The story behind Gears of War: Judgement (GoW: J) focuses on the exploits of Kilo Squad led by a younger lieutenant Damon Baird. Fans of the series will know Baird as the genius smart ass engineer who joined Marcus Fenix and crew in the first three installments. This time around, set years before the first game, players find Baird and Kilo’s tale en media res. Their story begins with their court martial by COG officers out for an explanation as to the squad’s unsanctioned activities in the war with the Locust. What happens next is a series of chapters given to each squad member as they tell a tale of blood, guts and the Locust Horde.

Developer: Epic Games, People Can Fly
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release date: March 19
Price: $59.99
Score: 9/10

GoW: J controls very well. Fans of the series will not miss a beat picking up the controller and going for headshots or lancer dashes. For those new to the world of the COGs, the learning curve is short and gets the game going very quickly. With relative ease, Baird and company are running to cover, laying down blind fire and slaying everything from Maulers to Corpsers. Added now is the ability to hold a shield with any weapon as opposed to previous installments that only allowed a shield and pistol combo.

Graphically, GoW: J is prettier than its predecessors. The bombed out landscapes and the horrifying enemies are all fleshed out in amazing detail. You feel the desolation. You can smell the burning vehicles and you can taste the blood of the Locusts as you cut them in half. All of the senses are strongly affected by the attention to detail in the game. As a prequel, the characters known to gamers are young and more slender in appearance. It is a wonder what the COGs are given between this game and the first Gears. Somewhere, the soldiers gain about three hundred pounds of muscle.

Speaking of the look, the sound of GoW: J is equally impressive. Boots crunch on the debris-filled sidewalks. Weapons all fire away in their own respective calibers. The Locust soldiers have their familiar hiss and growls and the voice actors for Kilo squad do the job. They sound like soldiers aging on an uncertain battlefield. Due to careful voice work, this is not completely the Baird and Augustus Cole we know from Gears 1, 2 and 3. They are becoming them. With that said, fans of the series will smile wide with the return of Lester Speight as the Cole Train.

Gears of War: Judgment does bring some fresh aspects in terms of playability. Gamers can enhance the play with choosing “Declassified” challenges. The options will limit and toughen the gameplay with items such as Locust smoke bombs or reduced ammunition. Gain enough declassified rankings and you can unlock “Aftermath” a portion of play which takes place during Gears of War 3.

The multiplayer aspect of GoW: J allows for some continued lifetime with the game. Players can jump into free-for-all warfare against other players in COG personas. Or, if you’re in the mood for a more survival based experience, Gears offers OverRun. Teams will play as either COG soldiers or Locust Drones and hold off the oncoming enemies while protecting or attacking specific ground.

Does Gears of War: Judgment fall before the duties of a prequel? Does it maintain the universe that it predates or does it show gamers a better experience than other installments? Prequels have a tough job – they have to maintain but still upgrade an experience. GoW: J does the job. It doesn’t feel too good to be the beginning but it doesn’t forget where it comes from and where it has to go. These gears keep on turning; Judgment’s ruling is “buy.”