‘Gears of War’ prequel campaign stumbles and falters, but multiplayer saves game in the end

Courtesy Photo

Series smartass and cynic Damon Baird takes center stage in "Gears of War: Judgement" a prequel to the heavily popular "Gears of War" series.

Stephan Starnes, Connection Staff

“Gears of War: Judgment,” which launched on March 19 is the first game in the series developed by an outside studio. That is quickly apparent, as the game lacks some of the major appeal of the previous titles.

“Gears of War” has been one of the few series’ that drew people in with not only a competitive online mode, but immersive campaigns which overlapped throughout the series.

The series as a whole is set on a planet called Sera in the distant future, and chronicles the war between the Coalition of Ordered Government soldiers and the alien race known as the Locust Horde.

This is the only game in the series to not be focused on the hero of the first three games, Marcus Fenix. Anyone who hated the character of Damon Baird, the cynical smartass of the COG soldiers, will immediately turn away from the game. The entire plot is shaped around his past, when he was put on trial for war crimes.

[singlepic id=246 w=250 h=300 float=left]However, that’s where the plot not only grabs your attention, but loses it. The campaign starts with Baird coming off of a chopper in shackles before being taken into a courtroom with those under his command in Kilo Squad. A veteran of the series, Augustus Cole, is in shackles among two newcomers: Garron Paduk and Sofia Hendrik.

The game immediately drops the foursome into the action, with Baird as the playable character, as he recounts the tale that brought him into the courtroom. However, a lack of actual plot after that point makes the killing of Locust enemies more annoying than fun.

In previous games, the killing took you through objectives and advanced the plot through a cohesive mix of cutscenes, dialogue and playing. Now, however, each checkpoint is marked by a list of statistics that stops gameplay and recaps if the score was high enough to earn more stars. The stars are earned through killing enemies and completing objectives, and more “prestigious” stars are earned when playing at higher difficulties.

The stars unlock different things, and are later used to unlock “Aftermath,” which is an extension of the “Gears of War 3” storyline.

With a lot of time spent holding onto positions and defending rooms against waves of incoming Locusts, similar to Horde mode of Gears 3, interest in the campaign quickly wears down.

The lack of a gripping story, the intrusion of stat sheets and the repetitive missions all add up to why I did not play through the entire campaign.

The addition of “Declassified Missions” to Judgment does give the game some points back. At the start of each section of the game, the player has the ability to add an additional level of difficulty that is specific to that section. Some of the missions included playing with reduced ammo, reduced vision and added time limits.

The game also does a good job splitting the chapters between different characters, giving the chance to play as each member of Kilo Squad. However, the game leaves the player with the desire to learn more about the new characters.
A few things are immediately noticeable when playing campaign: the button layout has been changed to match up with most current shooters and the player no longer has a pistol in their loadout. Rather than the D-pad being used to switch between weapons, the Y button switches between the two primary weapons and the Left Bumper is used to throw grenades.

The game’s multiplayer mode has also changed with everything else. While still allowing five-on-five battles, just browsing the menus shows that the playlists were watered down and staples of the game were removed. Two game modes that have been in the game since the beginning, Execution and Warzone, are gone.

Though after the initial playthrough of the game, gamers discovered that Warzone could be accessed through a button command in private matches. Execution was eventually released as free DLC, but the fact remains that they should never have been removed.

Team Deathmatch, however, has been improved, changing from giving each team a limited amount of respawns to having the teams battle it out to 50 kills.

Domination will be the the mode of choice for anyone looking for an objective-based versus experience. It’s similar to Call of Duty in that two teams battle it out for control of three points on the map.

A new, long-awaited mode has finally made it into the Gears menu: Free-for-All. Ten players in all-out battle will quench anyone’s thirst for gruesome destruction in this game.

OverRun, another new mode, isn’t all that it was hyped up to be. The game mode pits Locusts against the COG in a specialized type of warfare. The COG have to keep an Emergence Hole (a hole where Locusts emerge from) from being opened, while the Locusts attempt to destroy barricades to get to it.

For the first time, COG soldiers are picked in different classes, with each class having different weapons.

The mode is promising, but the Locust team has two distinct advantages: a quicker respawn time and more powerful characters. In most matches I have played, Locusts almost always overwhelm the COGs.

COG and Locusts no longer face off in versus modes outside of OverRun, which takes away from the unique feel that Gears games have had. Instead, COGs face off against other COGs, differentiated by team colors of Red and Blue.

Being able to down an opponent and execute them with a curb-stomp or a weapon-specific bloody end has been taken out. And players must now choose one primary weapon, one type of grenade and they’ll start each spawn with them and a pistol. Gone are the days of a loadout filled with an assault rifle, a shotgun, a pistol and a smoke grenade.

A few new guns are also introduced. Anyone who is fond of sniping will take to the Markza, a new semi-automatic sniper rifle.

But once the novelty off using most of the new weapons wears off, the tried and true gun is still the best in the game: the Gnasher Shotgun.

While the game may lack in many places, it never gets old blowing someone’s body to bits with a well-timed shotgun blast to the chest. The “Gears of War” multiplayer is truly beautiful, gory carnage at its finest that can’t be rivaled by the likes of Call of Duty.

[singlepic id=248 w=300 h=300 float=left]Gears of War purists looking to just play through the campaign once would find it best to just rent the game, while perfectionists looking to earn every star through the missions should purchase it.

Anyone looking to get into the series should stay away from this “addition” to the storyline and play through the first three games.

Anyone looking for online play should not only buy the game, but also invest in the Season Pass, which grants access to future maps, game modes and gives double experience for life.

Multiplayer alone makes the game worth it, even without some of the original modes, but not having a well-rounded campaign really hurts what could have been the perfect game.[singlepic id=247 w=150 h=150 float=center]