I can remember a games journalist once writing that "3rd person shooter will never be mainstream", he was referring to the game "Brute Force" on the original xbox, how wrong he was! Since that statement gamers have been blessed with a plethora of 3rd person carnage, real world and pure sci-fi. When the original Gears of War stormed onto the 360 it was applauded for it's grittiness and storytelling, likeable characters and a fantastic backdrop on the planet Sera. The following two titles built a wonderful picture of a world in turmoil, an evil presence that lurked beneath your very feet, ready to spring up and eat your face should you drop your guard. Epic games built a world full of stories, war torn friendships and tragedy, took us through some truly terrifying moments and faced us off against some monstrous aberrations from the darkest corners of our nightmares. Fans of the series embraced the setting, the characters and the story, we even shed a tear when Marcus lost his best mate, we grew attached to the struggle of the COG trying to survive. Karin Travis wrote some wonderful books that fleshed out the universe to a much larger degree, eager fans snapped up every little detail.
Comparing the new game Judgement (or judgment if you prefer) to the older titles was inevitable, for a series that has such strong roots this new game fails to live up to it's predecessors in the most simplest ways, what went wrong?
1: The story.
Sure Dom is dead and Marcus saved the day (Carmine survived as well!) so that part of the story is done and dusted, but fans of the series deserve better than the simple offering coughed up by People can fly. What about E-day? Surely fans deserve the horror of that first hole in the ground opening up and spewing forth a bunch of monsters? The first reactions of the COG and Gorasni soldiers as the darkness descended? The series has a wealth of back stories to draw from so why do we get a simple chase down the monster and blow it up story line?
2: The Characters.
Baird isn't an unlikable character is the first 3 games, his wise cracking, smart arse comments (an obvious way to relieve the tension of their predicament) endeared him to many a gamer, he got the job done and was a pain in the arse to all those around him, a genuine character. Augustus Cole played the perfect side-kick for Baird, the books flesh out a relationship between the pair starting back when the Cole Train first enlisted, they looked out for each other and helped each other through the good times and bad, none of which is portrayed in the new game. There is no interaction between the pair on any other level apart from the obvious dialogue to drive the narrative. For a franchise that built such a strong bond between the main characters of Marcus and Dom it seems strange not to capitalize on this again, we know Baird and Cole are buddies but show us why! Give us the background to establish the connection. The new characters are similarly shallow, very little interaction during the game and horrid writing in the cutscenes (why are the character models worse than the previous games?) trickle feed us tiny tidbits of story in which we are supposed to fit all the pieces together in order to work out what the hell is going on. They could have focused purely on Baird and Cole and gave you random COG soldiers to help out, the additions of 2 new characters dilutes the already weakened story.
3: The settings.
A whole planet they have to work with and we get the same settings? Ambling down yet another back alley/burnt out building/industrial warehouse would be fine but we have been there and done that 3 times already! The lack of vehicle sections in the game (didn't notice that did you?) means the confinement of your surroundings gets tiresome very quickly. Why confine the game to just one city? Why confine players to suburbia when you have a whole planet at your disposal, open fields, sun drenched beaches, nasty swamps and dark holes in the ground? Oh and they used the same lost cat picture on the walls...we know you ate him.
4: The weapons.
There is an old saying that "If it's not broke, don't fix it", why then have they reduced your load-out to 2 weapons? Pistols are pretty much an afterthought here, why swap a primary weapon for a sidearm? What exactly was wrong with swapping weapons on the D-pad? We all knew that you can't bash something with a lancer, only rev it up first and slice your way to victory, why then make this an option? If you wanted to bash something like a ticker you had to swap weapons first, it wasn't broken but yet they fixed it, apparently. The chainsaw takes so long to wind up now it's pretty much useless as a melee weapon unless the hapless victim is crawling across the ground. The new weapons are OK but players will carry a lancer from start to finish, none of the new additions do anything special to warrant dropping the COG standard. What happened to the iron sights on the Locust rifle?
5: The AI.
It's broken to say the least. The rush tactics of the locust seem to be a simpler AI version taken straight from horde mode, you friendly AI is no better. In previous installments a Theron guard with a torquebow was an enemy to be feared, now he's happy to rush into the front line and get shotgunned at close range, they display none of the tactics from previous titles and rushing seems to be all they know. Halo showed us how dangerous decent AI can be, Gears wasn't far behind it but it's missing here, the simplified actions and tactics used by both sides is broken, it's not uncommon to see friendly and enemy AI units running around in a little circle together, amusing to watch, disappointing to endure. Larger enemies have adopted the COD routine, fire at you and only you unless your hidden, then they wait untill you pop out for another shot, Reavers are a classic example of the single minded nature of the AI enemies.
6: The multi-player
This will be short! It's missing everything that made this game series what it is today, limited load-outs, missing game types, omitted locust vs cog matches, none of it's here. Why produce a new game and then strip away everything that gave it longevity? When the short campaign is done you only have the multiplayer right? Why remove massive sections from the players? Where's horde mode? Where's beast mode? Where's locust vs cog deathmatches? Where's wing-man? The multiplayer is so lacking in content it's not even remotely funny, you would complain if it were DLC but in a full game is inexcusable.
All in all the game is a let down, missing content, broken AI and generic settings do nothing to attract new followers to this once great series, if anything it will turn them away. Fans are disappointed and I even heard one gamer remark that this was the "Jar jar" of the series, a mighty insult indeed. GOW3 wasn't that long ago, some of us were still happy playing horde and wingman or co-opping it through the campaign on insane, was there really any need to bring out this new title so quickly? and so lacking in content? Like angry star wars fans we are bitter, we deserve better than this, the Gears universe deserves better than what's being offered here. A recent article on GS stated that cynicism was killing the industry, can you blame us? We pay our hard earned dollars for products that are giving us less and less, games that rely on big names to drag in unsuspecting consumers to watered down products. We already know studios are in the game to make money, we don't like it, however, when we are taken for granted. We vote with our wallets and rubbish like Judgement is an example of how not to retain your fan base, rip them off, give them less, change the product and then tell them how good it is.....or was.