June 10, 2012 by Paul Curtin
We got a chance to sit down with Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski and People Can Fly founder Adrian Chmielarz at E3 2012 to check out the just announced next installment in the series, Gears of War: Judgment. Bleszinski explained to us that Epic and People Can Fly are working together to bring the franchise back to the original days of the Locust being scary like in the first game and at the same time introduce a bunch of innovative new features that will help the series feel fresh while still staying true to the franchise’s roots.
Bleszinski went on to explain why Judgment takes place a few months after Emergence Day by saying that if they were to have done E-Day, then there would have been no chainsaw guns, and if they were to have done the Pendulum Wars like everyone was guessing they would, then not only would there be no chainsaw guns, but there would be no Locust. “And now we’re not Gears of War anymore,” said Bleszinski. Judgment will take place during the immediate aftermath of Emergence Day (14 years before the events of the first game) when humanity was just pulling itself back together after the initial shock of the Locust invasion.
As Game Informer revealed before E3 even started, Gears of War: Judgment will feature familiar faces Damon Baird and Augustus Cole of Kilo Squad before they became members of Delta. Unlike Cole, Baird never got his special moment in Gears of War 3, so now it’s time for his arrogant ass to shine. Because the fourth game in the series takes place years before the events of the first game, both Baird and (especially) Cole look noticeably younger — opposite of how Epic made them look a lot rougher towards the end in Gears of War 3 after they had been beaten down on by the Locust for years. And without Marcus and Dom around, new characters will also join the campaign to form Kilo Squad and help expand the Gears universe.
Gears of War: Judgment‘s biggest new feature comes in the form of what they’re calling the Smart Spawn System (or S3) for both campaign and multiplayer action. The new S3 system ensures that each encounter is unique and new because types, timing, and locations of enemies change with each new encounter based on how the player is playing the game. The S3 system is what both Cliff and Adrian seemed most excited about because it’s something that will make gameplay truly unique to everyone who plays it.
Bleszinski explained that most shooters nowadays follow a similar hallway-cutscene-hallway-cutscene format, and players all experience the exact same canned cutscene animations that interrupt gameplay just when they’re becoming immersed in the gameplay. With the S3 system Epic and People Can Fly will be throwing all types of different enemies at players depending on how they’re playing so that friends can enjoy sharing different experiences despite playing the same game. Even better is that after dying, players won’t be greeted by the exact same enemies running the exact same patterns around the exact same corners. S3 will always be introducing new challenges and changing up the gameplay so that the player never knows what to expect.
Chmielarz went on to explain that in addition to the S3 system giving players a unique experience, Judgment will also feature a Mission Declassification system that lets players experience more challenging gameplay scenarios and achievements by uncovering critical information during the course of the campaign. Since certain weapons and items might not be available to players the first time through the campaign, they’ll be encouraged to go back and replay it to uncover new items that might slightly change how the events of the campaign play out. By declassifying certain parts of the story, players are essentially removing the top secret, blacked out parts of Baird’s testimony while on trial.
It was also confirmed that Judgment will use a slightly different control scheme than previous games in the series. Bleszinski said that they’re doing away with forcing players to use the D-Pad to manually switch between each weapon and instead switching between weapons will be done by double-tapping one button on the D-Pad while other items like grenades will have their own dedicated button that allows them to quickly be thrown. It’s a risky tweak that is sure to upset a lot of hardcore players and make for a ton of angry forum posts, but it sounds like something that players will be able to get used to after playing a couple rounds and eventually accept as a new and improved system.
Judgment also introduces a brand-new multiplayer experience in the form of a mode called OverRun, described as “a thrilling new class-based competitive mode that pits Locust and COG soldiers in competitive head-to-head battles.” We got a chance to check out some gameplay, which looks like Beast Mode on steroids, allowing for similar classes on both sides of the battle and loadouts offering a ton of customization. Bleszinski noted that this is something he’d like to one day also see on the competitive scene and by the looks of it, OverRun is the evolution of the multiplayer in Gears that is sure to excite fans with something new.
While watching gameplay of OverRun and seeing new classes like the Medic and Scout, I paid particular attention to one of the Scout’s unique abilities that stood out to me. For the first time in a Gears game, we saw the Scout class have the unique ability to vault himself up to higher platforms on the map without the use of steps or a ladder. The flatter multiplayer maps in the Gears series have begun to feel a little dated with games like Uncharted introducing similar gameplay on multi-level vertical maps, so I asked Bleszinski whether other modes like Warzone, Execution, and Team Deathmatch would also allow players to have access to platforming abilities on more vertical maps, but with the game still so early in development, he wouldn’t give me a solid answer. Hopefully it’ll be a feature we’ll hear more about as the game moves along future in development. Gears of War: Judgment is set for early 2013 on Xbox 360.