I felt like Gears of War 3 was the perfect end for the series on Xbox 360. It further fine-tuned an already great formula while finally providing a narrative that was worth a damn. Had the series taken a hiatus until the next generation of consoles were ready, I would have been perfectly happy with that. Instead, we got Gears of War: Judgment, an unnecessary prequel that let me down in a big way.
Unlike past games, this story is told in a very different manner. Baird and his squad are put on trial and forced to describe the events that got them in this predicament. You then play out those events as they’re described. On paper, I think it’s a great new take on storytelling for the franchise. However, it also has a new gameplay structure that undermines much of what I enjoyed about the Gears of War campaign experience.
This time, the game is broken up into a series of horde mode style levels. Each map is fairly small in size and you’re usually given only one objective to complete. This may be as simple as killing all of the enemies on screen, flipping a switch at the other side of a room or defending a specific item from attack for a set period of time. If this was just an extra multiplayer mode, I’d be cool with its inclusion. However, since this is the gist of the campaign, it feels woefully inadequate compared to the offerings provided in other Gears games.
It also doesn’t help that the story beats do a bad job of providing meaningful context for what you’re doing. I played through all of Baird’s missions, and the story boiled down to just him rattling off places they walked to. Sure, the Declassified mechanic is a neat way of modifying the story and gameplay experience should you so choose, but it’s a minor detail when the game feels like you’re just walking as a means of not getting killed.
Characterization has never been a strong suit for the franchise, but from the section I played, it was largely devoid of any sort of personality. Baird is as nondescript as he ever has been, Cole is oddly quiet and his new cohorts don’t get any sort of recognition during the first act. At the start of the second, you play as one of the new characters, which may flesh things out, but I was already put off to the game by that point and wanted nothing more to do with it.
I was even let down by the actual action. Gunning Locust’s down in Judgment felt very off due to the small maps and weird spawn patterns. As such, I felt like much of my experience boiled down to running away from enemies that were in my face rather than tactically stopping behind cover and systematically taking apart my competition.
This is not the Gears of War campaign I was looking for at all. While I knew it would be different going in, I didn’t think I would outright hate it as much as I do. While it might graphically look on par with its predecessors, this plays out more like a cheesy straight-to-DVD release than a blockbuster. If there’s a next gen reboot in the works, I’ll wait for that. Otherwise, this one will either collect dust on my shelf or I’ll trade it in for something else.