Let’s be honest with ourselves right quick. We, as fans, aren’t ready to leave behind the Gears of War universe. Sure, Marcus, Dom and the rest of Delta Squad took their final bow, we gave a standing ovation and threw heaps roses up on stage (read our Gears of War 3 review), but deep down we needed more. Gears of War 3 was too good not to squeeze every bit of juice from this franchise. And that’s why Epic Games decided to gift us with more story content for Gears 3 in the form of the “RAAM’s Shadow” downloadable content.
RAAM’s Shadow flashes back to a time before the original Gears of War and tells the story of how Zeta squad aided in the evacuation of Ilima City — and, more importantly, the defense of a child orphanage — before the city was overrun by the Locust horde, led by the big, bad General RAAM. Therefore, don’t expect Marcus, Dom, Baird or Cole Train here. However, RAAM’s Shadow does establish the menacing threat of RAAM and his role as the Locust Queen’s right hand of death far before he comes face to face with Delta on route to deliver a Lightmass Bomb to the heart of the Locust nest at the end of the original Gears of War.
While RAAM’s Shadow focuses on a different foursome of COG soldiers, Zeta Squad’s banter is very reminiscent of the classic Gears back and forth shared between Marcus, Dom, Baird and Cole. Basically, there’s plenty of dick, ass, and “cool story, brah!” moments to be found in RAAM’s Shadow. However, by the time the credits roll, you won’t find yourself connected to the plight of Zeta Squad like you were to Delta’s. Granted, Epic gave us three full games to fall in love with the exploits of Marcus, Dom and the rest of the gang. Here, we get a campaign roughly the length of one Act from any other Gears title. But even if RAAM’s Shadow fails to shed deeper light on the characters of Zeta, it does manage to give us fans the origin to Jace Stratton, a character first introduced in Gears of War 3.
RAAM’s Shadow is also the first time we get to play from the Locust perspective during a Gears campaign. There are a few moments where you step into the ass-kicking boots of General RAAM and slaughter COG troops by what seems like the thousands. While it’s cool to be able to play as someone on the opposite side of the war effort, the RAAM segments are definitely the weakest link of this DLC. Don’t get me wrong, I loved watching COG cannon fodder get blown to bit by RAAM’s on-demand Kryll army (those annoying bird bastards return for this DLC, but this time you get to control them, too!). But when boiled down to their essence, the moments playing RAAM become tiresome rather quickly because you do the same escort task over and over again. Furthermore, Epic had an awesome opportunity to delver deeper into the Locust’s motivation by telling part of the story from their point of view; however, they’re still portrayed as the savage beasts we’ve always known them to be. It feels like a missed opportunity on Epic’s part.
The Gears of War franchise has been known for its bombastic action sequences, and those types of moments crops up in RAAM’s Shadow by the handful. It’s still just as exhilarating as always to watch a massive building crumble to pieces around a rampaging Brumak. But maybe the moments that impress the most in RAAM’s Shadow are the smaller ones where Epic gets creative with enemy encounters. Specifically, there’s a bit where Zeta comes across a group of Tickers in a school cafeteria and the only way to pinpoint their location is by keeping an eye on the tables as they react to Tickers passing under them. It’s equal parts brilliant and terrifying.
For diehard Gears of War fans, RAAM’s Shadow should satisfy. It might not delve deep into the backgrounds of the members of Zeta Squad (you’ll have to look to the Gears books and comics for that), and the moments where you control RAAM feel lacking in gameplay and ambition, but this is more playable Gears story content when you get right down to it. For many, that's enough. But for the casual Gears of War fan, however, you can get by without dropping the 1,200 MS Points on this DLC. RAAM’s Shadow doesn’t provide any jaw-dropping revelations, so you won’t feel left out if you decide to skip it. But if you already own a Gears 3 DLC Season Pass, then you can download RAAM’s Shadow at no additional charge, and that’s a deal not worth passing up.
Full Disclosure: We were provided a download code for RAAM's Shadow by Edelman on behalf of Microsoft. We played through the DLC to completion, lighting up a stogie on the field of victory when all was said and done.