by Brian Robbins 

I have quite a history with the Gears of War franchise. I’ve purchased all of them at midnight, played countless matches over Xbox Live and even almost shed a tear during a certain character’s death in Gears of War 3. Sure, this franchise isn’t for everyone but it is good ole  fashioned fun. This time around, you aren’t playing as Marcus Fenix but as the sarcastic and dry Damon Baird and his Kilo squad. Does this Gears of War prequel hold a candle to the previous titles? Short answer: yes, and it’s bloody fun.

I was only mildly excited to get a chance to play this title. I’ve been a Gears of War fan ever since the first one launched in 2006 but to me, Gears of War: Judgment looked like just more of the same. Luckily, I was proved wrong. The campaign introduced a new way to tell a story, the grubs you’re fighting against are familiar but different and the multiplayer is still some of the best in the business. Sure, one could argue that Gears of War: Judgment is nothing more than an expansion pack to Gears of War 3 but it’s actually something more. You’re getting more content than other shooters at the same price point and the 60 dollar price tag is more than justified.

At the beginning of the game Baird and Kilo squad are placed under arrest for disobeying direct orders. Throughout the single player experience you’ll be giving a testimony recalling every step that led to the arrest. You’ll be playing as all four members as they describe their brutal encounters. This isn’t going to pull you in like TellTale’s Walking Dead game but you will enjoy your stay with these characters. They aren’t all super soldiers wearing a mask (ahem, Master Chief).

During your play through, you’ll encounter Declassified objectives. These are optional choices you’ll be deciding between that will make the missions even harder. The extra objectives are challenging but never impossible. In fact, I suggest doing all of them to make the game just a tad bit more exciting. For instance, I had to use only pistols during one of the game’s more difficult sequences. Another one  blasts you with a sandstorm. They’re fun, and unpredictable to say the least.

This game also has a significant bad guy but he’s woefully underused. A big bad locust that continually pops up to bug Kilo squad- you have to ask yourself why this guy is so special. Not to spoil anything but the ending in Judgement feels completely underwhelming.

Once you finish the eight hour single-player experience, you’ll have access to another short series of missions called “Aftermath” that take place during the Gears of War 3 story line. It’s pretty cool to see just where Baird and Cole went when Marcus and Dom were engaging other locusts around the planet. The character skins actually look different than in Judgment because “Aftermath” takes place in the bleak future. It was a nice touch and showed that developer People can Fly actually paid attention to continuity.

Gears of War is a hectic third-person cover-based shooter. Throughout the years and sequels, EPIC games has perfected the gameplay of its gory shooter. Snapping a perfect active reload in your rifle is still one of the most satisfying moments in gaming. That being said, there haven’t been a whole lot of gameplay changes from Gears of War 3 to Judgment and this is both a good thing and a bad thing. Nothing is more frustrating than needing to be revived by your teammates and finding them bumbling, doing anything but saving your life. It’s unfortunate to rely on your AI companions for help; if you’re playing through the more advanced difficulties you’ll need your online backup.

A new feature they have in Gears of War: Judgement is the prize boxes. As you continually level up and complete certain ribbons and achievements the game will reward you with these prize boxes that you’ll open up in the main menu. They’re random in what they will contain, it could be anything like free experience points to new skins for characters and weapons. It’s pretty fun and I hope more games implement this feature in the future.

And Multiplayer is back. You’ll be playing as both the human COG and the Locust horde with a new class based system. Finally the COG can heal each other and have special access to weapons. Unfortunately, this isn’t the end all Gears of War multiplayer. The game only ships with four maps and four game modes. This is disappointing;  they also took out executions and “Down but not out” features. I suppose it’s to speed up the sometimes dragging multiplayer gameplay of the previous Gears of War games but it’s sorely missed.

Gears of War: Judgement is a great addition to the franchise, and I had a blast playing throughout the campaign. The new Declassified missions were exciting and added a fresh take on the series. Despite the mildly barren multiplayer, there’s still quite a bit of replay-ability with promised free downloadable content in the works. I for one had a fun time dusting off my boots and joining Baird and company in this bloody prequel.