Gears of War: Judgement – Is Free For All a Good Call?

The Gears of War franchise is a juggernaut for Microsoft. The Xbox-exclusive, third-person cover shooter series is about as well known for its multiplayer as it is for anything else (at least in the case of the last two games). Perhaps this is why Microsoft is squeezing out yet another Gears game so soon after Gears of War 3. They’ve been talking up the multiplayer quite a bit, and at PAX Prime last weekend, I managed to spend some quality time killing and being killed by other players.

Gears of War: Judgement
Developer: Epic Games, People Can Fly
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Xbox 360
Release date: March 19th, 2013

My hands-on session revolved entirely around the new multiplayer mode, Free for All. This commonplace mode has not been implemented into previous Gears games, so it was definitely a jarring experience for me – for at least the first few minutes.

I’ve played a lot of Gears 3 multiplayer, so I knew how to compete out there in the cutthroat arena. Even so, it’s disconcerting to think that you are completely alone. Cover wasn’t always the most feasible option during multiplayer team battles in past Gears games, but at least it offered some protection during multi-person firefights. Unfortunately, cover was rendered virtually useless in Judgement’s Free for All mode, where hiding behind a wall did little to protect you from the enemy who just spawned on your six.

It makes me wonder how successful such a mode will turn out to be. Movement in the Gears games has never been particularly quick. Combine that slowness with the awkward roadie run and the magnetic cover system, turn every character on the map hostile, and madness ensues. Most of my kills came from blasting away folks who were in cover or desperately trying to evade my assault rifle – but instead accidentally sticking to cover. Granted, these kinds of encounters happen in Gears 3, but not if you’re playing as you should – that is, with your team.

My personal qualms with the mode aside, I did notice a few significant gameplay mechanic changes during my session. For one, you no longer have to cycle through your weapons to throw a grenade. They’re now mapped to a single button, which increases the pace of matches. Weapon swapping is also much quicker, as you no longer have to fiddle with the d-pad – just press Y. These changes help you keep up with the frantic pace of Free for All, though the cover system and character movement speed felt exactly the same as it did in Gears 3.

It’s also worth noting that the maps used in Free for All have been specifically designed for that mode. As any multiplayer vet knows, map design plays a huge role when it comes to balance and fun. The map we played had several levels, tons of corners, and very short sightlines.

I may not be super excited about Free for All at the moment, but that doesn’t mean Gears of War: Judgement can’t turn out to be an incredible game. It will include all the standard multiplayer modes of Gears past, as well as new ones such as OverRun and others which have yet to be announced.

Gears of War: Judgement releases on March 19th, 2013.

Game Front is on-site at PAX Prime all weekend (Aug 31-Sep 2), bringing you daily news, hands-on previews, interviews and pictures. Stay tuned for more PC gaming-focused coverage!

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