Before Gears of War: Judgement was even announced, we knew change would be coming to the franchise.  The trilogy that chronicled Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad’s fight to quell the Locust invasion had concluded with little opportunity to continue the narrative.  A prequel seemed like an obvious choice, but due to thematic constraints explained here, there was a very limited timeframe in which to set the next entry in the Gears of War saga.  As a result, Judgement will deliver an original narrative with some new faces.  In addition, developers People Can Fly and Epic Games have instituted a couple of other changes to the blueprint set by the first three games.  Judgement is shaping up to be a very different Gears of War than those we’ve seen in the past.

As revealed at E3 2012, Judgement will be set fifteen years before the events of the first game and will tell the story of franchise holdovers Damon Baird and Augustus Cole, as well as the rest of Kilo Squad.  Their unit is on trial for treason and the narrative follows Baird’s testimony with each level of the game corresponding to a portion of his story.

One of the most significant and innovative changes in Judgement is the way in which multiple playthroughs will affect the story arc.  The first playthrough of a particular level will give players access to the “classified” version as recounted by Baird during his testimony.  Subsequent visits to the same level will unlock the “unclassified” version, revealing specifics that Baird may have conveniently neglected to divulge.  These could include crucial narrative details, different enemy types, and additional challenges like weapon set limitations or time limits.

People Can Fly has also reworked the established control scheme from the first three Gears of War titles.  This has generated a good deal of protests from hardcore fans of the series.  Adrian Chmielarz, Creative Director for People Can Fly, allays their fears: “We had three [Gears] games using a certain control scheme and it seemed to be working pretty well, considering the sales, but once we put [the new control scheme] in the game and experimented with it, it took us like five minutes to realize this was the way to go.”

With the new setup, weapons can be changed with a single button press or a press-and-hold move to select pistols.  Grenades can also be throw quickly with the tap of a button or more accurate throws can be made by using the arc-based aiming mechanic from the first three games.

Why revamp the established control scheme of game with such a reputable pedigree?  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Right?  Considering the changes People Can Fly are bringing to the campaign, a faster method to complete certain actions may be necessary.  Chmielarz stated, “The big idea behind the campaign was that we want people to fear the Locust again, like the first time you played Gears.  This game is all about challenge…we believe that the fun comes from being challenged and overcoming that challenge.”

To this end, cut-scenes have been minimized to allow the action to flow without frequent interruption.  This change, coupled with an increased number of enemies will make for some intense firefights.  Judgement will feature more Locust simultaneously on-screen than in any other Gears of War game.  A new AI system, referred to as the Smart Spawn System (S3), will evaluate a player’s performance and location on the map in order to decide where enemies will spawn and what tactics they will use.  As a result, players won’t be able to memorize and exploit the enemies’ patterns in each level, thus making each playthrough different than the last.

People Can Fly are known for creating shooters with challenging gameplay, as evidenced by their 2011 hit, Bulletstorm.  According to Chmielarz, some traces of Bulletstorm can be found in Judgement.  “What I liked about Bulletstorm, and I think some of that DNA is over here [in Judgment], is a couple of systems that in theory are independent but put together provide for a unique experience that is just yours,” he said.  “That part I think translates, and hopefully the intensity of combat, more enemies and crazy, crazy battles.”

The Locust army was no pushover in the previous Gears titles, so a focus on more intense battles is intriguing.  Tweaks to the combat, as well as those to the controls and a new narrative thread promise to make Judgement a much different Gears of War game than those we’ve played over the past five and a half years.  We’re excited to see where the collaboration between People Can Fly and Epic Games will take the series.  One thing is for sure: We’ll be there on day one, ready to chainsaw Locusts and curbstomp their ugly faces…regardless of how many are on-screen and what new buttons we have to press to do it.

Gears of War: Judgement will be released in early 2013, exclusively for the XBox 360.  Stay tuned to OnlySP for more updates on Gears of War: Judgement as they become available.  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for up-to-the-minute information.

 [ars technica]

Will Blackwell
I'm a new dad, gaming machine, and beard aficionado. With a little one in the house, I've come to embrace the single-player experience, as it is much less likely to send me into a profanity-laced, controller-throwing tantrum. Writing and video games are two of my greatest passions, so this is a natural fit for me. As long as it doesn't require me to perform coordinated dance moves in front of my Kinect, i'm willing to pen my thoughts on it. Aside from gaming, I love music (Smashing Pumpkins), coffee (Red-Eye), and sushi (Yellowtail). All offerings of my aforementioned favorites will be accepted with open arms and, if you're lucky, i'll let you touch my beard. Just don't pull on it. That hurts.

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