If you thought the Gears of War saga ended with the third installment, we’re happy to report there’s a new game on the way: a prequel titled Gears of War: Judgment. This time around, the developers at Epic put the focus squarely on wisecracking mechanic Damon Baird and the mysteriously tough decision his Kilo Squad had to make that landed them in hot water. We sadly didn’t get a chance to play the single-player campaign, but we managed to get our hands on multiplayer and the all-new Free-For-All mode, a first in the Gears of War franchise.


As the name implies, Free-For-All is essentially every person for him or herself in classic Deathmatch style. Epic throws 10 people onto a map and forces them to battle to the death, winner take all. To that end, you can forget about joining forces with friends and forging alliances. Don’t even think about asking someone to cover the rear, because more often than not, they’ll turn around and cut you in half with their Lancer Assault Rifles.


With this in mind, we explored two new multiplayer maps: Library and Gondola. The former takes place in a library full of tall bookcases that provide an excellent source of cover, while the latter is set around a large body of water, complete with a gondola for players to ride.


Gameplay is just as brutal as Gears past, with a couple notable tweaks. This time around, you have the option of immediately throwing a grenade with left bumper, instead of pressing a button to calculate the weapon’s trajectory. Not only does this speed things up, considerably, but it also prevents you from leaving a character wide open to attack.


In addition, and this is huge for Gears of War fans, Epic mapped quick weapon switching to the Y button, eliminating the more cumbersome d-pad. Representatives admit that when this idea was first proposed, numerous developers at Epic were against it, but soon loved the concept once the designers put it into the game. We definitely feel it enhances multiplayer, since players no longer have to fumble around with the HUD to choose the best weapon for the job. Now, the switch happens in less than a second.


Finally, there was a new weapon on display: the Breechshot. This medium to long-range sniper rifle is sure to become a favorite, thanks to high damage via precision aiming. On the downside, this increased stopping power comes at the price of a four-round magazine, so we suggest making every shot count.


Beyond that, it’s classic Gears, with players blowing each other to smithereens, leaving behind bloody chunks of flesh in their wake. With this in mind, we look forward to learning more about Gears of War: Judgment in the months leading up to its March 19 release.