One of the more unexpected announcements in the run up to E3 was that of Gears of War: Judgement - a brand new game in the Gears of War series, which everyone had presumed had gone on at least a hiatus following the release of Gears of War 3, with developers Epic tipped to wait until the release of the next Xbox before showing their newest wares. At Microsoft's recent conference at E3, it turned out that this wasn't so, with Epic having decided to give the gritty third person shooter one last swansong on the 360.
While details are light on the ground at the moment, we do know that this is going to be a proper, fully blown Gears outing, not a spin-off like many were expecting, so you can expect the same cover based, third person shooter gameplay that fans of the series have come to expect - which at least sounds better than the recently cancelled Kinect controlled spin-off that was in development. It's also not another game in the Gears trilogy, as Judgement is actually a prequel, set some 14 years before the events of the first game, shortly after the emergence of the locust - Gears' humanoid-yet-insect-like enemies that come in a variety of ugly shapes and sizes - with the game marking what's presumably humanity's first encounter with a vicious and seemingly unstoppable foe.
While there's not been anything shown of the gameplay in the story mode, what has been mentioned is a brand new spawning system for the locust enemies, known as the Smart Spawn System, which will randomly, and dynamically change the enemies that are in each level, ensuring that even during your second, third, or hundredth time through the game, you'll never know what's waiting around the corner.
Also making their return are online and offline co-op modes, with up to four players online, or two on the same console, letting you bring friends with you should you need the extra support. And, judging by the word that's going around at the moment, it sounds like you may well need all the help you can get, as Gears head honcho Cliffy B has apparently been paying attention to recently ultra-hard, die-every-few-seconds games such as Dark Souls, and is keen to bring some old school, hard core challenge to the Gears series. If that doesn't sound too appealing, don't panic, as there's still a "casual" mode for people like us, which should hopefully allow anyone to play through Judgement to it's conclusion.
Playable on the E3 show floor is Gears of War: Judgement's newest multiplayer mode, entitled OverRun. A class based multiplayer mode that pits Locust versus the human COG soldiers in a team-based, objective based battle, you'll be able to pick a class to match your play-style. On the surface, the Locust are the more aggressive, out and out attacking types of characters, while the human COGs tend to work best playing a defensive role - setting traps, staying in cover, and the like. Playing as the humans, you'll be able to choose between taking the role of an Engineer, who can repair defensive fortifications and deploy turrets, a Soldier, who can provide ammo to team mates, the Scout, who can climb up to sniping positions and tag enemies to warn their team mates, and the Medic, who can both heal, and revive their team mates. The locust have a similarly diverse array of characters available, from the brute force of the Grenadier, to the speed and surprise value of the small, spider-like ticker, which scuttles across the floor at a rate of knots.
Bringing with it something of a tried and tested yet simultaneously different approach to the Gears series, Judgement looks set to offer something for Gears fans to sink their teeth into. Keeping our fingers crossed that the easy option still is relatively easy, we'll be looking forward to early 2013, when Judgement hits the shelves.