Gears of War 3 is a great game. I awarded it a perfect score back in September, and I stand by my decision to do so. While its by no means perfect - an oxymoron, yes - its simply a fantastic package I had very little issue with. I love the visuals, the controls, the minute-to-minute gameplay and combat. Hell, I even like the characters a little, and I completed a Creative Writing degree. I should, by all accounts, hate Epic's strained, cliche writing; but I don't.
So, as you might expect, I greeted news of RAAM's Shadow's announcement with much fanfare - consisting of me cheering on my seat at home, alone in my room. I'm not big on map packs, but additional story content? My kinda' thing. With Gears 3 ending on a particularly conclusive note, Epic have wisely dialed back the clock to when the Locust threat first emerged, and thrown in a particularly delicious new character to muck around with.
RAAM's Shadow is set in the days following Emergence Day, when the Locust first rose from the Hollow to wage a genocidal war. As part of Zeta Squad, you control Michael Barrick, a former Stranded who grudgingly joined the CoG's 'Operation Lifeboat' and became a Gear. Barrick is a well-loved character from the comics, notorious for his brute strength and fearless attitude towards the Locust.
But Illima is in trouble. The beautiful metropolis is now but a deserted ruin, crawling with Locust setting up shop. Zeta have been sent in to assist with evacuation procedures, with a Kryll storm brewing on the horizon, threatening to engulf Illima at nightfall. The arrival of a certain General RAAM only serves to exacerbate the situation, as he personally leads the Locust forces toward capturing Illima, once and for all.
The plot in RAAM's Shadow isn't particularly original, but it's a fun ride, nonetheless. The writing, in particular, dials back the testosterone-fulled machismo in favor of lighter, almost understated banter. Barrick is a likeable lead, but Zeta - comprised of Gears 1's Lieutenant Kim and Gears 2's Tai, along with newcomer Valera - simply blend into the action rather than stand out as a fleshed-out ensemble. But RAAM's Shadow comes alive when the tables duly turn, and the titular General takes center stage.
Michael Barrick might be sporting a new outfit, denim cobbled with traditional CoG garb, and his ever-present cigar-in-mouth is a nice visual touch, but for all intents and purposes, he's identical to Marcus Fenix. General RAAM, on the other hand, is not. Standing ten feet tall, RAAM towers over even the biggest Locust shock-troops. Urged on by Queen Myrrah's commanding rhetoric, RAAM carries no firearms, only his cloak of Kryll and that wickedly serrated blade Lieutenant Kim will one day be acquainted with.
Instead of Lancers or Hammerbursts, RAAM controls Kryll. Simply aim at the helpless Gears and unleash the swarm. You have a limited amount of Kryll to release, but enough so that by canvassing the screen with your reticule you can attack multiple enemies. It's quite a sight unleashing the swarm on a bunch of Gears, the Kryll's piranha-like appetite reducing them to a bloody mulch on the floor.
However, while controlling RAAM is indeed an absolute delight, it's not long before Epic have expended their tricks, and RAAM's inclusion begins to sag. You can't take cover, nor can you roll or even sprint. You're simply a walking death-machine, your cloak of Kryll absorbing all but the most punishing attacks, and while shredding CoG and impaling them on your blade is fun, it would have been nice if Epic had added a little variety, too.
Gears' Greatest Hits
All in all, RAAM's Shadow is as if Epic plucked their favorite moments from each of the past three games, trimmed the fat and filler and threw them into one tight, three-hour or so experience. The production value is high, with quality cutscenes and original voice-acting, and the set-pieces range from spectacular - blowing a building's support columns to collapse it on Locust Seeders - to eery and desolate - exploring an ostensibly abandoned school for signs of life.
But it's not perfect, and the understated story - Zeta attempt to rescue a wayward band of orphans, whilst RAAM simply marches about Illima, killing all in his path - isn't as compelling as past games' narratives. Which is to be expected. RAAM's Shadow isn't a sizeable chunk of content, but a bite-sized treat from Epic to reward their longtime fans.
And don't forget, it boasts six new character skins for the multiplayer - including RAAM and Kim, who comprise a delightful Achievement together - and the all new 'Chocolate' weapon skin set. You've 250 additional Achievement points to achieve, too.
- Action-packed, white-knuckle ride
- Beautiful visuals, as always
- RAAM is fun...
- ... But outstays his welcome
- We've seen it all before
- UE3 showing its age, again
The Short Version: Featuring an all new campaign told from two parallel perspectives, RAAM's Shadow is a welcome chunk of content Gears fans are sure to lap up. Barrick and co make for a pleasing team, whilst RAAM is as formidable a character as he is foe. But the story is too lightweight and the ideas dry up fast, but it remains an enjoyable ride for fans of the series.