it has been somewhat under appreciated. Firstly, ignoring all artistic notions, it just fucking works. There’s something to be said for a game that is really good at just being a game–excellent mechanics, addicting, good graphics, etc. One of the reasons I never felt particularly motivated to play later editions was that I felt like the first one could hardly be improved upon in its most fundamental facets. Secondly, I thought the game was well-written and visually appealing. It’s easy to mock the game as BIG BROS DOIN MANLY SHIT, but in reality the game didn’t feature much macho bullshit. Instead, there was a lot of hopelessness and fatalism. The brutality of the game worked well for the plot; Baird’s death seems especially meaningless and random, which I think it’s exactly what death in war is like. Don’t get me wrong, the game’s not Wild Strawberries, but it’s definitely one of my favorite games and deserving of a close critical evaluation.

  4. zerocrates says:

    “E-Holes” go back all the way to Gears 1.

    I guess you can play Survival as the other side, if you’d be defending one.

  5. Effigy_Power says:

    Big muscly men… bla bla… skimpy female armor… yadda yadda… empowerment, equality…
    Sorry, I am tired and my heart’s not really in this feminist rant.

    • Bakken Hood says:

      …the dudes’ armor isn’t any more modest than the ladies’.  If anything’s being flaunted on the cover of Gears 3, it’s Marcus’s Tom Hardyesque biceps.

      • Girard says:

        Hey, you’re right!

        Though the women’s pants are decidedly tighter and less laden with pouches. Still, if that’s its worst gender offense (I don’t know enough about the series to know if that’s true), it’s doing pretty well for a game about meatheads shooting shit in the face, I guess.

        Though this makes me wonder. Is the state of video games so low that we’re giving games brownie points just for not having its female characters’ T&A floppin’ out all over the place?

        • Bakken Hood says:

          If there’s a worse gender offense than the tight pants (which still aren’t as tight as the spandex on the Cole Train multiplayer skin), it’s a scene early in Gears 3 where Baird approves of a proposal to trade Samantha Byrne for a plate of bacon.  Sam and Baird spend the entire game sniping at each other, though, including a threat to “raise [Baird’s] voice an octave.”  I don’t think it’s worth overanalyzing.  Whatever its other faults, I’d say Gears is doing just fine on gender equality.  Yes, it’s sad that that makes it exceptional.

        • duwease says:

          I’m proud of them for putting unnecessary chest-circles on the armor of both men and women.  If there’s one part of equality I can get behind, it’s gender-neutral armored nipple substitutes.

        • Girard says:

          @duwease:disqus : In the year 20XX, they will graduate to unnecessary nipple GEMS.

        • PaganPoet says:

          Tighter pants? I dunno…Marcus Fenix seems to be sporting quite a bulge in that pic…

    • The_Misanthrope says:

       Hey, a chick wrote GOW3.  What more do you want?!?

      Actually, that is one of maybe 3 facts I know about the franchise.  I just came over because the broken link over at the AVC finally became a live link.

    • PaganPoet says:

      Well, it really needs to be a portmanteau to be a true precursor to Revengeance. Like…JudgeMental! …which isn’t a portmanteau at all, it’s just a word…

      *sulks off*

  6. rvb1023 says:

    Damn the haters, Gears sold me on the 360 back in the day and its really Microsoft’s only franchise I care about. It’s just about the only shooter my friends and I will get together and play and Horde mode was the reason.

    Though screw host advantage. Seriously.

  7. Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle says:

    So this, like God of War: Asomething, is a prequel? I wasn’t under any illusions that the major game studios still have new ideas and aren’t coasting on brand recognition alone, but really? 

    The only prequel I would consider is Mass Effect: The Sheparding, where we play as young Shep from enlistment in the Alliance marines right up to and including the incident on Akuze, getting into all sorts of scrapes along the way in exotic locations around the galaxy. There you go Bioware, that one’s for free. But instead we’ll probably get more things like Infamous: Awakenings which would be a series of timed bicycle courier mini-games. Or Hitboy: Adolescent Assassin.

    • sloth09 says:

      I’d say it’s closer to something like Halo:ODST in that, while the single player game is pretty fun, it’s difficult to justify as a full price purchase as the campaign is really short (I got through it in about 5 hours on normal). In fact it’s probably worse value than ODST as that at least gave you the full Halo 3 multiplayer including all map packs (although anyone still playing Halo3 MP at that point presumably owned those anyway).

      They seem to be trying to sell it on the basis of its multiplayer but even that seems pretty dubious when they’ve removed most of the modes and only include 4 maps for the regular PvP (admittedly very good ones as they have a vertical element not seen in Gear before – leaping off a balcony onto an opposing player to kill them and start capturing their ring in Domination is good fun but the novelty will probably wear off – but Gears 3 currently has at least 14 maps that I can think of). It’s also a bit strange that the PvP (other than Overrun) is human versus human. It makes it quite difficult to tell who’s on which team especially as the weapon and character skins make an unwelcome return (the full bundle of them costs more than the season pass) and some of these cause your character to glow red or blue no matter which side you’re on

      There are a few more maps for Overrun but I’m not convinced the mode has the longevity of Horde. Playing over the weekend everyone seems to have figured out (in fact it’s mentioned as a tip on one of the loading screens) that when playing as locust the best strategy is to just keep spamming tickers to damage defences until you’ve got enough points to buy a corpser or mauler (tickers are free) and just smash your way through. It gets boring a bit too quickly.

      The Aftermath campaign is great though. It plays very differently to the main campaign and feels much more like regular Gears single player.

  8. Moonside_Malcontent says:

    Really, Mr. Toal?  Are you baiting me with that Russian Reversal joke?  Did you think I might be too proud to get on this train straight to Finland Station?  I am absolutely that immature, I assure you.

    Very well.

    In Soviet Gorasnaya, Cat comments You.

  9. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    I just watched the Q&A section posted on Facebook, and while I understand it’s purely coincidence, I feel it’s an inspired piece of themed Journalism for Toal to answer questions about XBOX’s premier bro-shooter franchise in his mom’s basement.
       If you had miked through a headset and used more reflexive swearing, the illusion would be complete.

  10. beema says:

    BIOSHOCK INFINITE REVIEW THIS IS NOT

  11. trash dont buy this shitttttttttttttttt sucksssss