After giving us a lot of quality time with Marcus, Dom and the rest of their pals, Epic Games decided to step back in time with the first pack of single player downloadable content for Gears of War 3. Entitled RAAM’s Shadow, the three hour long episode goes back to the early part of the Locust invasion. So far back, in fact, that it’s actually a prequel to the events in the first Gears of War game. This gave the team the chance to introduce Zeta Squad and its gruff, machismo members. However, the end result is a bit ho-hum, when compared to the quality campaigns that we’ve come to expect from this blood-soaked series.
In a large-scale battle against seemingly impossible odds, the Gears of War franchise has always been a bit of a closed-in affair. Although its landscapes and set-pieces vary in size and incredulity, the action focuses in on just one sect of a seemingly large battalion. As a result, it’s no surprise that something was developed in order to interactively tell the story of what happened before we were introduced to Marcus Fenix inside of that forgotten jail cell. Giving another group fifteen minutes in the spotlight, this pack showcases the evacuation of Ilima city, after the events of the locust Emergence Day. A Locust Kryll storm is on the horizon, making things even more dire than they already were.
Where RAAM’s Shadow does well is in its ability to deliver more of the action that the franchise’s fans just can’t get enough of. Its new cast features a mixture of returning faces, comic book soldiers and a newcomer, with a lengthy cameo that I won’t ruin for anyone. It’s playable as a four-player unit, but single player locust-shooters will find themselves playing as rugged Barrick. He’s flanked by Lt. Minh Young Kim, Tai Kaliso and newcomer Alicia Vera, who is voiced by Aisha Tyler. Each one has his or her own personality, but they’re unfortunately not as colourful or as interesting as the usual group. Still, there are a couple of times where the writing makes up for this, with comical one-liners. However, those tend to be rather few and far between.
For the most part, their exploits play out much like any of the other series campaign. However, this story mode does feature the use of an incredibly helpful top-down and heat-driven Hammer of Dawn mortar console. It’s a helpful highlight, aiding the cast’s attempt to clear the way against seemingly impossible odds. Other than that, you’re focused in on moving from one piece of cover to another, while fending off attacks from ugly creatures of all types and sizes. It’s the standard series gameplay we all know. Those who love it will find more of what they like here, although this content unfortunately lacks individuality or any incredibly memorable features. It’s decent, but doesn’t compete with Epic‘s previous campaigns.
The most notable new feature in RAAM’s Shadow is the ability to play as the titular Locust leader. Portrayed as an incredibly well-protected tank in the inaugural franchise release, he’s certainly a force to be reckoned with here, even with a regenerating health system that can lead to failure when depleted. Gamers take control of the beast as he leads evil forces into the city’s streets, drilling locations for ink beasts. Your first mission is to wipe out all of the human defenders in the area, with a secondary goal of staying put and providing defensive cover while the drilling is completed. Although this becomes repetitive, RAAM does use have some incredibly visceral attacks, including a blade ram and his bat-like Kryll. You’ll most-likely forget about the machete, opting to use the swarm instead. It has a tendency to turn humans into red mush, with a regeneration feature that doesn’t make you wait long in-between attack attempts. Move from one foe to another using the right-joystick, then repeat.
Having the opportunity to play as the bad guys is an interesting diversion which takes some notes from Beast Mode. It adds some variety into the experience, and the series as a whole. However, the included option isn’t as diverse or interesting as it could have been, lacking creativity. RAAM’s weaponry is what keeps it entertaining, despite the aforementioned repetition. Those playing via four player cooperation, get the chance to use shield-toting maulers. Three of them flank the face of evil.
As the sum of its parts, RAAM’s Shadow, is much more average than anything else this series has presented. While it does have the shoot first, ask questions later mentality that fans enjoy, its included set-pieces just aren’t that exciting. The human content is the better of the two separate options, although the team’s adventure isn’t as enjoyable as one of Marcus and Dom’s previous exploits. However, that’s not to say that this ten dollar pack is bad. It’s just not anything to write home about, unfortunately. For ten dollars, you get three hours of additional campaign content, several multiplayer skins and a new weapon skin. Add-in achievements and the price isn’t too steep.
Since this is a separately launched add-on for Gears of War 3, those who’ve played the full game will know what to expect from a presentation standpoint. There’s a ton of gore, which is splattered upon locations ranging from sun lit streets to eerie buildings. In all honesty, there aren’t any easily levied complaints regarding how the game looks or sounds. It’s visceral, detailed and loud. The audio quality is certainly well-presented, with quite a few different sound effects and some other quality contributors (music and voice acting). However, the writing could have been a bit better in terms of each character’s actual dialogue, in order to give them expanded personalities.
In the end, this downloadable expansion does its job by providing new content for one of Xbox LIVE’s most popular titles. It’s not great by any means and doesn’t stand out above its story-driven predecessors, but the full package is still above-average. Fans who can’t get enough of the war between COG and Locust forces will enjoy this expansion for the most part. They’ll certainly find interest in exploring what happened in the tumultuous world before machismo Marcus Fenix was discovered rotting in solitary confinement.
This review is based on a copy of the downloadable content pack, which we received for review purposes.