While Gears of War: Judgment may not be the sequel fans expected, so far Epic Games is proving it’s right at home in the existing fiction. Following the entire game being leaked online ahead of release – and Epic’s promise to ban anyone found playing a pirated copy – the opening cinematic of the game’s campaign can now be viewed.

Hitting the ground running with Locust tearing apart the COG’s men and machinery, Judgment‘s opening scene sets the stage for a trip backwards through time for Damon Baird and his colleagues, in more ways than one.

As the Spike VGAs trailer for Judgment showed (along with the fact that Locust are as deadly and blood-filled as ever), the events of the campaign will take place before the rest of the series, just thirty days after Emergence Day. The footage of Lieutenant Baird and the rest of Kilo Squad brought before Colonel Ezra Loomis has been glimpsed here and there, but when played out in sequence, a better idea of the game’s structure is possible to grasp.

Gears of War Judgment Intro Cinematic

The opening cinematic doesn’t tell us anything we don’t know already: that Baird and Kilo Squad are charged with treason after defending Halvo Bay from a Locust attack. What Baird and his squad got up to in the attack, and why they’re charged – well, you’ll have to play the game to know that. The fact that Judgment begins after the attack implies that the actual gameplay will actually be flashbacks, contextualized asĀ  the player acting out Baird’s testimony.

That’s not exactly out of place for the Gears series, since flashbacks and even mental episodes have been woven into the standard gameplay. It also helps explain the new ‘Declassifed Missions’ feature; additional challenges the player can access to “learn how these missions really went down.”

That’s not where the new additions end, with a ‘Free For All’ multiplayer mode finally being included along with the regular offerings, as well as a brand new cast of characters.

Gears of War Judgment Characters

The likes of Sofia Hendrik and Garron Paduk may not be as well-known as Marcus or Dom just yet, but their brief appearance in the opening cut-scene shows they should be good for a laugh or two. The developers are promising a lighter tone for Judgment than past games, so Sofia and Paduk may have more than a few chances to shine throughout the campaign.

Whether these characters can strike a chord with gamers as well as the previous roster, and whether this Gears of War title will mark a high or low point for (the now Cliffy-B-less) Epic can’t be known just yet. That judgment will need to wait a few more weeks.

Are you optimistic for a game centered on Baird and a more somber Cole? Or are you more interested in the changes being made to the game’s multiplayer? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

Gears of War: Judgment releases March 19, 2013 for the Xbox 360.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.