‘GEARS OF WAR: JUDGMENT’ (M)
Microsoft Game Studios
When game developers plan their mega-franchises, they really need to plot out longer story arcs, requiring more than a measly three episodes. After “God of War” and “Halo” reached the ends of their respective trilogies, continued profitability demanded additional installments, so we wound up with lackluster, standalone prequels like “God of War: Ascension” and “Halo: Reach,” which couldn’t help but feel a bit superfluous. Now, less than two years after we saved humanity from Locust and Lambent forces in “Gears of War 3,” we’ve got “Gears of War: Judgment” taking us back in time 15 years and putting us back into the thick of a war we’ve already won. This robs the narrative of any potential forward momentum — even with an unlockable epilogue level, taking place concurrently with “Gears 3.” However, anyone who’s into this series purely for the artillery and brutality will feel right at home in the war-torn streets of Sera.
Formerly a minor character, Baird takes center stage this time around, giving orders to a three-man squad and, apparently, disregarding orders from his own superiors. As the story opens, Baird and company are on trial before a military tribunal. Flashbacks explain how they got there, in addition to providing the backdrop for the familiar third-person shooting gameplay. Enemies are somewhat more aggressive than usual, forcing you to keep moving rather than hunkering down behind cover. The firefights are satisfyingly frantic, but there aren’t really any memorable set pieces, and the episodic nature of the flashback structure leads to game progression feeling stilted and repetitive. As a downloadable expansion, offering a few fresh combat scenarios, “Judgment” would be outstanding, but as a full-fledged installment in the series, it’s a bit underwhelming.
‘THE WALKING DEAD: SURVIVAL INSTINCT’ (M)
This prequel to the “Walking Dead” television series presents the zombie apocalypse as little more than a minor inconvenience. As everybody’s favorite crossbow-toting redneck, Daryl Dixon, you navigate the undead-infested Georgia countryside scavenging for ammo and auto parts. You acquire multiple options for slaying walkers — each more patronizingly simple than the last. When zombies fail to notice you (and they often do), you can stab them in the head for an instant kill. If you get their attention, you can pace backwards until you have a line of them following you, and then lop their heads off one by one like some sort of grisly assembly (or disassembly) line. And in most cases, you can simply jog past them to the end of the level as though they were harmless NPCs.
‘SNIPER: GHOST WARRIOR 2’ (M)
While technically a first-person shooter, “Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2” really has more in common with a stealth game. You need to keep a low profile, wait patiently for your opportunity and then squeeze that trigger — something you’ll do fewer times in the five-hour campaign of “Ghost Warrior 2” than you would in thirty seconds of “Call of Duty.” For those who don’t delight in slowly picking off targets from a shadowy perch, it can be a bit of a grind — especially since disappointingly linear levels don’t provide many lethal vantage points, and sometimes it takes forever for a potential victim to walk into your crosshairs. CV