The Gears of War series has been a flagship for Microsoft and to date, has racked up a whopping 18.8 million units sold since conception. It created a new approach to third-person shooters - introducing a ground-breaking cover system, a slower almost clunky movement system and insane levels of violence and gore.
However the up-coming game in the franchise, Judgement, looks set to change a lot of things. The original team from Epic Games have now joined forces with their sister studio, People Can Fly to deliver a whole new experience in their latest Gears of War title.
There are two areas where Judgement takes a major departure from its predecessors. To start with, this game is a prequel and doesn't feature Marcus Fenix as the lead role. Instead the story revolves around Damon Baird, the rowdy and head-strong mechanic introduced to us in previous titles. However, as a prequel, Baird is now younger, thinner and minus a few dozen scars. He's also less annoying to those who remember him spouting out mindless one-liners from the cheap seats in previous Gears games.
Baird might seem like an odd choice for the lead, but speaking to Adrian Chmielarz, the Creative Director at People Can Fly, a lot of thought went into the decision. He conducted numerous surveys from fans of the series and engaged in active feedback of Gears 3 to learn that Baird was a favourite amongst many. While the original Gears trilogy was Fenix's story, Judgement takes place 15 years before hand, where Baird and his small squad are accused of treason, theft and corruption. For true fans of the series, the Gears timeline puts this just after the Emergence of the dreaded Locust and around the time of the Pendulum Wars.
Other than the lead role, the other dramatic shift in Judgement lies in the controls and gameplay speed. While the first three Gears felt solid and clunky, this new titles ramps up the pace of the action tend-fold. Baird will be able to move faster and switch weapons swiftly, with a revised control setup to match. For example throwing grenades can now be performed by simply tapping B for a quick lob in the heat of battle. Those players needing precision can still hold down B to bring up the projectile arc.
The reason for the change is due to the developers also promising the most enemies seen on screen for a Gears game. The action will be fast and intense and Chmielarz admitted that Judgement will also be one of the hardest games in the series. The odds will constantly be stacked against you and even hardened veterans of the game will find challenging moments.
This is partly due to a background 'learning engine' that studies the way you play and adapts the environment to suit. Players will seldom encounter the same sequence of events, even when replaying check-points. This 'on-the-fly' variation means that players will share completely different experiences with every play-through.
Judgement also marks the return of a comprehensive multiplayer component and maintains the favourite modes of the previous Gears. However this time it introduces OverRun, a new class-based multiplayer experience revolving around two teams trying to defend or attack generators located within a map. One side plays as the human Kilo Squad and has the choice of four players, or classes including; the Engineer (our hero Baird), the Solider (a jock named Cole), the Scout (a trigger happy refuge Paduk) and the Medic (a red-headed cadet known as Hendricks).
These four classes are stock standard for many multiplayer games, however the opposing side of the Locust adds a whole new dimension to Judgement's OverRun mode. Here you can chose from a range of diverse monsters such as Wretches, who charge around the map at horrifying speed and whose scream can paralyse enemies. The Ticker, a fast moving parasitic insect creature that can eat grenades and be used as an explosive weapon. The Locust have their own version of a medic known as the Kantus, but this towering killer has the advantage of being able to ride Bloodmounts (a sort of multi-eyed canine) for extra protection and attack abilities. There are eight different Locust units in total, each one as nightmarish as the next.
We witnessed some of the gameplay for OverRun and it was absolutely insane. The action plays out like it has been given a shot of caffeine straight to your goolies. Blood and body parts litter the screen and watching human-controlled Locust horrors charging down on you is enough to make you pack up your things and join a Nunnery. The different classes from both sides are all designed to work together as well. For example the human Engineers can build sentry guns while the Scouts can access high-up areas to help defend from above. The Locust abilities can also be combined for dominating plays too, such as the Screamer distracting players as your Mauler, a giant Gladiator-like Locust ploughs through players with his razor-sharp spinning shield.
Chmielarz ended the presentation with promises of sweaty palms, plenty of 'crunchy' combat and balls-out, non-stop action from start to finish. Early signs show this could be the most intense Gears title to date. It's a bold, confident move to show that they are not churning out a cash-cow. Instead Judgement's faster pace is likely to attract a whole new audience to the series, while not alienating their loyal fan base. It's difficult to confirm without solid hands-on time, but if this game proves to play as good as it looks, then Microsoft might have a killer line-up for 2013.
NZGamer.com appears at E3 2012 thanks to Orcon Broadband.
The Good: The new OverRun mode is insane
The Bad: It's not out until 2013
The Ugly: Too much change for fans?