RAAM’s Shadow was released as downloadable content for Gears of War 3 yesterday on the Xbox Live marketplace for 1200 Microsoft Points. The DLC is around 3 hours in length, 2GB in size, and adds 250 Gamerscore to the retail game across 10 achievements that are unlocked over multiplayer, campaign and a mixture of the two.
RAAM’s Shadow sees you taking control of Zeta Squad, a group of COG soldiers in Ilima City before an oncoming Kryll-storm. Zeta comprises of Michael Barrick – introduced in the Gears of War graphic novels, Minh Young Kim, returning from Gears of War, Tai Kaliso, from Gears of War 2, and introducing Alicia Valera. Set prior to the events of Gears of War, the game has you following the primary objective of searching Ilima City for survivors of Emergence Day, or E-Day, and avoiding the infamous General RAAM.
The campaign is split into 5 parts, alternating you between control of Zeta Squad and General RAAM himself walking through the city, and clearing out the COG forces so that the seeders can ink the skies so the Kryll can feed in darkness. RAAM, although how awkward it is to get to grips with the controls at first was a joy to play as. Epic have managed to turn Gears of War, with how the COG and Locust are so equal and similar in comparison in normal campaign, on its head as when playing as General RAAM, it has a feeling of power that you can crush through the opposing forces so easily.
A way that this is perceived to us is through the weapons that RAAM has at his disposal. For long to medium range combat, aiming with the LT and pulling the RT will focus your Kryll Shield into a focussed attack. Much like RAAM does in the first game. These can be used to take down COG soldiers and Silverbacks effortlessly. Using the Kryll Shield is something that I, personally have been wanting to do since playing the original Gears of War and seeing how RAAM managed to command them at me in the final boss battle, I am very happy in playing the Locust parts over and over again, just for the sense of power that the game bestows on you.
My favourite part of using RAAM’s Kryll attack is that once the Kryll are in mid attack and they start to eat away at the enemies, the COG soldiers just disintegrate in a red mist. It has a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when you manage to pull a triple kill with one attack when pinned down.
RAAM’s other offensive moves come via his blade and much like the Retro Lancer has it’s ability to bayonet charge, the blade can be used in a similar fashion by holding the B button. The animation once you meet your victim of the charge is where RAAM just throws the human off the end of his blade like they’re nothing and the General just stands there oozing “badass”. Tapping the B button will also allow RAAM to melee at close range, just incase you get overwhelmed by puny humans, disposing of them in quick, clean strikes.
Although there are no real developments or additions in terms of core gameplay or weapons this time around, new features in the campaign available for Zeta Squad is the Hammer of Dawn Command Centre, which allows you to call in the hammer of dawn with manual precision via a top down perspective. I really like they added the inclusion of the command centre from Horde, as it adds an extra dimension to the game when it’s being used and a different style of gameplay for one player, whilst the rest of the squad have to defend them, offering a defensive take on Gears.
Small features that I managed to pick up on that may go unnoticed by some i that part way into the campaign, inside the bank and faced with a flame grenadier. If the scorcher misses and hit any of the surrounding piles of money they catch fire and start to burn during the firefight.
Graphically, this add on doesn’t do anything spectacularly different from the main campaign, it adds in some elements of destructibility part way through, but not overall. That doesn’t make it a bad thing! Visually however, I personally didn’t like the green armour that Tai is sporting throughout the campaign. I may have accidentally shot Tai in the back once or twice after mistakenly identified him as a locust, due to his green armour instead of the COG blue.
One think I highly commend Epic for doing is the character development, and the relationships between each of Zeta Squad. The development of each of the main 4 of Zeta throughout is spot on. I felt attached to them towards the end of the fifth act, and sympathised for the evacuees trying to be rescued in the caravans. Despite switching between playing as RAAM and the locust elite too, I felt myself really rooting for the COG, and wanting to kill General RAAM myself, rather than waiting for his demise in Gears of War.
On a personal note, my only downside was that the DLC felt very close quarters, a real departure from the open feel of Gears of War 3 and a return to the Gears of War original. During many of the indoor parts of the game, I felt like I was spending a lot more time getting lost in mazes than taking down locust or rescuing civilians.
The game sounds great too, with the soundtrack fitting the mood, the location and atmosphere. All of this was done whilst still maintaining the feel and sound of Gears of War, with the Gears theme still being heard at times, an ever-present undertone.
In summary, RAAM’s Shadow despite being short for a fully fledged story, is a great expansion on the Gears of War franchise. With a brilliant story and excellent voice actors, the game delivers on the big things as well on the small details, with visuals that fit the setting, and a mood created by the soundtrack, I thoroughly enjoyed my initial play through of the campaign, and am greatly looking forward to playing through the campaign in cooperative later on this week.
On the other side, I think that 1200 Microsoft Points is a very reasonable, and fair price for this piece of DLC, made even more value with the Gears of War 3 Season Pass. As of writing, paying 2400MSP for the Season Pass will get you 2000MSP of currently available content in the Horde Command Pack and RAAM’s Shadow, as well as the Booster Map Pack that is available for free. Throw in the two previously announced DLC packs expected for release in 2012 you can’t really go wrong. I strongly urge anyone who hasn’t already to pick up the Season Pass, and if not to definitely download RAAM’s Shadow as it is one of my favourite add ons on the Xbox 360.