Marty Sliva: With Gears of War: Judgment, the 4th installment in one of this generation's biggest new franchises set to release in a few months, fans think they know what to expect. We know Gears is going to deliver action that looks and feels as good as it gets. Epic redefined third-person gunplay, and People Can Fly proved to be maestros of over-the-top violence in Bulletstorm. Of course you'll still be chainsawing fools and roadie running to your next playground, but there's surprisingly more than that, specifically in the way that Judgment attempts to tell a war story. We're in a post-Spec Ops and Black Ops II world. A shooter that tells a lazy story in 2013 is going to stand out, and not in a good way. Thankfully, Gears of War: Judgment seems to understand this perfectly, and is set to deliver narrative via an exciting suite of interesting ideas.
Shooters rarely contain a narrative that's told dynamically via the player's input. Hell, most games today have a very distinct disconnect between action and story -- you do things, the game tells you a bit of story, you do more things, a bit more story. Judgment is trying to change this, starting with the way its narrative is delivered. Few games contain interesting framing devices, but Judgment's military tribunal certainly intrigues. With your heroes sent to trial for an unknown crime, each level plays out as a specific character's testimony. But as the difficulty level increases, layers of declassified information are peeled back, and your missions become more and more intense. With a deeper testimony, new enemies may appear. Certain sections of a level will now become available for combat encounters. Weapons that were never mentioned in the trial may now appear on the battlefield. Epic and PCF have found an interesting and exciting way to play with the idea of both difficulty as well as storytelling.
The way your story morphs into a denser and more deadly affair based on the difficulty level brings to mind shades of Rashomon, which is something I never thought I'd be comparing a shooter to. Having different perspectives of a shared event helps flesh out the narrative in a way that eschews from the usual black and white that exists in most shooters. It also provides a fresh departure from the usual "enemies take more damage" creed that seems to be what many games fall-back on when it comes to difficulty levels. But remember in GoldenEye where higher difficulty levels meant more complex objectives instead of just stronger enemies? Well, Judgment seems to be handling its various levels of challenge in a similar way. By fleshing out the action, it's encouraging players to go through the campaign multiple times to see the narrative evolve and the perspectives shift.
Perhaps most exciting detail about Judgment is the hand from which the story is penned from -- Tom Bissell. You might know him as the author of Extra Lives, one of the few must-read books on video games. Seriously, if you haven't read it, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Bissell also contributed some of 2012's best articles on Grantland, including fantastic pieces on Spec Ops andDishonored. He understands video games, knows what makes them tick, and having him pen one of 2013's biggest titles is truly exciting.