Microsoft is in full force on the PAX Prime show floor, and Gears of War Judgment is one of their few centerpieces. It’s with good reason too, as the fourth installment seems to be coming along nicely as it aims to live up (and dare we say surpass?) to the lofty expectations set by Gears of War 3. Judgment is already carving its own niche, as the announcement of several robust additions can be expected.
On display in Seattle are ten consoles set up to showcase the game’s Free-For-All mode. This game type is fresh to the Gears of War universe, as every previous title has only featured team-centric multiplayer. After one round of pure deathmatch, it’s obvious that this is a welcome and refreshing change.
The first noticeable impact of the Free-For-All mode is the sensation of utter loneliness. Gears of War titles have always had the reassuring prospect of a helpful teammate to help chip away at the opposition’s health. That’s obviously not the case in Free-For-All. Any reinforcements that may appear will only temporarily help your cause before turning the gun on you. There’s a fair chance that they’ll steal your kill too.
Because of the very nature of the game mode, Free-For-All is considerably more frantic than Gears of War has ever been. The emphasis on cover has dwindled because it forces the game play to alter from a battle of trenches to a more mobile affair, as the very realistic risk of being flanked is omnipresent. Possibly because of this emphasis on constant movement, the “downing” mechanic is entirely absent. Rather than downing an opponent before executing them, it’s only possible to simply kill them. This subtraction felt a bit disappointing as executions are a staple of the Gears of War experience.
Two maps, Gondola and Library, are available to be played. We were afforded the opportunity to check out Gondola. Gondola is an outdoor map that beautifully displays an oceanic view from the Agora foothills. The map felt like it was built on top of itself, rather than a flat environment, creating several different levels, staircases, and vantage points. While it was difficult to get a sense of the nuances of the level, at least one player figured out how to operate the Gondola ride as they rained death upon the unfortunately oblivious.
Although our time with Gears of War Judgment’s Free-For-All was brief, it was an enjoyable experience. It’s probably not going to be the mode that captures the hearts of Gears veterans, but it’s a nice addition to the already impressive repertoire. Free-For-All is certainly a rejuvenating take on the Gears of War formula, even if it does increase the tension ten-fold.