Gears of War 3: RAAM’s Shadow DLC Hands-On Preview
I have to say, I wasn’t all that excited about RAAM’s Shadow, a $15 add-on campaign for Gears of War 3, when I first heard about it. First off, it covers characters who are not Delta Squad, the group we’ve been following since the first Gears of War. That meant no Marcus Fenix, no Dom, and most importantly, no Cole. Why would I want to play that?
Thankfully, I was wrong. RAAM’s Shadow, which is set before Gears 1, brings back a few characters from the Gears lore for another pass. Specifically, they’re Kim from Gears 1 and Tai from Gears 2, who apparently served in the same squad together for a bit back during the early days of the war with the Locust. RAAM’s Shadow is all about the evacuation of the old Coalition of Ordered Governments capital, Ilima City, before it comes under massive Locust attack. Through the course of the DLC, you bounce back and forth between controlling two groups: Zeta squad, under Kim’s leadership, and a small group of Locust elite in which you’ll control Gears 1 Big Bad General RAAM himself.
RAAM’s Shadow does a pretty solid job of setting some high stakes right at its outset, something Gears 3 struggled with throughout the course of its campaign. The city is about to fall — there’s no avoiding it. Locust Seeders are covering the sky in black ink to block out the sun. Once that happens, darkness-loving flying teeth monsters called Kryll will have the run of the city and murder anything still alive within it.
As a prequel, the DLC pack has the benefit of showing us a Gears of War locale as it’s being destroyed, rather than after the fact. It’s a different take on the formerly human settings we’ve been seeing in the game for years now, which have always been made to enact Epic Game’s vision of “destroyed beauty.” Here, you see the city deserted but otherwise intact — as you move through it, Locust emergence holes (remember those?) tear up the streets and Hammer of Dawn strikes rip apart buildings. Lots of things get set on fire. It’s actually pretty beautiful in its own way, but gives a real sense of a deadly and dangerous war.
While there’s a lot of combat to be had for Zeta Squad, fighting isn’t their mission — saving civilians is. That’s a bit of a switch from early Gears games, and it creates a cool dichotomy of theme when applies to the DLC’s main character, Michael Barrack, who appears in the Gears comic series. Barrick is a former Stranded-turned-conscript for the COG army (if you’re not familiar, Stranded are the poor SOBs that didn’t get killed by the Locust, evac’d by the COGs or cooked by the orbital lasers fired at Locust-occupied cities. Basically, they were [derp] Stranded), and his personal annoyance with the COG for ruining his house and then leaving him to die plays into his character as he works through the evacuation mission. It’s not a ton of storytelling — Gears opts to play things on the subtle side — but it does make for some interesting character development that works in this DLC pack. Plus he has The Best Mustache.
The biggest selling point of RAAM’s Shadow will obviously be the opportunities to play as the infamous Locust general. RAAM is huge and tromps through the battlefield as a nearly invincible force of nature. He carries a huge sword, which he can slash and stab guys with sort of like the Retro Lancer roadie-run attack. At long range, he has an even better weapon — something called the Kryll Finger, where he shoots those scary black things at enemy soldiers and they eat them alive in a haze of darkness and blood. You can even direct the Kryll around the battlefield, having them eat one soldier and then another and another until an energy bar depletes and they have to head back to you. When you’re not shooting the Kryll at folks, they act as a shield that protects you from damage.
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