Some would say that the Xbox 360’s software line-up is a little lack lustre this year. It’s got its fair share of multi-format titles of course, but aside from a few promisingly innovative Xbox LIVE Arcade titles and some cross-platform connectivity with Windows Phone and Windows 8 what else is there? Gears of War: Judgment. And though it may not be able to satisfy the hungry cries of Xbox 360 gamers alone, it’s certainly going to have a stab at it.
Outsourced to People Can Fly in its entirety, Gears of War: Judgment is the start of a new stage in the franchise; one where spin-offs and prequels are just as valid as new numbered entries. With that comes a lot of pressure on People Can Fly, a studio who’s previous work, Bulletstorm received a somewhat muted response despite an incredible amount of press coverage. Thankfully Epic Games have kept hold of the reins somewhat, guiding the studio towards their goal.
This is immediately evident in Gears of War: Judgment’s multiplayer gameplay, currently undergoing a series of public outings thanks to UK high street retailer GAME’s Lock-In programme. Only the Overrun gameplay mode is playable, but nonetheless set up as a five-on-five showcase it certainly gives a nice taste of what is to come in the final build. Each Cog team member is assigned a class dependant on the pod they stand at, while Locust players can choose from four classes at the start and after each death, until some significant scoring has been achieved that is, and more beastly classes become available.
The gameplay feels much like the Gears of War we’ve all experienced previously, with the roadie run, sticky cover and active reloads we’re all familiar with returning untouched. The map design plays to this, but makes combat much faster than in many previous Gears of War multiplayer gameplay modes. That’s not to say that the Overrun gameplay mode isn’t tactical – it most certainly is a case of victory going to the better organised team – but it does mean that players have more opportunity to execute a variety of different strategies in a single match.
As a Cog fighter, Overrun tasks you with the defence of a generator that the Locust team are trying to attack. There are hurdles for the opposing team to overcome, distance and barbed wire, but by-and-large the security of the generator lies in human hands. Once the time limit is reached, or the Cog team fails and the generator explodes, the teams switch places. Formerly Cog fighters now play as Locusts and attempt to take out the generator, and vice versa.
The Overrun mode was played across two maps: Island and Rooftops. The Island map features tight corners and open expanses that still provide plenty of cover, and the right angles design makes the map easy to navigate. Detailed environments with unusually bright colours, Island is a welcome respite from the dull greys and browns that normally litter Gears of War maps. Rooftops features some fantastic looking brickwork lining its long straights and open views; this is a very tight map but the open area around generator encourages Cogs to work on a crossfire, luring in the Locust players before assaulting each one as a team.
A third map was also playable when enabling an extended version of the Overrun mode. Featuring two emergence holes prior to reaching the generators, Locusts must push their way across the map taking each objective one after the other. Once an emergence hole is taken the Cog team all respawn at the next defensive position while the Locusts will now respawn from this new control point. It’s a simple but effective expansion of the gameplay mode that can change up your tactical manoeuvres: using shortcuts to get Tickers into play quickly at the start to assaulting with Giant Serapedes and Mauler when you finally reach the generator.
Arriving on the Xbox 360 next month, Gears of War: Judgment has a lot of weight upon its shoulders. Even from this brief playtest it’s fairly obvious that People Can Fly’s predominant goal has been ensuring that the fans are satisfied. Beyond that the swifter multiplayer gameplay and new modes may win some new fans, but the real test will be in the campaign mode. You can be sure that Electronic Theatre will keep you updated with all the latest details on open expanses that still provide plenty of cover, easy to Gears of War: Judgment as it approaches release.