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updated 3/18/2013 8:18:46 PM ET 2013-03-19T00:18:46

It may be cold outside, but March has become a hot month for prequels.

Following on the heels of the younger-Lara Croft adventure "Tomb Raider" and the action-packed Kratos tale "God of War: Ascension," Microsoft and Epic Games have released their latest "Gears of War" game, "Judgment," for Xbox 360.

Rather than following the exploits of longtime series hero Marcus Fenix, the focus turns to Lt. Damon Baird and his team, Kilo Squad, in a prequel storyline as they fight against the invading Locust Horde in an alternate future.

Single-player mode

The "Gears of War" series has always been about gritty, over-the-top action, with many modes of play. But for "Judgment," there's a fun new dynamic in the single player mode – Declassified Missions.

With these, the player can add an additional challenge to each stage, such as having limited vision (the screen hazes up with gray fog) or facing tougher enemies. By accepting and successfully completing these missions, the player earns higher experience points and stars to unlock content in the game. This includes "Aftermath," a postmortem chapter that ties events in with the other "Gears" games. 

Single player is challenging and fun, broken up into segments so your team isn't constantly overrun with enemy forces. (This gives you time to reload and pick up new weapons, including the Boomshot explosive launcher and a melee-powered Cleaver.) But obviously the bigger focus of the game, to some people, will be multiplayer. [See also: New 'Tomb Raider' Multiplayer Mode ]

Multiplayer

Cooperative play once again makes a return to "Gears." You can either team up for local two-player split-screen combat, or log in to Xbox Live and have up to four people on a squad together. You'll need all the help you can get, as this prequel also includes a Smart Spawn System (S3), where enemies and situations change with each play-through.

But competitive multiplayer is an even bigger draw, with some old and new modes alike to choose from. "Team Deathmatch" is back, pitting team against team. "Survival," an evolution of the fan favorite "Horde" mode, pits waves of enemies against your team. Traditionally, the game setup has been humans against Locusts. But the new "Free For All" mode sets everyone against one another — a first for the series.

Included in the modes are "OverRun," in which one team attempts to protect an objective on a map while the other tries to subdue it by any means necessary. Finally, "Domination" gives you three pieces of territory to cover and protect while attempting to earn a certain set of points to win the match.

Even with the departure of the traditional Epic Games team (including lead designer Cliff Bleszinksi, who left last year), People Can Fly has done a great job keeping most of "Gears'" hardcore content intact, while making enough new additions for it to still feel fresh. If you're a long-time fan of the series — or just hopping on board for the first time — you'll find that "Judgment" is something you can easily accept.

"Gears of War: Judgment" is available now for Xbox 360 for $59.99

Follow Robert Workman@TheDCD. Follow TechNewsDaily on Twitter@TechNewsDailyor onFacebook.

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