“Gears of War: Judgment” review: Moves the needle forward a notch

New lead protagonist. An additional developer. Revamped multiplayer modes. You couldn’t accuse Microsoft of playing it safe with the latest entry in the Gears of War franchise — “Gears of War: Judgment.” But are all these changes for the good in a series that has become the preeminent third-person shooter?

Set before the events of the original “Gears of War,” “Judgment” takes place right after Emergence Day — the first strike on humanity by the enemy Locust. Kilo Squad — comprised of series veterans Damon Baird (now the lead protagonist) and Augustus Cole along with newcomers Sofia Hendrick and Garron Paduk — is being tried for disobeying orders. The campaign relives the events that led Kilo Squad to this trial from each of the quartet’s perspective.

Though this story-telling mechanic does little to keep you engaged with the narrative because of the shifts in focus, the new Mission Declassification system more than makes up for it. Developer People Can Fly, which is co-developing this latest Gears installment with Epic Studios, sprinkled these optional sections throughout the campaign to add an additional layer of challenge unlike anything found in the “Gears of War” franchise.

One section has you fighting with limited ammo while another needs to be finished in a set amount of time. Completing each of these numerous missions will net you a rating — three stars being the maximum — based on a number of categories such as headshots and total kills. For veterans to the series, these sections will feel like a breath of fresh air for a series that has become synonymous with the cover-shooter mechanic. The rating system gives you incentive to replay the sections you did not get a three-star grade, and increasing the difficulty will net you higher-level stars (Normal gets you silver, Hardcore gold and Insane onyx).

The campaign, which can be played split screen locally or up to four players online, also infuses one of the series’ most popular modes — Horde….

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