Gears Of War: Judgment Hands-On Preview [Microsoft X-Series, Spring 2013]

Although it’s going to end up being the fourth Gears of War title to hit retail store shelves, March 19th’s Gears of War: Judgment is different from its peers. It’s not because of its gameplay elements, which employ the same core mechanics that made the first three games incredibly popular, but because of its storyline, dated setting and playable characters. Simply put, this soon-to-be-released entry in the ever-popular third-person shooter franchise will act as a prequel, and is said to take place after the events of the COG soldiers’ well-documented Emergence Day battle.

Putting players in control of Lt. Damon Baird and Pvt. Agustus Cole, Judgment focuses on its characters’ testimonials. You see, the aforementioned duo have been accused of treason as a result of their actions during a Halvo Bay conflict. Appearing in front of a human court with their futures unknown, the pair must recap the series of events that led to their predicament, using player assistance. It’s certainly an interesting concept, which was on full display at Microsoft’s recent X-Series Preview Event in downtown Toronto.

During the aforementioned event, which I’ve chronicled in previous hands-on preview articles, I was given an opportunity to sit down and go hands-on with this gory and much-anticipated prequel story. Read on for my thoughts.

Instead of being dropped into the middle of an action-packed sequence, the folks who were there representing co-developers Epic Games and People May Fly let me experience things from what I assumed to be the beginning, or at least something close to it. As such, the demo began with a courtroom-based cutscene, and then progressed into the series’ trademark, bullet-filled action.

As I previously mentioned, Gears of War: Judgment seems to be very similar to its predecessors when it comes to gameplay, and the same is true of its art direction. As a result, the demo felt natural, but also had some additional tricks up its sleeve; the most notable of which happened to be a new star-based scoring system that rates players’ ingenuity.

Adding a new level of challenge and presenting a way to increase one’s score, secondary combat challenges occasionally dot the in-game landscape. During my twenty to thirty-minute-long demo, I came across a couple. The latter one, which offered a bonus if I could finish its related segment using only a specific set of weapons, ended up being quite basic, while the former challenge attempted to create a scenario of certain doom by turning its traditional enemies into explosive chargers. Needless to say, I was forced to evade and attack with intelligence, as I attempted to stay away from a potential chain of limb-severing explosions.

Displayed on walls as spray-painted Gears of War logos, the brand new challenges look to make things more difficult for veteran players, offering rewards and bragging rights in return. In a game that has been referenced as being more difficult than those that have come before it, those who attempt to complete every secondary task will need to watch their backs and stay on their toes. I will be doing the same, as I plan to complete as many of them as possible. However, not all players will share the same level of interest, which is why their optional nature is made clear from the start.

Another difference that I noticed came in the form of action-defense gameplay. It was nearing the end of my demo time that I came across the mechanic, which is seemingly more prominent this time around. As a result of it, I was forced to stay in one decent-sized area, which required defending through the use of moveable turrets and the like. For the most part, the protection element was enjoyable, but my experience with it was never noteworthy. As such, it’s one aspect of the core game that I’m unsure of, based on my personal preferences.

Despite my minor trepidation over one of its mechanics, my experience with Gears of War: Judgment was very enjoyable. The prequel looks to be a very solid addition to what is one of this generation’s most popular series, and has the chance to become its best release thus far. Here’s hoping that will end up being the case.