The absence of Marcus Fenix and his perpetually smouldering snarl aside, Gears of War: Judgment looks like business as usual for the Gears of War franchise. It isn't. The furnishings may be slathered in mud, blood and bloody mud, and the weapons may once again resemble a rampaging throng of bio-mechanical elephants, but there's devil in the detail enough to set People Can Fly's spin-off apart.
The caution with which the studio has evolved this battle-tested formula reflects former Epic exec Rod Fergusson's carefully worded sense of what sequels should strive for. "Whenever you grow a franchise there's a certain level of betrayal," he told Jonty shortly after the game's announcement. "If you don't betray the customer a little bit, then it's not changing enough and people feel like it's becoming stagnant. But if you betray them too much then you lose them." Having fine-tooth-combed our Gears of War: Judgment intel, I've identified six key departures from the cover-strewn beaten path which should, in theory, add up to some monumentally worthwhile treachery.
1. Necessarily quicker controls
We've yet to really get to grips with the Locust rank and file, but the speeding-up of Judgment's control scheme implies that they're a faster, fiercer lot than prior Gears of War foes. You'll carry two guns at once, swapping between primaries and secondaries with Y button, and you'll be able to quick-toss grenades by tapping the bumper. "The weapon swap animation is super fast and you'll see that in multiplayer and campaign," Fergusson observed last year. "Because the creatures are more lethal - you don't want to say 'oh, let me talk half a second to switch my weapon"' or start winding up a grenade to throw it and then get killed by a Wretch."
2. More adaptive Locust AI
One of Judgment's lasting fascinations is identifying the flashes of People Can Fly DNA swept up in the storm of inherited Gears wisdom. Among the Bulletstorm studio's bigger creative contributions is a new spawning system, which changes where Locust appear during each playthrough of an area, Left 4 Dead style. You'll be kept guessing. "It's not the sort of cinematic, heavily scripted campaign [you're used to]," Fergusson explained in June."They have something called a Smart Spawn System that we called S3, that'll change the game every time you play it. So if you die and reload, it'll actually have guys who spawn differently - different types of guys in different locations - and it'll watch where you're going and respond and change it around."
3. Different perspectives on the same events
The Gears of War: Judgment story is told in retrospect, via a framing narrative which sees Baird and the folk of Kilo Squad standing trial for some undisclosed crime. Naturally, mileages vary over the specifics of the foregoing events - the squad's rancorous sniper Garron Paduk may, we suspect, find himself at odds with the idealistic medic Sofia Hendrick from time to time - and you'll be able to explore some of these interesting discrepancies via Classifications, unlockable missions which flesh out the main plot.
"The [final] outcome is the same; it's not a Choose Your Own Adventure," writer Tom Bissell told Eurogamer last year. "What does change is the narration itself. You're never going to hear the same game narrated. When you pick classifications the narration changes. And when you succeed at them the narration changes.