In case you haven’t heard, there’s more chainsaw gunnin’ and Locust killin’ heading our way with Gears of War: Judgement, a prequel to the blockbuster Gears franchise slated for release on Xbox 360 next year. We sat down with Cliff Bleszinski of Epic Games and Adrian Chmielarz of People Can Fly to get all the details.
Gears of War: Judgement stars the two side characters from the previous games – wisecracking engineer Baird and his hooting partner Cole Train – who make up Kilo Squad with new characters Sofia Hendricks and Garron Paduk. It takes place more than a dozen years before the first Gears of War and the entire game centers on Kilo Squad on trial for – among other things – Treason.
The game will play out in a series of testimonial flashbacks, but these memories won’t always be entirely reliable. In a system they call “Declassification,” the level will start like a redacted document. As you play, the truth of what happened will be revealed or “declassified.” That’s not all, though, because this unique system will carry into the gameplay itself, affecting what enemies you will fight, what weapons are available to you, and so on. The more Baird and his teammates remember in their testimony, the more game elements will be unlocked.
This supports one of the two buzzwords that Bleszinski and Chmielarz kept repeating: replayability and difficulty. Bleszinski doesn’t want to give us a game that he called “a campaign rental.” They want Gears of War: Judgement to be tough enough to challenge you and varied enough to keep you coming back again and again.
To that end, Epic and People Can Fly have created the Smart Spawn System, or S3. You might think of it like the “Director” from Left 4 Dead, but it sounds far more sophisticated. As you play through the campaign, S3 will constantly gauge whether or not you are being challenged and then adjust the gameplay accordingly. If you’re getting by a little too easily, then the game will throw bigger and badder enemies at you. “By the time you finish a section, we want your palms sweaty,” they said.
This also means that no two playthroughs of the game will ever be alike. You could play through a section, die and then play through again, only to face an entirely new set of enemies using very different tactics. This has created a challenge for the game designers because of the huge number of game permeatations. “QA hates us,” Cliff said.
From the sound of it, Gears of War Judgement is going to challenge players to master the gameplay itself and not just memorize the levels. If you aren’t keen to be challenged so drastically, don’t worry. Casual mode will remain casual – the S3 System truly challenges players on harder difficulties.
A couple of other items worth noting: There will be fewer cut scenes (there were way too many in Gears of War 3). The updated game engine will allow more Locust enemies on screen than ever before. Chmielarz said that they are bringing back the primal fear of the Locust from the first game. And, perhaps most intriguing of all, the game will feature a new control scheme as a direct response to player feedback. The details are still sketchy, but they mentioned that switching weapons will require the press of just a single button and you will be able to quick throw grenades.
I’ve played through every Gears game several times, and my biggest complaint with Gears 3 was the number of cut scenes. It’s nice to hear that they’re cutting these down and focusing on creating a challenging and varied gameplay experience for Gears of War: Judgement. Personally, I can’t wait.