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.
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)
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.
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.