Latest 'Gears of War' game resonates with critics

dranii@newsobserver.comMarch 18, 2013 

Epic Games, which has a lot riding on its latest installment of its blockbuster “Gears of War” video-game series, is enjoying a wave of upbeat reviews for the new game.

As of late Monday, review aggregator Metacritic gave “Gears of War: Judgment,” which is being released Tuesday, a score of 79 out of 100 based on reviews posted by 38 critics. Of those reviews, 29 were positive and nine were mixed; none were deemed negative.

“It’s been fantastic to finally see the reviews start rolling in, and how well they’ve responded to all the new features in ‘Gears of War: Judgment,’ ” Jim Brown, lead designer at Cary-based Epic, said in a statement.

Although “Judgment” goes on sale Tuesday, reviewers began weighing in on the game, which is exclusively for Microsoft’s XBox 360 game console, on Monday. Microsoft also is the publisher of the game developed by Epic and its People Can Fly studio in Warsaw, Poland. The suggested retail price is $59.99.

“Judgment” is a prequel to the first three installments of “Gears of War,” which have been a serious cash cow for privately held Epic, collectively generating more than $1 billion in sales. When “Gears of War 3” was launched in September 2011, it sold more than 3 million copies in its first week of release. Altogether, more than 19 million “Gears of War” games have been sold worldwide.

The video game industry hasn’t proven to be invulnerable to the nation’s economic struggles and the allure of less-expensive games developed for mobile devices. Last year, sales of video game discs in the U.S. market dropped 22 percent, according to research firm NPD.

“Judgment” is set in the years before the “Gears of War” trilogy and, according to Epic, “follows Kilo Squad, a team of battle-hardened warriors comprised of the fearless Damon Baird, Augustus ‘The Cole Train’ Cole and new characters Sofia Hendrick and Garron Paduk, as they attempt to save the besieged city of Halvo Bay from a terrifying new enemy.”

The gaming site Joystiq rated “Judgment” 4.5 stars out of 5.

“For all of the series’ trademark spectacle and flair,” reviewer David Hinkle wrote, “it all boils down to executing simple combat concepts well. A diligent approach to ensuring that no two encounters are the same keeps it from ever feeling stagnant or like a waste of your time. You’re always moving, constantly pushing through the next enemy stronghold, never sure of what you’ll face, and it’s always harrowing.”

The reviewer for Eurogamer, Dan Whitehead concluded: “Even with the pall of over-familiarity lingering over it, ‘Gears of War: Judgment’ is a timely reminder that ruthless focus on gameplay, generosity towards players and good old-fashioned design craft can still pay dividends.”

The reviewer for the Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto was among those in the “mixed” category.

The game “just doesn’t have a lot of epic moments, which is an unfortunate irony when the developer calls itself Epic Games,” noted Peter Nowak. “While the series has taken a big step forward by reining in its worst excesses, it also takes one back by shying away from what made it great to begin with. As such, ‘Judgment’ is a familiar experience that, at this point in time, is just treading water.”

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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