The Coca-Cola Company has tried different formulas for its flagship soft drink through the year. The most infamous is New Coke which was received negatively and caused the return of the traditional flavor as Coke Classic. Then there is Cherry Coke which adds a flavorful twist and found its own niche of fans. Gears of War: Judgment for the Xbox 360 find itself in a similar position to these Coke flavors as Bulletstorm studio People Can Fly has brought changes to the core Gears formula. The question as the embargo lifted Monday is do these changes make Judgment like New Coke or Cherry Coke?
New Campaign, Same Tune?
Gear of War: Judgment is a prequel set just after Emergence Day when the Locust invaded the surface world of Sera. There is no Marcus or Dom but there is Baird, Cole Train, a whole bunch of Locust and new characters both friends and not. Things kick off with Baird, Cole and their two new Kilo squad mates – Sophia and Paduk – in handcuffs and being tried for using a lightmass bomb to try and destroy the new big bad, Karn, and his Locust army.
The single-player campaign itself is told through flashbacks narrated by each member of Kilo squad. However, the big twist for the Judgment campaign is People Can Fly adding its skillshot mechanic from Bulletstorm. This mechanic provides a three-star rating system based on how creative and destructive players kill Locust. Shooting a Locust dead earns some points. Performing an execution earns more points while blowing up two or more earns even more. Earn 40 stars and the Aftermath mission is unlocked which shows what Baird and Cole were up to at the end of Gears of War 3.
Declassified Missions also provide an opportunity to earn even more points when activated but ramps up the difficulty. In some cases, that means making it through a section of a mission using only a pistol or one of the new weapons like the Marzka. In other cases, the mission may require you to complete the section before a clock runs down or you may have to deal with extra environmental hazards like low visibility.
The Declassified Missions are all very doable and are a nice option to break up the pace in the game. If you fail the mission, you have the chance to restart and continue with or without the Declassified Mission active. The only one that gave me trouble on Normal difficulty was one in the latter half that sent a flood of Ragers, Berserker-light Locusts, at me.
Story-wise, Judgment is about what you’d expect out of a Gears game and is fairly straight-forward though the addition of a former Pendulum Wars adversary in Paduk and a stereotypical arrogant commander in Loomis provides a little more internal conflict. That said, it is somewhat disappointing that People Can Fly didn’t really get the chance to “let their freak flag fly” the way it did in Bulletstorm. The humor in Judgment is fits with the gallows-humor that the franchise is known for and does have some great moments but it doesn’t seem like any barriers were pushed.
Multiplayer is where People Can Fly pushed more different flavors with a new mode called Overrun. This mashes together the Horde and Beast modes from Gears of War 3 as COG players must defend E-hole Covers and a Generator against Locust players. While player classes with special abilities are added, the ability to build up defenses is dropped for gameplay balance purposes. Instead, we get the Engineer, Soldier, Scout and Medic classes for the COG and six Locust classes ranging from Tickers to Kantus as default selection and Ragers to Corpsers as special selections based on points earned.
Each team gets a turn as COG and Locust with a four minute countdown to destroy or defend an E-hole cover. If the COG loses, then they are backed up to a second E-hole cover to defend with the time reset and then to the Generator which is the finale. If the Locust can’t destroy these within the time limit, they lose.
Overrun an interesting and welcome twist that I enjoyed more than the other regular versus multiplayer modes. Unfortunately, this also means the traditional Horde mode is completely absent and a Survival mode is added in its place that uses the same mechanics as Overrun but only with the COG players having to survive 10 waves without the Locust destroying the E-Hole Covers and the Generator.
My biggest complaint with the multiplayer lies in the traditional Team Deathmatch and Domination modes as People Can Fly changed it from COG versus Locust to COG versus COG. This caused a lot of frustration for me as I couldn’t get used to running around as Cole and shooting someone else that used the Cole skin but with a slightly different color and indicator over their head. Too often I ended up on the losing side of a gun fight because I hesitated to see if I was shooting a teammate or not.
That’s less of a concern in the new Free For All mode which is fast and frantic but lacks the Down But Not Out mechanic which means a lack of executions.
I will give People Can Fly credit for trying something different for the better with the multiplayer maps. There’s more verticality in the maps which means more opportunities to sneak around and get the drop on someone. This also makes the marksmen weapons like the Marzka, Longshot and Breechshot more deadly and useful.
I know many gamers and fans of the series have questioned why there is even a need for Gears of War: Judgment. Well, it is here regardless and provides some impressive graphics and vistas that make you appreciate how far games have come this generation visually. The changes in the gameplay that People Can Fly are equally as bold but will likely be hit or miss with the Gears fanbase. The Declassified Missions and star system is builds on the existing base gameplay nicely but some of the multiplayer changes like no Locust in Team Deathmatch are a little harder to swallow.
Cherry Coke or New Coke?
So this leaves us with the question of whether Gears of War: Judgment is like New Coke or Cherry Coke. I feel that its Cherry Coke because it keeps most of what makes Gears such an appealing shooter franchise on the Xbox 360 while adding in all new zesty flavors like Overrun, Declassified Missions and a new spawn system that changes up the Locust enemies that players face on replays. It may not be to everyone’s taste but it will find an audience that thinks it tastes great.