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Gears Of War: Judgement – The Verdict

Gears Of War: Judgement – The Verdict

Today I will face judgement by the hands of my own people, in the court of my peers. My choice was not an easy one but I could not stand to see innocent people die while I stood quietly waiting for orders. Charged with the unlawful attainment and use of military equipment in order to save the lives of thousands of civilians, any future I once had now looks bleak. My name is Lt. Damon Baird and I have no regrets.

Set years before the original game, Gears of War: Judgement takes the player back to the immediate aftermath of Emergence Day and the appearance of the Locust Horde. Baird and the rest of Kilo Squad take it upon themselves to rescue the civilians and soldiers bunkered down in the city of Halvo Bay no matter the cost to themselves. The story is recalled in the form of flashbacks, with each member of Kilo Squad giving their recount of the happenings leading up to the very moment they were arrested. As a nice touch for the campaign, each of the four members of Kilo Squad will be controllable during their seperate accounts of the mission.

Having not played a Gears game since the original I was very interested in this new release, produced by new owners of the franchise People Can Fly. The story starts out well with the use of flashbacks proving a strong choice with which to deliver. The much improved audio and graphics look simply stunning and provide a great backdrop for the duration of the campaign. Controls are very easy to use and remember and even the well known clunky movement of previous games doesn’t feel as hindering as it once did. From what I remember of the environments in first game they were very dark and often very cramped but the atmosphere is almost entirely the opposite in this case. Sunlit areas with shimmering water, pristine buildings and highly detailed backgrounds are common place. This doesn’t detract from the particular action delivered here as often the tension comes from the fast pace rather than the eerie surroundings.

Gears Of War Judgement Screenshot Baird Turret

The action starts off as it intends to continue; fast paced, frantic and very satisfying. Star ratings now appear at the end of each section informing you of how well you performed and giving multipliers for the usual things like headshots, multikills and ribbons for pulling off special requirements. Declassified missions are also present in each section, allowing you to up the challenge in various ways, enabling you to boost your end of level score even higher. These difficulty increases include things like impaired vision, only being able to use certain weapons, no regenerating health and reduced ammo.

Unfortunately People Can Fly seem to have pushed the focus towards this new point system a little too much. After the 20th, 30th and 40th appearance of an end of chapter summary it’s clear that these star ratings show up far too often. This in turn becomes a hindrance to the continuity of the game, breaking up the flow of the story and making each section seem more like a mini challenge rather than the continuation of the campaign.

From here things don’t get better as the story becomes diluted with each new flashback and variety in the gameplay is really lacking. While the action may be intense and fast paced it simply consists of run, shoot and repeat, which is unfortunate when the running animation literally makes me feel sick with its giddy motions. Even the optional declassified missions don’t add much in the way of intelligent or varied gameplay. One of the best examples of an added objective sees me protecting a suit of ancient armour for reasons I’ve entirely forgotten. Barbed wire and turrets line the corridors leading up to the armour, but in the end it’s still the same formula.

GoW: Judgement has however solved the problem of past games where simply hiding in cover is an easy option to success. Enemies will flank, they will push and they will force you out meaning that always being on the move is now your best option. There is also a new enemy spawning system meaning that if you have to retry a section it won’t ever feel exactly the same. This does however lead to the combat seeming a bit random at times and often advancing past a tricky situation can feel like luck.

Gears of War Judgement Screenshot Multiplayer Turret Graphics Overrun

After playing through the campaign and collecting 80 performance stars, Aftermath is available as an unlockable epilogue of sorts that adds more to the story of Gears of War 3 and its characters. This short section adds around an hour or so of game time and shows glimpses of more intelligent but claustrophobic gameplay, akin to the style found in previous games. It’s just a shame there isn’t more of this in the main campaign.

As is the way in many other games, the singlpeyer campaign of GoW: Judgement acts as a warm up for what’s to come in the multiplayer. Frantic and intense action are still prevalent here but with the added difficulty of playing against other people meaning that tactics and teamwork come to the fore and are required in order to succeed. New game mode Overrun is a perfect example of this, with one team taking control of COG members and the other controlling Locust. It is the job of the Locust team to attack three objectives in succession, breaking through barbed wire barriers and using the different classes to their advantage in order to win. The COG team must defend at all costs with a timer counting down until the hammer of dawn is activated and the Locust are destroyed.

