Gears Of War: Judgment is a spin-off from the prior Gears trilogy, which had a storyline about as dramatically powerful as a sweaty grudge match in pro wrestling.
This new instalment is a lighter sideline to all that, and actually allows Gears to experiment with the structure of the third-person cover shooter genre, even if it lacks the gargantuan scale of the original three games’ set pieces.
In this prequel, told in flashback as members of the hilariously generic Gears cast are on trial, we get vignette-style levels that are governed by a score system, an arcade-inspired twist for Gears Of War that gives you an immediate incentive to pull off the wildest kills possible – headshots, battering enemies on the ground, catching multiple foes with one grenade. This sort of elementary brutality sends that all-important score upwards.
But a much smarter twist – Judgment’s main innovation – comes in the form of ‘Declassified’ missions.
These optional asides, activated at the start of each short level and framed as part of the retrospective narrative, change the gameplay before you by adding challenging parameters that multiply your kill score. One Declassified objective, for example, involves defeating all enemies with messed up vision, while another has you using just one weapon to wipe out all foes. Basically, the Declassified feature gives you multiple ways to play Judgment, which is a somewhat fresh idea that comes attached to a fun narrative logic.
See, when you activate the Declassified missions at the start of a level, a voiceover pops up and the characters begin to recount the events that you’re playing in a slightly exaggerated way that always dovetails with the parameters of the level. It suggests there’s a certain The Killing Joke-style lack of reliability in your protagonists’ testimony of an otherwise humourless story – a sort of silly boastfulness that makes sense with the tone of Gears.
Outside of this, though, Judgment is simply a satisfying, newcomer-friendly Gears spin-off that lacks the set piece flair of the main series. Judgment finds something new to say in the crowded third-person shooter genre – yet it has the hallmarks of a franchise stopgap, an inessential interquel that lacks remarkable additions.