When Gears of War 3 launched we were promised multiple sets of DLC encompassing all areas of the game including expansions to the versus multiplayer, horde and campaign modes. While the first two already saw that promise fulfilled earlier this year, the first bit of campaign DLC just came out a short while ago with the release of RAAM’s Shadow.
The only question is where they decided to take us to expand the story. A fight during E-Day? Exploring where Clay Carmine was during most of Gears 3? Or something entirely new?
RAAM’s Shadow instead takes us back to shortly after E-Day and as the title might give away, a little before the heroes of the first game encounter the fearsome Locust general. Read on to see how this encounter plays out.
With hardly a moment wasted, the story immediately drops us in the role of a character who will be entirely unfamiliar to players of the games who have not explored the various Expanded Universe offerings in the Gears of War series, though a familiar face for fans of the comics and books: Michael Barrick. He’s joined by Kim from the first Gears of War, Tai from Gears of War 2 and newcomer to the series proper, Alicia Valera.
The game starts off familiarly enough as Locust emergence holes begin popping up around the entrenched Gears and a long battle begins. This level of familiarity will be present throughout most of the entire campaign while playing as this new Zeta squad, and though disconnected from any other events in the main games it really does feel like a proper chapter of the game which is one of it’s greatest strengths. However this is also one of it’s greatest weaknesses because at this point it’s starting to just feel like more of the same.
Playing as Zeta squad you’re informed that the Locust are attacking the city you’re in and are using Seeders to blacken the sky so the Kryll can approach and kill everybody in the now pitch black town. Why they just don’t wait until night isn’t explained, but there you have it.
It’s not until the second chapter that things really start to get interesting as just when it starts to feel like it’s just going to be another “kill the Locust, save the day” affair you’re abruptly thrust into the shoes of General RAAM himself, attacking squads of faceless Gears as you make way for the Seeders to set up.
This kind of campaign where you alternate between the hero and the villain of the same story is a tricky situation to handle, as no matter how much fun either side is to play as it can be frustrating to feel like you’re never getting anywhere by always making things harder for yourself while in the other’s shoes.
Thankfully I never really got that feeling while playing as General RAAM, and I have to admit that controlling him was incredibly fun. It’s nice to feel overwhelmingly powerful in a campaign from time to time and that’s exactly how it feels.
As RAAM you have access to his deadly Kryll shield from the first game and using a combination of the triggers can direct them to attack your foes which while quite deadly, leaves you open to attack. Alternatively you can just stab them with your gigantic knife: both viable options.
After this second chapter as RAAM, you’re set back into the role of Zeta Squad and unfortunately the middle of the story is where things fall apart. The first half of the third chapter is quite literally nothing but walking around as you look for a certain person with the usual strange things happening around you along with plenty of fake-outs and jump scares.
As the third chapter finally resolves itself, you’re back in the shoes of RAAM, but unfortunately this time around all the charm and appeal has worn off as you’re doing exactly the same thing you did the first time around, just through a different set of alleys and streets. At this point it starts to feel like a chore and while it’s still very interesting to play as the Locust leader I feel it could have been handled quite a bit better.
This short campaign addition rounds itself out with a boss fight on par with what we’ve come to expect from the series; that is to say it’s frustrating, difficult and against an interesting enemy. No bonus points for guessing who, and this brings up one of the biggest problems with the DLC; namely that it’s a prequel. No matter if it’s a video game, movie, or any other work the worst thing about prequels is that it’s all a foregone conclusion.
All tension is removed from the final moments as you already know that Tai, Kim and RAAM are going to survive this encounter and live to fight another day. Of course the same can’t be said about the other characters and I won’t spoil things either way, but new characters aren’t seen later on for a reason. The fate of all the new people isn’t clear, but you can reach a fair conclusion.
RAAM’s Shadow isn’t without it’s share of problems however. At one point the game failed to give me a checkpoint and I was forced to repeat a very long segment upon my death, and though this only happened once it was extremely infuriating as the section I had to repeat was the “10 minutes of walking around doing nothing” in Chapter Three.
Also for some reason during the last chapter of the game Tai’s armor changed from the standard blue to a yellow hue and even though this didn’t affect the game proper in any way it was still strange and distracting. It persisted through the rest of the game even in the cutscenes for whatever reason, and while not a big deal is interesting to say the least.
The story in RAAM’s Shadow is interesting although it doesn’t answer any questions that people have been bugging. It does introduce the character of Jace partway through and acts as an origin of sorts for him, but the real answers people are looking for aren’t here to be found.
Whether the price of admission is worth it is up to you. In addition to the campaign bit the DLC also adds on 250 achievement points, six character skins (Zeta Squad, RAAM and Elite Theron Guard), and the “chocolate” weapon skin for your weapons. What bonus this offers to the value is your own decision to make as it’s all purely cosmetic, but there you have it.
RAAM’s Shadow is a solid bit of DLC that feels like any other chapter in the campaign and I mean that in a good way, however it involves a squad that’s half-full of people we don’t know and have no attachment to and the others have already had their fates written in previous games.
As such it loses any positive things the story had going for it in Gears 3 and the full series proper, namely the familiarity and growing attachment to the characters. Fans of the books and comics may find more to be satisfied with here but the rest might be left feeling a little confused.