With the campaign clocking in at 5-10 hours depending on difficulty, multiplayer brings in plenty of fresh life to the game. In addition to Overrun there are also Team Deathmatch, Free For All and Domination modes meaning variety in gameplay here is a little more apparent. While in the campaign the gameplay seemed repetitive and simplistic, here it blossoms and becomes very addictive and enjoyable, especially when playing as Locust in Overrun. Tactics, teamwork and class knowledge are needed and simply shooting is not your only option. For example my favourite class the Engineer can spawn a turret to draw fire from the enemies while he switches to his secondary weapon, the repair torch and reconstructs fortifications vital to keeping out Locust.

Gears Of War Judgement Campaign Screenshot Overrun Multiplayer

Surprisingly microtransactions are present in the form of character and weapon skins, all available from day one in an almost identical manner to the frowned upon ones found in Dead Space 3. It’s a wonder that no one picked up on this and constructed a few bad news headlines, it also makes me wonder if EA published games are simply picked on too much and that things like day one DLC and microtransactions are much more widespread than we already know.

In conclusion, if you’re a Gears fan and your looking for fast paced, frantic and at times challenging combat then this is most likely your kind of game. It may be simplistic in nature but it’s satisfying and the multiplayer will add hours of extra life, with DLC planned for release very soon. If you’re new to the Gears franchise and you’re looking for intelligent combat, well thought out characters and a decent story to dig into then this is most definitely not for you.

Gears of War: Judgement does just enough to make me wonder just what I have been missing in the previous couple of games, but by itself is nothing spectacular. Plenty of replay value will come (for those who want it) from the enjoyable multiplayer and beating high scores set in the campaign by you and your friends.

Verdict – On Target

Platforms Available – Xbox 360
Platform Reviewed – Xbox 360

Review based on a copy provided by Microsoft Studios.

Please check this post for more on our scoring policy.

Dead Space 3 – The Verdict

Dead Space 3 – The Verdict

Someone once said that in space no one can hear you scream. It is possible however, to hear the shriek of your mum as she discovers just how much you’ve spent on microtransactions. At the very least your scrapbot will have its own personality now, which is more than most people can claim.

I feel strange for saying this about a game known for its survival horror background but Dead Space 3 is a lot of fun, especially during the intense and largely scripted moments that almost act as boss battles. But is fun really what I wanted and expected from the third installment in the series? Well no, not really. Dead Space 3‘s opening scenes cut a distinctly different atmosphere than that of its predecessors. Instead of dark, blood covered corridors and cramped conditions you traverse through the steam punk style streets of Earth, decapitating Unitologists and ducking for cover behind objects in the street. The last thing we need is another cover based, third person shooter and followers of the series might well be getting worried at this early stage in the game.

So has Dead Space 3 become an action game? Not entirely. Yes, there are action elements in the game that weren’t there previously. Things like the cover system, customisable weapons and wide open spaces for beasts of a gigantic nature all influence the direction this adventure in the series has taken. But at its heart Dead Space 3 is still the same survival horror game, just with a little polish added to keep things from getting stale and repetitive. The amount of production that has been poured into the fine details of the game has gone a long way to making sure that this is the case. The eerie lighting effects, deafening audio and brilliant voice acting all add to the sense of tension and dread that die-hard fans of the series will be craving.

Thankfully (for some) Isaac’s Earthly adventures are fairly short-lived, and It’s not long before he finds himself whisked away into a dark corner of the universe in search of marker technology. It’s at this stage that you progress into the familiar gameplay of creeping around corners and closely watching every vent you pass for explosive necromorph appearances. It’s also at this stage that I began to notice the effect the difficulty setting I chose was having on my experience.

After all its new additions, Dead Space 3 is still as brilliantly scary as ever.
After all its new additions, Dead Space 3 is still as brilliantly scary as ever.

