Whatever reasons for the delay, Raam's Shadow proves worth the wait.
Whether you've passed on Gears 3's Season Pass or not, this DLC pack - consisting of a three-hour story campaign, new Achievements and a smattering of extras is worth the cost (1200MP) and download space (2 gig).
The campaign, the heart and soul of the download, does a lot of things right, and harks back to both the gameplay and themes of the original Gears of War.
It dials back the escalating boss battles to one or two key moments, increases the threat level of standard Locust by way of holding multiple defensive positions while surrounded by grub-holes, and keeps the story simple: gathering the last civilians left in a city-wide evacuation.
You can clearly mark how Epic have re-approached its own history with the hindsight brought on by two fantastic sequels - retrofitting it may be, but the tale of Zeta's last ditch rescue mission in a city under siege continues to emphasise the effect of the war on those not at the frontline. You'll fight through schools, banks, parking lots - grounding the turf war in identifiable real-world settings that were underplayed in the earlier games.
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Tonally its markedly different from the bluster and bravado of Gears 3's main campaign. Harsher, embittered, and more daunting; and better for it.
Make no mistake - this is still the 300 of videogames. You're still hammering through more set-pieces per minute than most games this year and basking in the glory of bloody assaults, but there's a sense of foreboding amid the carnage, and harder questions asked about the heavy-handedness of the Gears' battle strategy. Where Gears of War 3 makes light that death follows in Delta's footsteps, Hammer of Dawns are used liberally and there's a sense of invulnerability in Marcus and co's actions, Raam's Shadow tackles dissent in the ranks, the true face of war and an edgy uncertainty over the squad's chances of survival.
It's a small smattering of suggestion rather than weighty pathos - but its a welcome alteration to the gung-ho nature of Delta and a return to the hopelessness that counterbalanced cocksureness in the first game.
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It's a compact tale, but that three hour mark advertised is no exaggeration. Raam's Shadow condenses down the vital elements of the franchise's gameplay without feeling like a play-by-play recount of past glories. There's more stand-offs here, and a return of multiple grub holes and a reduction in frag grenades to keep things dicey.
Enemy number and type are tiered and deployed fantastically well and - last boss fight aside - never aggravate by being unfair. Survival demands offensive strategy and while the fighting system's tricks are the same as always, never fail to get the heart pounding with excitement.
The campaign also tinkers with the split narrative, and in a move that feels completely right only after numerous hours in Beast Mode, flicks control and perspective off Zeta Squad and onto the titular villain and a three-Locust squad of henchmen also in the city for reasons explained over the course of the campaign.
Controlling Raam is brilliant, maintaining that overpowered feel that came in Beast and offers a great counterpoint to Zeta - the divided and paralleling storytelling better due to shorter lengths between switches than 3's main campaign.
Given both parties are covering the same ground, there's also the underlining excitement that comes from knowing that they're just missing each other by moments, and you're aware it'll come to a head before the end. Which it does, in a far more satisfying, if equally as frustrating, way than the ending of the main story.
The impetus for evacuation is the darkening skyline that looms ever closer as the game progresses. The blackness is a extinction-sized swarm of Kryll gradually edging towards the city as night falls.
Visually it looks every bit as menacing as a flesh-eating shit-storm about to descend should, and is a wonderful visual spur to charge as quickly through the rescue mission. Even if you know its arrival will be defined by campaign structure rather than real time. Yet
the gradual foreshadowing of the city's destruction by reducing time marks at the start of each Act heightens tensions none the less.
The Kryll are also one of the main reasons that Raam is such an enjoyable force of nature to control. The Locust Big Bad - and there's a definite sense that Epic ended his reign two games too soon - is a heavy bastard, and plays like a slightly-faster Berserker.
His height and weight giving him a dominant presence you can't help but enjoy controlling, and he's wreathed at all times in a swarm of Kryll that offer him an impregnable shield against gunfire. While the critters swarm your body, you can also command them to attack any foe with a pull of both triggers and direct them with the right stick.
Turning Gears into mulch is one of the most satisfying long-range weapons we've ever come across (and offers a great Achievement - "The Finger of Doom") but its nearly bettered by his horrific melee attacks with a knife the size of any normal person's chest. Which ironically is where it spends the majority of its time.
His missions are brief but as a result never outstay their welcome, and Epic obviously knew it was onto a good thing with the design, introducing new Elite variants with similar shielding to tackle Zeta with. The experience is akin then to back-to-back games of Horde and Beast, the diversity satisfying.
And like that - its over. Even without the incentive of Achievements, its a gameplay slice that you'll want to venture back in to play four player co-op, or reform Zeta Squad online (or in one very cruel but funny Cheevo, reenact a crucial story moment repeatedly) for a run through the modes already in place in the main game.
We're already convinced there's no way of tackling that last boss fight - Reavers, Raam, multiple grub-holes and Kryll swarms - on Hardcore without support. But based on what we've played, you'll have plenty of players returning to the game to stick boots to asses for a final tour of duty. Or at least until the next campaign DLC.
9 / 10
Good portioned slice of campaign that doesn't feel like its from Gears 3's cutting room floor.
The MP extras - skin packs and characters, add little to the package.