Not the strongest Gears, but certainly the most intense.
Gears of War 3 was a perfect send-off to the trilogy. It was a complete roller coaster ride that featured some spectacular set pieces, emotion and great boss battles. Even though the story was told, it didn't mean the Cog's would be gone forever. Gears of War isn't a franchise I would expect returning, but Judgment is here, like it or not. Judgment is the fourth entry to the franchise, but you will be pleased to know that it doesn't continue the original trilogy. Instead, it focuses on the aftermath of Emergence Day.
It's a prequel story, taking place during the Locusts first attack against the humans. The time frame means there's no Marcus Fenix, or Dom. Nevertheless, there's still some familiar faces on the scene. This time, Cole and Baird get a chance to heat up their Lancers. They are currently part of Kilo squad, and have been accused of treason by a man named Ezra Loomis. He's a COG commander, and a new character to the series. As the story unfolds, you will play as each member of Kilo. Each level is told in flashbacks, giving you the chance to see their side of the story. It's an interesting idea, but it doesn't quite live up to the epicness of it's predecessors. The narrative is it's main weakness, but Judgment focuses more on it's new arcade based formula.
Each level consists of a three-star scoring system. By performing head-shots executions, grenade kills, etc, you will rack up points. The meat of Judgment lies within the new declassified missions. These are simply secondary goals that you can complete throughout each level. You can activate them at the beginning of each level by pressing A next to a printed cog logo. These missions can dramatically change the outcome of a level. For example, one mission could require you to use only shotguns,. Another could increase the amount of enemies. Completing them are not only a joy, but they help you earn starts much quicker. You could complete the game without accepting them, but it seems hard to ignore them. Doing so makes you feel like your missing part of the action.
Declassified missions are a neat touch, but they do seem slightly out of place in a story driven game. It makes each level feel broken into small sections. A screen will pop up showing you your overall score. It does get a bit tiresome, and can be distracting from the story. This is where Judgment lacks the most. I never found the plot as compelling as the trilogy was. Neither were the cut scenes or action set pieces as epic. With that said, it's hard not to enjoy Judgement, mainly due to it's intense gameplay. It still feels like GOW, but it's much more frantic and intense than before. Most of the levels are designed to keep you moving. You will spend less time in cover, and more time running in all guns blazing.
Something that fans of the series will notice, is that weapons have now altered to different buttons. It ditches the familiar D-pad navigation, and replaces it with the Y button. it's much easier and fluid, making it a perfect fit for the fast paced gameplay. However, you can only hold two weapons at one time. There's no side arm like before, and grenades are now equipped with LB button. The core multiplayer gamers may find these changes off-putting, but it does work well with the changes to gameplay.
The main campaign wont take as long as you would expect, but there's still more on offer. After earning a certain amount of stars, you will unlock Aftermath. A separate campaign takes place shortly after GOW 3. It's only around 30 minutes long, and it's nothing spectacular. It feels more like a deleted scene from GOW3 DLC, but it's still worth checking out.
Then there's the multiplayer, which will keep a lot of people playing Judgment for the coming months. Multiplayer is very different compared to it's predecessors. It still feels like Gears, but many of the favorite modes have disappeared. There's no Wingman, no Horde and no Beast Mode. This will be disappointing to many, but there's still lots of fun to be had. It features the basic Death-match and Team-Death match scenarios, but Overun mode is the highlight. This is an objective based mode that pits you against CPU bots. Each team will take turns, trying to hold off waves of horde. It's a nice addition, which still has the flavor of Beast Mode. When it comes to the maps, there's only 8 in total. It's not a great amount when compared to Gears of War 3, and some may feel short changed.
Gears of War Judgment is certainly not the best in the series. It does take away some of the best features in past titles, but it also introduces new ones. Declassified missions are extremely fun, and Overun mode is a great addition to replace Horde mode. It's a fitting prequel, but don't expect Gears of War 4.
7.5 "Very good"