E3 2012 Preview: Gears of War: Judgment

Oh yes, you all KNOW how pumped I was to get a closed door meeting regarding the newest Gears of War chapter. I’ll try to leave some of the gushing out and be completely professional. Just don’t mind me wiping up my drool as I type.

Epic Games teamed up with People Can Fly for this new Gears game, and as the two groups brainstormed for what they could do next, they passed up two opportunities I thought they would surely take: the story of Emergence Day and the Pendulum Wars. The biggest reason why they decided to not focus on these two stories–no chainsaw lancers. If you read the books, you know that Cole Train received the first chainsaw lancer prototype around five years after E-day. Therefore, both the Pendulum Wars and the E-Day scenarios would have the bayonet lancers, which doesn’t really scream Gears of War. So they decided to focus on a character’s backstory that no one really knows about, as well as make sure the character was a fan favorite. They chose wisely with Damon Baird.

The background plot of the game is Baird’s and his team’s trial for committing treason on the battlefield. The story is told through a series of flashbacks, and sadly, we were told nothing of what Baird had done. It takes place between 5-10 years after E-day, when Cole and Baird weren’t as scarred, weren’t as bulky, and weren’t with Alpha or Delta squad. In fact, on the day of Baird’s trial, he is addressed as Lieutenant Baird. In the Gears of War games, Baird is a lowly, lowly corporal. Oh how the plot thickens.

And that’s all we got of the plot. I asked Cliff Bleszinski if the story would include a flashback of how Baird and Cole met, as I really loved that story from the books. I received a “Uhhhh, well, um, we aren’t ready to talk about any of the plot of the game just yet.” They aren’t even ready to disclose who the writers are just yet. However, they did say that they wanted to focus on the plot just as much as they did on the gameplay, and this includes dialing back the “machismo” that was prevalent in the first couple of games.

I would have been more disappointed if the details on the gameplay weren’t so incredible. People Can Fly is implementing two new game systems in Judgment: the S3 (smart smoke system) and the declassification system. The S3 completely revamps how the difficulty settings will operate. Based on your difficulty setting, S3 analyzes where you are on the map sends in different types and numbers of enemies. The lower difficulties may get a horde of drones, and the higher difficulties may get a horde of drones with a grenadier or two and a kantus. Since the system analyzes your map location and difficulty  before releasing the hounds, every time you die and respawn, the S3 will recalibrate what and when it throws enemies at you. With this in place, you can’t “learn” a level and coast on learning from your mistakes.

Bleszinksi explained that they wanted to make this Gears game as intimidating as the first one, and he wanted to make a game that had a truly different type of difficulty calibration; one that would make the game above the Casual setting really difficult. He is pleased thus far with what he has seen People Can Fly’s S3 system do. He even joked that while he played a sample on Normal, he was having a difficult time with it and had to wipe the sweat off his hands for the first time since the first Gears game. All I can think of is, “Yikes.”

The declassification system changes the replayability of the game in a rather interesting way. The first time you play a section, it will be in a classified mode, meaning that you won’t have access to everything that could help you get through the level, such as mechs, different weapons, etc. It also means that there are no rules and restrictions to how you play. So, the next time you play a section, you may have certain weapon restrictions or time limits and you may suddenly have access to mechs and other collectibles. It’s even possible that the environment will be slightly different with repeated playthroughs.

Between the S3 and the declassification systems, no one will really have the same game–not even the same player with repeated playthroughs.

And these new gameplay mechanics systems aren’t the only new features in Judgment; there will also be a brand new multiplayer mode that combines horde, beast, and vs. modes all together. It’s called Overrun, and it pits two teams of 5 (COG vs. Locust) against each other in a Gears-style capture the flag. The goal is to defend your power generator while destroying the other team’s power generator. The COG team also has a class system to further enhance and improve the team effort needed to survive. If you played Beast Mode in Gears of War 3, then you’re very familiar with this class system. The 4 classes of the COG are the following:

  • engineer – builds turrets and structures (important to note that structures can be repaired, but NOT rebuilt once destroyed);
  • soldier;
  • medic; and
  • scout – can tag enemies for teammates, which causes higher damage than enemies without tags.

Two new beasts will also join Overrun Mode: the corpser and the serapede. Oh, the fun we all will have. I honestly cannot wait.

Gears of War: Judgment is slated to release in early 2013.