Gears of War: Judgment Hands-on PAX 2012 Preview -- A Kill All Free-for-AllBy Stephen Johnson - Posted Sep 05, 2012
I played Gears of War: Judgment’s Free-For-All mode at PAX 2012, and I'm pretty amped. So please excuse the excesses of the ranty Gears of War: Judgment preview that follows. You know how when you go see a truly great rock band play--I mean like a great band, like the Ramones in 1983, or Nirvana in 1991--and the group gets to that high point in their set, that moment where all the instruments are blazing and perfectly in time, the crowd is jumping, and the sound is truly transcendent?
And it doesn't matter if you're in a crappy club with 14 other people or you're in the Coliseum with 40,000. Everyone is transported. The crowd and the musicians are together in another realm, beyond conscious thought, all grooving in that place of pure expressive ecstasy and bliss that all music aspires toward?
You know that? That's what the best shooters can be like.
When you're playing with the right people, at the right time, in the right state of mind, the entire world falls away, and your id is totally satiated with twitch-action muscle movement and boundless carnage. Shooters are rock 'n roll. Shooters are a drug, but one that doesn't make your teeth fall out.
Playing Gears of War: Judgment at PAX was like that--the right drug at the right time. This series is as meticulously manufactured as an experimental variation of MDMA made up in an evil drug genius's lab. Gears of War is like a batch of Walter White super-meth. Gears is similar to other shooter games but so distinctive, that it's hard to even express what's going on that makes it so much better than almost every other game. Gears has an extra molecule added somehow. It just has that feel, man.
There are so many imitators, but no one else has ever captured the Gears sweet-spot. The movement is just clompy enough to suggest real weight to your character, but never so clompy it frustrates. The guns do enough damage to make players feel they're dealing death, but never so much damage that you die after a single shot (except when you deserve it, of course).
The Gears of War shotgun is like a work-of-art by itself...and dat Lancer, that chainsaw-fronted rifle of death...damn, man. Epic showed off a new mode for the franchise, Free-For-All, an every-man-for-himself experience new to the Gears line of games. The concept of the mode is a classic: Put 10 gamers together on a closed map with a ton of weapons and explosives and let 'em tear the hell out of each other. There's nothing at all innovative about it, but it has that feel.
This is not a game mode for fans of meticulous strategy. It's just a riot of guns and explosives--shoot first, shoot second--so you need to leave your rationality in the lobby, and give in to the chaos to get the most out of the Free-For-All mode.
According to developer Epic, the idea of this mode is to create something a little faster, a little more punk rock, in response to feedback from gamers. The pace is definitely faster than previous Gears titles and competitive multiplayer modes, but it's never too fast or too floaty like a speed-based shooter. This is still a weight-based shooter. That grounded-in-gravity heaviness that has marked the Gears of War franchise since the first game is baked in.
The weapons are just the kinds of weapons you'd expect, including a new gun called the Breech Shot, a mid-range weapon, designed for headshots. These are Standard issue firearms, but each one is balanced and tuned perfectly. Each weapon feels and sounds so distinctive, you'd know how the tool is employed without even seeing the screen.
There were two new maps shown at PAX as well. The Library is set in a library, and The Gondola features, you guessed it, a moving gondola. Each is a well-designed multiplayer map, exactly how you'd expect a multiplayer map to be, but again, while the designs are nothing innovative, each just feels right. Huge scale violence in a ancient library is incongruous, but once you stop worrying about blowing up all the nice old books, you can identify hiding spots and vantages to take out others.
The Gondola level's innovation is a moving platform holding grenades on a vertical (well, diagonal, actually) playing field. It's perfect for the weird, gung-ho, suicidal tactics and reckless disregard for personal safety of that a game mode like free-for-all encourages.