As has happened with a number of popular franchises lately, Gears of War wrapped up its gritty alien-bashing story with a trilogy of games (aptly titled Gears of War, Gears of War 2 and Gears of War 3). By the end of the third outing, subterranean enemies were defeated, the scarred virtual world was left to rebuild, and the battle-weary gears could beat their Lancers into plowshares and finally kick off those giant metal boots. So that's it, right?
Uh, no. That simply means it's time to come up with a prequel tale for game No. 4.
Not a Reboot: Just Another Stomp
Gears of War: Judgment jumps back in history to give gamers yet another chance to thump Locust invaders. We start out in the immediate aftermath of Emergence Day—the day when peaceful human colonists first found out that a hoard of nasties were living just beneath their feet at the core of their newly adopted planet of Sera. Fans know where the story is leading, but gamemakers figure all those trigger-pullers will still want to, well, pull triggers with a little interim storyline action.
Series protagonist and main gear Marcus Fenix sits this one out. The central cog in the warring machine this time is Lieutenant Damon Baird. When the game begins, he and his three-member Kilo squad stumble out of a transport in chains—accused of desertion, cowardice, treason and … oh, any number of other dastardly deeds. But it all comes down to the fact that they disobeyed the direct orders of one Col. Loomis, a self-important officer who wants to make examples of his rebellious subordinates.
The game then becomes a sort of flashback play-through of the accused soldiers' testimonies. Each of the four squad members takes his or her turn as narrator and the action-driving character, prompting gamers to battle their way through exactly what happened in the early weeks of the war. This Gears then becomes more about the heft and weight of the series' trademark cover-based combat than it is about some immersive storyline. More about thumping into barricades and smearing alien guts on the scenery than twisting plot turns.
The two main campaigns—"Judgment" and the unlockable "Aftermath"—aren't really all that lengthy when compared to this series' usually go-rounds. They only tally up to a total of maybe seven to 10 hours of single- or four-person play. And that would indicate that the gang at Epic Games is considering this to be all about getting your money's worth in online multiplayer play.
But no matter how gamers choose to play, they'll be encountering the same grinding Gears style of mess.
No Good Option
As with past games, obscenities fly thick and fast, right alongside the bullets. And players use their COG-issued Lancer rifles and an arsenal of Hammerburst heavy guns, Gnasher shotguns, body-mulching rocket launchers, head-obliterating sniper rifles and various poisoning or flesh-rending grenades to viciously eliminate wave after wave after wave (after wave) of snarling, raging, humanoid foes.
Yes, our good guys break ranks to save innocent civilians. And that heroic, life-saving choice is at the heart of everything they do. But it doesn't mean gamers won't be more focused on running, gunning and keeping track of how many points they earn for each brain-splattering headshot, body-obliterating gib or insanely bloody chain-saw bayonet dismemberment.
One addition to the play this time around is a series of large skull/cog graffiti tags that can be found on walls throughout the battle zone. If you click these symbols, you're presented with special "declassified testimony" that you can include in the narration. This adds unique weaponry, higher difficulty multipliers and maybe a ticking clock or a limitation on ammo to an upcoming engagement—making the challenge even tougher and the battle all the more brutal.
You do have the ability to dig into the options menu and turn off "gore" and "mature language." And the restricted settings make a difference in the cacophony of war. But they don't keep heads from imploding, flesh from searing or chain saws from hacking foes in two. They don't keep enemy "meatshields" from getting torn out of your virtual hands in chunks. They just mean that when all that happens, your digital soldier won't get splashed with the same tubful of bloody goop.