The first thing most players will notice about Gears of War: Judgment's multiplayer mode is its speed. The characters are younger, their movement is faster — it's like a sped-up game of gridiron where players can dash forward as quickly as they are forced back.
The second is the game's verticality. Environments are more interactive and players can now climb up and leap from structures to flank their enemies. Players can even climb into choppers and shoot at enemies from the air.
The third, and much more nuanced element, is the way the multiplayer mode effortlessly feeds back into the single-player campaign.
Multiplayer experiences are traditionally born from a game's campaign mode and are sometimes seen as unnecessary, tacked-on additions. But in the case of Gears of War: Judgment, the relationship between the two modes is different, with the former organically growing out of the latter and re-informing the campaign mode.
"There was a line of dialogue that ended up in both the single-player and multiplayer mode and it was the most annoying line ever — it tormented us for months."
Speaking to Polygon, Gears of War: Judgment writers Tom Bissell and Rob Auten said while the multiplayer mode may not be canonical inasmuch that it allows players to pit characters who are meant to be on the same side against each other, it allows the developers to flesh out the characters in a way that feeds back into the canonical campaign mode.
"What's fun for us as writers is we get to work out some of the goofier character bits in the multiplayer dialogue," Bissell says. "So you hear them say stuff in the multiplayer that they don't say in the campaign mode, so the multiplayer in a weird way becomes a place for the characters to actually express themselves more volcanically than they would in the campaign."
Bissell says this is a large part of the reason why players enjoy Gears of War's multiplayer modes so much, because the characters are injected with personality, and these personalities are amplified when taken into the multiplayer arena. The campaign mode creates what Bissell describes as the "canonical 'real' story" that players experience, and those characters are allowed to "be more of themselves ... in this insane mad house of emergent player experience."
"You play a lot of games with multiplayer modes and the marquee characters are suddenly stripped out of the multiplayer experience," he says. "They're not there anymore — they're like thug number four. With Gears multiplayer you're playing with the stars of the game. The multiplayer environments all kind of tell a story. It doesn't feel tacked on because it all feels like it's in the same language."
Gears of War: Judgment's multiplayer modes can be played as standalone, isolated experiences. Modes like Overrun, Team Death-Match, Free-For-All and Domination have been crafted to allow players to hop in for fast, intense matches in dynamic maps, without the need to understand the significance of what's going on in the game's campaign mode. While these modes are fun to experience on their own, the development team has also ensured that they make thematic sense as part of the Gears of War universe.
Rob Auten tells Polygon that the development team wanted the writers to look at what the implied narrative was in modes like Overrun and whether elements of the multiplayer experience were consistent with the campaign mode, even if it wasn't intended as canon.
"It's amazing how game-shattering one bad line in multiplayer can be."
An area that the writers labored over was the Gears Unscripted Dialogue System, which determines what a character says when they pick up a weapon or kill someone or perform any kind of maneuver in the multiplayer mode. Both Auten and Bissell had to take those scenarios and make sure they were consistent with the Gears universe.
"There was a line of dialogue that ended up in both the singleplayer and multiplayer mode and it was the most annoying line ever — it tormented us for months," Auten says. "There was one point in which Sofia's character says, 'All this and looks too!'. I don't know who wrote it, it was just terrible."
Auten says the line, which became Sofia's default response to anything that happened in the multiplayer mode, was inconsistent with her character as it amounted to her saying, "Look at me, I'm hot!" while on the battlefield.
"In the single-player mode we're trying to maintain tone, so in a sombre moment it can kill the mood completely," he says. "But even in the multiplayer, if it's inconsistent with the way the character is, that's a huge problem. She would never say that. That's not her at all. She's a soldier! Who's saying that nonsense?"
According to Bissell, consistency between the two modes is crucial. Even if the multiplayer mode allows the players to be goofier and express their personalities in a way that isn't possible in the much more sombre campaign mode, the dissonance can only stretch so far.
"It's amazing how game-shattering one bad line in multiplayer can be," he says.
The introduction of a class system in Judgment's multiplayer is a first for any Gears of War game, and while it may seem like a tacked on addition given that there's been no history of character classes, the development team has made the system meaningful by allowing it to inform the campaign mode.
"When we first heard of the class system, we were like, 'What? Really?'" Auten says. "It's kind of a shock to even consider it."
In Judgment, the characters are turned into representatives of classes so that each has unique skills. It gives players the opportunity to play around with team formations and strategies: how will a match play out if two engineers are sent to one area and a scout and a medic are sent to another? What advantages are there to having scouts in some areas and not others?
"Seeing the notion of Sofia being a medic made us go back to the story and put in some allusions to her having some kind of medical training."
In addition to the new layer of strategy, it's also given the game's writers ideas on shaping the campaign mode.
"So with the class characterization, seeing the notion of Sofia being a medic made us go back to the story and put in some allusions to her having some kind of medical training," Auten says. "Or with Paduk being a scout, we alluded to him being a good sniper and going off scouting in the main story."
Bissell says that most writers would typically think the river would flow the other way, but in the case of Judgment, both modes informed each other.
"We wanted to have consistency in every aspect of the product," Bissell says. "I think we got it."