After a short recess, I have reconvened with Gears of War: Judgment to try out the game's multiplayer modes with full servers. While the single-player mode was disappointing with a less-than-compelling story, confined stages, and questionable AI, Epic Games and People Can Fly have given the traditional Gears of War multiplayer formula somewhat of an overhaul. The result is something that feels familiar, yet fresh and enjoyable, even if there's a fresh stench of DLC in the air.
One of the most distinctive new features of Judgment's multiplayer is a new character management feature. Players now get to select which characters they get to enter the multiplayer arena with, creating a distinctive avatar of their own. They start off with Baird, but can gradually unlock new skins and costumes over the course of the single-player campaign or by accomplishing certain feats within multiplayer. Skins for various weapons can also be unlocked the same way.
The downside of this new avatar system is that many of the cooler-looking skins are locked away behind a pay wall. It's disheartening to see that there about eight weapon skins unlockable over the course of the game, while over a dozen others are hidden away until I fork over 240 Microsoft points for each one. The skins that are unlockable through the game have some distinctive looks, including the Chrome and Xbox-colored ones, but after paying full-price for a retail game, it's unfortunate that players are asked to pay just a little more to customize their avatar to its fullest potential.
Once your character is ready, he can be taken into Free For All, Team Deathmatch, or the new-to-the-series Domination. The former two modes feel as classic as ever, as I spent hours scrambling to find other players to pump full of lead or chainsaw in half. The multiplayer maps are well-designed, featuring settings that follow both the classic and Aftermath campaigns. They're wide-open spaces, but feature enough narrow chokepoints to create some epic one-on-one struggles. My only complaint is that only eight of them are available at launch, with only four available in each game mode. While some of the upcoming multiplayer maps will be featured as free DLC, it's disappointing to see so few stages available at launch. Getting in a chainsaw fight in the Library starts to get old after a while.
It's easy to see Judgment's most notable omission--the lack of a Horde mode. However, its replacement proves to retain the spirit of that classic mode, while throwing in a new twist. Survival mode pits a team of up to five players against the CPU-controlled Locust horde, just like old times. But rather than hold out until everyone dies, as the name "Survival" mode may imply, the idea is to defend points of interest against the invading Locusts. Players can respawn if killed and the game ends if the Locusts destroy all of their targets.
Rather than take their custom characters into battle, players will choose between four classes, each represented by one of the characters from Judgment's campaign. Baird is the Engineer, who can defend areas with a sentry gun; Cole is the Soldier, who can toss out ammo boxes onto the field; Paduk is the Scout, who can throw out beacon grenades; and Sofia is the Medic, who can heal teammates with Stim-Gas canisters. Just because this isn't the classic Horde mode doesn't mean that teamwork doesn't matter. I jumped into several Survival rounds where there were too many engineers or scouts and I wound up quickly running out of ammo. Likewise, I'd jump into a game with two medics, neither of whom would heal me whenever I got knocked down. Teamwork matters just as much in Survival as it did in Horde and I'm happy to see that spirit, which made Gears of War multiplayer so distinctive, survive into Judgment.
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If you want all the fun of Survival without the annoyances of AI, there's Overrun mode, by far my favorite mode in Judgment. Overrun is structured similarly to Survival, however in this case, humans control the Locust horde. While the COG side selects from the same four classes as Survival, the players on the Locust side can select from Tickers, with the ability to self-destruct; Grenadiers, armed with Lancers and frag grenades; Wretches, who can stun COG soldiers with a sonic scream; and a Kantus, who acts as the Locust medic.
While playing as these four Locust classes is fun in itself, scoring enough points with those four classes will allow players to spend those points on higher-tiered Locust warriors. Players can take the role of Ragers, Serapedes, Maulers, and nigh-unstoppable Corpsers. Controlling a mini-boss caliber Locust is incredibly fun, especially when tearing through COG defenses and cornering helpless soldiers, much like I did several times as a Serapede. All come with their own distinctive play-styles and all are a blast to play with. Players controlling COG's won't miss out on the fun, as the two teams will each get an opportunity to play as both sides, with the victor being determined by who can complete their objective the fastest.
It's a shame that Judgment is held back by a lack of multiplayer maps, because the multiplayer is some of the best that I've seen in the series. Even after a disappointing single-player campaign, I can say that Judgment will draw me back in for its ridiculously fun multiplayer modes, especially Overrun. And despite servers being packed with thousands of players, I did not notice a single performance or lag issue. It may have a new coat of (brown) paint, but Judgment's multiplayer retains everything that made playing Gears of War so entertaining in the first place.
This Gears of War: Judgment multiplayer review was based on a retail version of the game provided by the publisher.