|System: Xbox 360|
|Dev: Epic Games|
|Release: December 13, 2011|
|Players: 1-10 (Online)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language|
by Adam Dodd
RAAM's Shadow is by far the best DLC to come out for Gears of War 3 so far, and more than that, it's also a glimpse of what we can expect from Epic as they continue to support the game. The only problem is that calling this the best DLC so far really doesn't mean all that much, because all RAAM's Shadow has to beat is a ton of weapon skins and some new characters and maps for the multiplayer modes. So really, this is the best DLC we've seen for a game that's had pretty weak post-release support so far. And for a game as incredible as Gears of War 3, that's a pretty big disappointment.
Before Gears of War 3 came out, many gamers, including myself, were worried it would be too much like the previous two games, merely expanding on what its predecessors offered without adding much of its own. The second game wasn't a huge leap when compared to the first, but it did enough to make it a worthy sequel. However, the third game evolved practically every aspect of the game, from the finely-tuned competitive multiplayer to the infinitely replayable Horde mode, the brand spanking new Beast mode, and, of course, the campaign, which marked the end of a trilogy that began half a decade ago.
Judging from the post-release support the last game received, I was expecting some meaty, worthwhile additions to this game to keep me going long after I bought it. With the exception of a handful of neat multiplayer maps, Gears 3's DLC has been lacking. This only made RAAM's Shadow all the more exciting, since it's the first story-driven piece of content we've received so far. More than that, it brings with it the return of the first game's main antagonist, General RAAM himself. Besides being introduced in an insanely cool way in the original game back in 2006, RAAM is interesting because he's the archetypal villain. He has an intimidation factor on par with Resident Evil's Nemesis and an eerie silence and single-mindedness that for some reason reminds me of Silent Hill's Pyramid Head. And considering he has an army of Locust forces at his disposal and the impressive ability to control Kryll, RAAM is easily one of the most intimidating enemies the Gears franchise has thrown at us so far.
So how can a story that revolves around a character like this not be the DLC fans of the series deserve? For starters, RAAM's Shadow offers little that doesn't look or feel like anything else we've experienced in the series so far. There's also the issue that it's all driven by a pretty dull narrative that's poorly paced and feels like it was penned by the writing B team. As our first taste of what a Gears of War prequel could be like—especially now with the rumors that the fourth Gears will be a prequel—this isn't a very promising glimpse of what could come. What's worst of all is the feeling that this was rushed, as it doesn't feel as polished as the near-perfect game it's been crudely added on to.
Story-wise, RAAM's Shadow takes place before the events in the first game, post-Emergence Day. Zeta Squad's been dispatched to evacuate Ilima City and make sure its citizens don't get shredded by the Kryll. Anyone who played the first game is fully aware of just how deadly those little bat-like creatures can be if you're not nestled safely within the warm glow of a nearby light. This time you're on the opposing side, so you needn't worry about staying in the light—now you actually get to control the Kryll and send them out to do your bidding.
As General Raam, you can attack with the swarm of Kryll that surround you, protecting you from bullets, or you can get up close and personal with his wicked blade to cause some serious damage up close. Playing as RAAM ends up becoming the highlight of the 3-4 hours it takes to complete this side-story, even though you're essentially an unstoppable behemoth of death and destruction. As cool as controlling an unstoppable Kryll-covered, sword-wielding war-beast undoubtedly sounds, being able to stomp down essentially everything that gets in your way saps much of the fun out of playing as one of gaming's scariest villains. Obviously, RAAM is going to be a formidable foe—anyone who fought against him in Gears of War can attest to that fact—but he's just way too overpowered here.
When you're not causing all sorts of chaos as the Locust General, you'll be trying your best to survive as one of the members of Zeta squad. The team includes Minh Young Kim and Tai Kaliso, from the first and second Gears of War games respectively, as well as newcomers Michael Barrick and Alicia Valera. Michael is the source of some mild comedic relief, but Alicia is largely a forgettable character. Sadly, the much of the chemistry that's found between the members of Delta Squad can't be found among Zeta squad's soldiers, and that makes it even more difficult to care about what's going on in this story.