NOW is the time…

…FOR JUDGMENT! 

The silence is broken.  How exciting is this?  Very.  I signed my life away to silence for the past four days.  I’ve been so excited, I wanted to explode!  My fellow IC members and I got to experience Gears of War: Judgment FIRST HAND.  Good news is, Fred Tatasciore returns as Baird.  Bad news?  There was no bad news. 😀

It all started Thursday morning.  The trip to San Francisco was a fairly easy drive, and we even arrived on time.  Actually, no, about an hour and a half early.  After wandering about the town, we found ourselves back at the studio waiting outside with other gamers.  Retail representatives, socialites of the media and so forth, talking with a few reps from Microsoft about the upcoming titles, especially the game of the hour: Gears of War: Judgment.  Little did we know what was waiting for us behind the doors.

After a few minutes of waiting for the entire crew to arrive, we found ourselves heading up a set of stairs into a very surreal setting.  The room was beautiful! Televisions set up to the Gears press start screen.  Posters of the protagonists Baird and Co. on several walls, the torn COG banner immediately to the left of us waving in the incoming air from the open door.  There were about fifteen of us, the humble players, standing there in awe.  A lot of us were able to snap a few photos and grab some snacks and drinks before we were summoned over to the back area where there was already a game getting started, and the Epic representatives welcoming us warmly. Kendall Boyd (Director of Marketing at Epic) taking control of the game, and Alan Van Slyke, Senior Producer, stood aside and patiently waited for us to get situated.  He explained to us the improved system and some new features we could check out while the game was being played to us on the screen.  They gave us a brief rundown and before we knew it, we were able to sit down at our very own station, slip on a set of headphones and grab our controllers.

The Gears of War: Judgment Studio as you walk in…breathtaking.

Now to the (even more) amaze-balls part.

The campaign is told in a testimonial format; the part we got to experience was Baird’s recollection.  I won’t get into any detail story wise, and if I do, I promise to put [***SPOILER***] beforehand.  Right off the bat, as I sat down in the extremely comfortable chair and sat back, I put on the headset and could already hear how clean and crisp the sounds are.  The music is just as eerie and dark as the soundtracks prior, and the sound effects of your weapons are ever present.  There were a lot of times where I’d find myself simply standing in one spot (between waves of enemies of course) staring at the sky, watching the buildings crumble, the enemies flying overhead and zoning in on every little detail in the character and building textures, taking in the ambiance that Gears of War is known for.  For me, gaming is a sensory experience, and with the sights and sounds, come the smell and feel.  Not entirely sure what wretch gibs smell like, but I could only imagine.  The controls are close to what they have been in the past, aside from a couple of buttons switched around for a more fluid and intuitive control scheme.  Simply said: The trademark “Gears grit” is absolutely intact.

A new feature is “Declassify”.  Upon your journeys, you will encounter large COG symbols on the walls.  As the story is told, it plays out as the government wants you to know the “facts”.  Declassifying allows you to understand what actually happened in the story, changing some of the details to Baird’s actual experience.  Declassifying ramps up the difficulty pretty good, but shifts the experience to a whole new extreme.  It also allows you to rank up in your rating faster.  Another new feature in game is the 3-star rating system which is a meter filled by carrying out tasks including: obtaining ribbons, performing executions, gibbing your enemies, and completing the declassified objectives.  Filling this meter allows you to obtain unlockables; character skins, weapon skins, and so forth.

Kendall Boyd (left) and Alan Van Slyke (far right in his “Chicks dig the Baird shirt”) doing a last walkthrough before we left to make sure the room was set for the next test group.  Two great guys! Good sports, team players, and awesome to play GOW with them!

Then came the Multiplayer mode.  This was the epitome of badassery.  Nowhere, in any of my years as a gamer, did I believe I would be able to actually play the game with the developers!  First, we played Free-for-All on a map called Library.  I have played my share of online multiplayer, but this by far was the best experience I have ever had online.  I almost never play free-for-all, but the mechanics of the online play was balanced, and other than the near-heart-attacks suffered when getting executed with a retro-lancer by the devs and Microsoft reps (thanks, guys), it was too much fun.  They rewarded the top player in the match, and that top player was none other than IC Marcus himself!  The guys we were in-game with were so pumped from that game, we played a re-match.  It was excitement (to the max) to actually be playing a game with Kendall, Will Kinsler (Community Manager) and Alan.  Entirely unreal!  In Free-For-All mode, we were given the chance to explore the other maps called Streets and Gondola.

After a short break, we dove into a new mode called Overrun.  Think: Horde mode meets beast mode.  Though the game type felt similar to others I had played before (in other titles), it was extremely fresh, exciting, and entirely interactive.  Alan sat down next to me and was on my team! How awesome is that? I’m still trying to wrap my head around it! There’s nothing quite like calling out commands and tactics, and even getting complimented by one of the developers.  As we learned the hard way, playing this mode takes a lot of in-squad communication and a lot of creative tactics.  Cogs defend and assume one of four roles: Medic, Soldier, Engineer and Scout.  Each class is equipped with two weapons, which can be swapped out with ease using the Y button.  They also have a special ability (that subs in for your grenades) which can be accessed using LB.  Enemy forces are the attackers and take on the roles of the beasts, including the Ticker, Mauler, Serapede and Corpser.  Each team is timed to see how fast you can destroy bases A, B and C before switching sides.  Unfortunately we lost that round but Alan was a good sport and coached us 100% of the way.

Krys, Chris and Marcus of Insert Controller after the preview party

All-in-all, this was an experience that left me shaking with excitement.  To this day, I am still in disbelief of the couple of hours I got to spend with the Epic Games devs, the Microsoft Team and my cohorts from IC.  Before this experience, I was simply looking forward to this game, but now I am chomping at the bit until it comes out.  I hope you guys enjoy it as much as I did, (and will, as I will absolutely be picking this one up!)

Gears of War: Judgment launches March 19th, 2013

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