Epic Games want to release a new Gears of War game before the next generation of consoles hit. How do they do that without rushing a game into production that could potentially 1) harm the series and 2) tell a story that makes future narrative arcs difficult? Answer: they make a prequel.
Set two days after Emergence Day – the event that saw Locusts launch their initial attack against the surface world – Gears of War: Judgment puts you in command of Baird, the wise-cracking, blonde-haired smart ass with the blue armour. Baird is the leader of Kilo Squad, a group that also houses muscle-bound Augustus ‘Cole Train’ Cole.
Hang on, two paragraphs into a Gears article and no mention of Marcus Fenix? Is Marcus in this game? Doesn’t look like it based on what’s been shown so far, but who knows?
Baird is the out-and-out lead character here, and it’s him you’ll be playing as in single player and it’s him that the story revolves around. Something has gone wrong with Kilo Squad’s mission to protect the besieged city of Halvo Bay following E Day and Baird has been called to a military trial to answer for the failure. Each mission that you play will form a part of Baird’s testimony to the judge, letting you see (and play) the events first hand.
Joining Baird and Cole are newcomers Sophia Hendricks and Garron Paduk, the former acting as Baird’s voice of reason and the latter as an all-out aggression machine only interested in violence and death. Each of the squad is playable in the campaign’s four player co-op.
People Can Fly, the dev team behind the brilliant Bulletstorm, are handling lead development duties on the campaign – with Epic themselves concentrating on multiplayer. However, we’re told that the two are helping each other out and are never working in complete isolation.
The focus of the campaign is to apparently move away from the cinematic setup of Gears of War 3, instead focus on an “arcade” style in which pure gameplay is the front and centre focus. Enemies are no longer limited to specific spawning locations and will adapt to the way you play. If you’re doing too well, the enemy count and skill will increase. If you’re struggling, enemy count might decrease. Epic are calling it ‘S3′, the Smart Spawn System.
Die on a certain section, for example, and it’s entirely possible that the enemies will have changed upon respawning back at the checkpoint. More than that, the section you just died fighting might not even have any enemies at all, but around the corner there might be more enemies than there otherwise would have been.
Obviously, the idea is to increase the game’s replayability factor – a point that Epic designer Cliff Bleszinski has already spoken about. Given the fact that Gears of War 2 and 3’s long term appeal has generally come from the random elements associated with its Horde co-op multiplayer mode, applying on-the-fly enemy spawning to the campaign seems like a very fine idea. Given People Can Fly’s involvement and the gameplay mechanics of Bulletstorm, the direction seems to make sense.
A series of challenges will also be incorporated into the campaign, dressed up as “this is what Kilo Squad did” teases. For example, you might be told that Kilo Squad did a certain mission using only a certain weapon or a certain amount of ammo. If you manage to hit or better the challenge you’ll be rewarded, although we’re not quite sure how as yet.
Also shown at E3 2012 was a new multiplayer mode. OverRun is a class-based (yes, class-based in a Gears game) in which one side plays as the COG and one as the Locust. Depending on which COG character you choose, you play as either a Soldier, Medic, Engineer or Scout. Soldiers are all about the guns, Scout can climb towers and excel with sniper rifles, Medic can heal team mates and the Engineer can deploy helpful items like turrets and defensive walls.
On the Locust side, you can play as any of the character types available in Gears of War 3’s Beast mode – as well as other types that have not been announced. Interestingly, the Locust can combine their individual abilities. For example, if you play as a Grenadier you can toss a grenade to someone playing as a Ticker who can then run into the enemy and blow themselves up. Alternatively, a bunch of you can play as Tickers with another as a Mauler playing the role of a mobile shield.
Perhaps of all the sequels/prequels shown at E3 2012, it’s Gears of War: Judgement that has me most excited. Well, that and Assassin’s Creed 3. But we’ll be talking about that on another day…