3/23/2013 05:00:46


        This past year was a strange one for Epic Games. The studio lost president Mike Capps, director of production Rod Fergusson, and creative director Cliff Bleszinski. The first two, I honestly could care less. That last one, though, had me in a daze. Bleszinksi created the studios' flagship franchise, Gears of War, and led the direction it would take since conception. The newest installment, Gears of War: Judgment, was announced while Bleszinski was still at the company, so I was super excited for another installment. Then, the retirement announcement came and at the time, I didn't think much of it. I was still excited to have an entire game dedicated to Baird and Cole, the former being my absolute favorite character of the franchise. Now, seeing the finished product, I can honestly say that the game is missing...something.
        Judgment, despite having the feel of a Gears of War game, is nothing like what I was expecting. No, not in the good way. Flaws in character development, pacing and writing ultimately brought this installment down for me. I hate that I have to write such a negative review for a game that I think had a ton of potential. Before I get to the review, though, I'll give some background.
        So Judgment takes place about fifteen years before the original Gears of War, but don't think that the situation of Sera (the planet) is any better. Locust have just begun to emerge on the surface and slaughter the human race. The game's setting is Halvo Bay, which is the sight of a major battle of the war, known as the Destruction of Halvo Bay. Here, a Locust leader (general?) named Karn leads a seemingly neverending force across the area. This is where Kilo squad, under the leadership of then-lieutenant Damon Baird, is deployed by Colonel Ezra Loomis. Also in Kilo squad is fan favorite Pvt. Augustus Cole (Cole Train!) and two new characters, Sofia Hendrik and Garron Paduk. 
        This is where the bad stuff begins, sadly with the fan favorite leads. I don't know who these two impostors are, but they are NOT Baird and Cole. While the original Baird was the ultimate smartass, who would regularly get demoted for insubordination, THIS Baird spends most of the time saying "Yes sir," and listening to the rest of his squad. Then, out of nowhere, he'll drop a wannabe smartass line that is not funny at all because you're so bewildered that the man said "Yes sir," earlier. This was probably one of the most inconsistent characters I've ever encountered in a video game and it makes me so sad to have to write that, because I absolutely thought the original Baird was AWESOME. And his energetic partner, Cole, did not once utter his "WOOO!" catchphrase. Nobody called him the Cole Train, either, and it's not a defense to say that "oh, well, this was before people started calling him that." They called him that when he was a Thrashball player before he joined the war! That's where the nickname came from. Plus, Lester Speight (the voice actor for Cole) really got a steal from Epic, because he must've had like ten lines, and the rest of them were just recycled from Gears of War 3. How lazy can you get, Epic?! 
Cole, as he appears in Judgment.
        Then comes the story. Well, honestly, this game didn't really have a story. Making a game of nonstop shootouts and sprinkling in a few lines of dialogue is NOT a story. But, the few bits and pieces add up to Baird and Kilo going against some dick colonel's wishes in order to deploy a Lightmass missile and destroy Karn (the Locust general I mentioned earlier). And after they do that, the colonel holds an impromptu court session in an old building in the midst of an apocalyptic war with the Locust. Now, I know some people think irrationally and do stupid things, but come on! A colonel who knew they were losing the war would not waste time holding a stupid hearing in the midst of a battle. 
        And the writing, ugh. I grimace when I think of it. The entire game just felt so rushed. It's like you were on a tram and you were just being shuttled from one battle to the next, with little talking and character development in between. Actually, very poorly-written talking in between, and omit the character development. There was none. Basically, the entire game is told through flashbacks as Kilo tells Loomis their mission while in the hearing; however, as you hear their voices recount the story you're playing, you'd think it was your bedtime, 'cuz it felt like they were reading straight out of a novel to you. That's not really the actors' fault, but more of the direction Epic wanted to take it; bad direction, I say. The star of the game, if I had to choose one, would be the new squadmate Garron Paduk, because he echoed the likes of Marcus Fenix. Having somewhat cheesy dialogue, yet being so awesome he could get away with it.
The Judgment squad: (from left to right) Sofia, Baird, Cole and Paduk.
        In fact, now that our previous protagonist has been brought up, this game did something I never thought was possible: it made me miss Marcus. And that's saying something, 'cuz he wasn't the best character development example, either. But there was just something about his stoic nature, his strength and his story that really kept you on the edge of your seat throughout the entire trilogy. You came to care for him, despite him being guarded for most of the time. And don't get me wrong, we cared about Baird and Cole as well. Just if you want us to still care about them, don't change them completely. That's just so obvious.
        Alas, the game did have some positives to boast about. Combat was extraordinary. You might be facing the same enemies (the Locust) as always, but it's never been more fun cutting them down than it is in Judgment. Plus, the multiplayer customization was amazing. Offering different character and weapon skins, it really let you customize your character in a way that wasn't new, but uniquely Gears. Thanks to my pre-order, I was able to use a "Young Marcus Fenix" skin for my time in multiplayer and it was great hearing his voice again as I got my arse whooped (I'm not good at multiplayer). 
Young Marcus Fenix, as he appears in Judgment.
        Unfortunately, I can't offer you any positives on the story mode. Just awful. No epic battles, no funny Baird and Cole banter; just crap. Once you get a certain amount of stars in the campaign, however, you unlock a new extension to the Gears of War 3 story, Aftermath. It features a return to present time and has Baird and Cole display a little bit of
their usual selves, but not much. 
         So, all in all, Gears of War: Judgment was bad. I wouldn't recommend it unless you're a die-hard Gears of War fan, and even then, only if you have nothing better to do. I can't say that the game would be better if CliffyB was still directing it, 'cuz I don't know. I just know that the finished product we got would've been better served being cancelled and letting us figure the story of Baird and Cole out for ourselves.

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