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Gears of War 3 RAAM’s Shadow DLC review

This is a year of bookends for the Gears of War franchise. Mere months after saying goodbye to Delta Squad (temporarily, at least) in Gears 3, we’re given an opportunity to rewind and experience how this just-concluded war between the humans and Locust of planet Sera actually began in the DLC prequel RAAM’s Shadow.

What were Marcus and Dom doing on Emergence Day? How did Baird and Cole first meet? Well, that’s the one disappointing part of RAAM’s Shadow...

You’re not playing as the characters you already know, love and want to know more about, but as a bunch of “oh yeah, that guy” supporting characters like Minh Kim (the straight-laced original squad leader in Gears 1), Tai Kaliso (the tattooed fortune cookie from Gears 2) and Jace Stratton (the dull new dude from Gears 3). As a result, the story isn’t quite as interesting and the dialogue isn’t nearly as funny as you’ve come to expect from the series. Sample of the former: Saving an orphanage. Sample of the latter: “To think we once dared to build our dreams.” Yawn.

(Watch our RAAM's Shadow video playthrough - the first two chapters)

The action, however, easily makes up for whatever’s lacking in the narrative. RAAM’s Shadow is three hours and five chapters long, but the developers have packed in enough unique, memorable and truly intense moments for a game twice that size. Within seconds of the opening cutscene, you’re on a turret, mowing down armies of Reavers, Boomers and other boss-sized monsters that are normally saved for the ends of missions. Minutes later, you’re on an awesome new version of the Hammer of Dawn, melting enemies with massive microwave rays from a sky-down perspective. A single chapter can include both a loud, epic battle with a volcanic Berserker careening violently through a parking lot, and then a disturbingly quiet horror scene in which Tickers rush towards your feet in a darkened cafeteria, obscured by the rows of lunch tables until it’s almost too late to kill them.

Best and most unforgettable of all are the two missions in which you switch from the COG squad to take control of the Locust hordes, including a ridiculously overpowered General RAAM himself. The gameplay here is almost primal – as gory as Beast Mode in Gears 3 and as godlike as the Brumak near the finish of Gears 2. For five glorious minutes each time, you don’t worry about cover. You don’t worry about ammo or reviving your teammates. See a soldier in the distance? Simply point, and your flock of murderous Kryll demon birds will swarm until he explodes into a chunky red mist. See a soldier right in front of you? Simply run, and watch with smugly superior satisfaction as he’s instantly impaled on your pitchfork-sized blade, then slung unceremoniously to the side of the screen. Pure rampage. Pure fun.

RAAM’s Shadow is short, expensive ($15 at the time of this review, unless you’ve already bought the DLC Season Pass for $30) and doesn’t feature the prequel story one might expect, but with gameplay this visceral and diverse (and four-player co-op ready!), passionate Gears fans won’t mind, and even casual Gears fans will be intrigued.

12 comments

  • PolarBearsInHeat - December 13, 2011 5:48 p.m.

    By the way you guys, the dlc is pretty darn good. I have not finished the campaign missions yet, but they're hella fun, so if you enjoy gears at all, i'd recommend this
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - December 13, 2011 12:28 p.m.

    Maybe I'll be able to pick it up after the holidays, once things have settled down and the onslaught of spring games haven't come out yet.
  • jackthemenace - December 13, 2011 9:36 a.m.

    You say how awesome it is that there's SO MUCH cool stuff to do, with awesome action ideas, but wasn't that one of your big problems with Gears 3? That there was TOO MUCH to do, and not enough time to DO it?
  • GamesRadarCharlieBarratt - December 13, 2011 10:24 a.m.

    No. It wasn't. I praised the action in Gears 3 and criticized the story. Perhaps you're thinking of David Houghton's piece comparing it to Spider-Man 3?
  • ObliqueZombie - December 13, 2011 8:09 a.m.

    I'd be excited for this, but I'm eagerly awaiting my SWTOR early access invitation. Still, this DLC was on my radar as soon as I heard about. It looks visceral, and playing as RAAM seems immensely fun. Plus, a few new characters to play as online is always a good bonus! And those forever-addictive achievements!
  • Redeater - December 13, 2011 4:49 a.m.

    Do they explain why the hell the locust queen was human? For "the last game with locusts in it" it sure was ridiculously vague.
  • PolarBearsInHeat - December 13, 2011 3:30 a.m.

    Is it just me, or is it ridiculously difficult to get my season pass stuff for free? Like, it's taken me an hour to find the free way of downloading this
  • md1292 - December 13, 2011 5:31 a.m.

    How do you download it with the Season Pass? I still haven't figured it out.
  • wyatt-hamilton - December 13, 2011 5:31 a.m.

    could you maybe tell us how to do that? please?
  • PolarBearsInHeat - December 13, 2011 5:44 p.m.

    Alright, so long story short, you buy the season pass, which is just like a regular DLC transaction. Then, you start up gears 3, and from there, there will be a popup telling you that there is new season pass content. You hit a, then accept the download (as long as it says free where msoftpoints price normally is). Then you're good, although the download seems a bit slow for the RAAM's shadow stuff (it's also 2 gigabytes, so i'd start the download up before work or before bed).
  • S135 - December 14, 2011 12:30 a.m.

    A good tip is to... 1. Start the download from the game 2. Go to the dashboard/xbox home 3. Press the guide button 4. Go to settings 5. Account Management 6. Download History 7. RAAM's Shadow DLC (Should be the most recent download) 8. Download again Now you can download in the background without worrying about the download canceling. (Which it will if you close the download window in-game)
  • Mamudo - December 13, 2011 12:46 a.m.

    As much as I enjoy playing the campaigns in the gears series, I honestly don't like Marcus or Cole and played Kim and Carmine in multi-player in GoW2. So playing as some new characters or Kim is kind of cool to me. And playing RAAM sounds deviously fun.

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