Having not played a Dead Space game before, I opted to go with normal difficulty hoping that it would provide somewhat of a challenge but nothing too strenuous. While the enemies of normal difficulty still provide a challenge for a relative beginner, the fact that every single one drops a health pack, ammo or an item that can be sold takes away from the survival portion of the game. While getting used to the tactics of how to properly deal with each enemy can take a bit of time, being stocked up on twenty health packs means survival is not a problem in the slightest. This in turn seems to make the dark corridors a little less ominous and the waves of enemies a little less formidable. For anyone who has experience with shooters or past Dead Space games, I recommend a harder difficulty if you want to keep a true sense of fear and foreboding in your playthrough.

Aside from the obvious graphical update and the addition of more action styled elements in the gameplay, Dead Space 3 has undergone a number of major changes. Most notable are the changes to the weapons and inventory systems and enemy drops, which have become more complex than previously. Where before enemies used to drop credits with which you could buy upgrades and weapons, they now drop a variety of materials and everything you need can be crafted at a workbench. The sheer number of weapons craftable from these materials seems almost endless. From double grenade launchers, to plasma pistols with acid spewing attachments, to a shotgun and assault rifle combo. Providing you scavenge for the correct materials, the choice is yours to make and trying out different mixtures of weapons and picking your favourite is half the fun of the early stages of the game.

Another major addition in Dead Space 3 is the ability to play the campaign with a friend. Co-op may seem like another strange addition for a game meant to send a chill down your spine, but generally it has been handled quite well. If you want, you can drop in on your friends game, or vice versa and begin the exclusive co-op missions, taking the place of Carver as you discover more about his dark past. These missions along with the optional side missions in the single player, uncover some of the more interesting fragments of the back story, like how others in the areas you travel met their demise at the hands of necromorphs and worse.

With little story behind the new characters, it's hard to tell if they're really friend or foe.
With little story behind the new characters, it’s hard to tell if they’re really friend or foe.

They also uncover stashes of materials, upgrade circuits and weapon blueprints that will make a huge difference in the higher difficulties. The only disappointment is, that without a co-op partner you are unable to explore the story of John Carver and his character becomes very bit-part in the main plot alone. He shows face rarely and while his comments and actions feel like they should have meaning and understanding behind them, instead they often end up making little sense.

Finishing off any story arc, let alone that of a trilogy of games with a strong following, is a hard task. I think it’s fair to say that however you do it there will always be someone who is unhappy in certain respects and for me there was one main problem. The ending of Dead Space 3 seemed somewhat underwhelming, the big reveal in the story didn’t seem all that revelational and left me feeling a little flat. Gameplay wise it was great and ended up being a little Final Fantasy end boss, which actually worked really well but might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

In conclusion, while Dead Space 3 may have introduced some action gameplay mechanics such as the open areas of Tau Volantis, or the duck and cover system, at its core it’s still as scary and gruesome as it has always been. The controversial microtransactions and DLC are unneeded and not pushed in your face, and while the storyline is not best handled it is not by any means terrible and is still a good addition to the series.

Verdict – Headshot

Platforms Available – PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Platform Reviewed – Xbox 360

Review based on a copy supplied by EA.

Please check this post for more on our scoring policy.

Dead Space 3 To Launch With 11 Day One DLC Packs

Dead Space 3 To Launch With 11 Day One DLC Packs

EA are up to their old tricks again, this time with the impending release of Dead Space 3. The day one DLC packs aim to boost players progress through the game with acquisition of loot, armour and weapons for Isaac. Content provided with the special editions of DS3 will also be purchasable, along with an online pass for anyone buying the game second hand.

The eleven DLC packs available at launch on February 8th are:

Bot Capacity Upgrade – $4.99

Bot Personality Pack – $4.99

First Contact Pack – Free

Marauder Pack – $4.99

Sharpshooter Pack – $4.99

Tundra Recon Pack – $4.99

Witness the Truth Pack – $4.99

Bot Accelerator – $4.99

Epic Weapon & Resource Pack – $2.99

Online Pass – $9.99

Ultra Weapon & Resource Pack – $1.99

Resource Pack – $0.99

These DLC packs are separate from the previously announced microtransactions. Credit to Eurogamer for the full list.