Shadows of the Damned Review (PS3)

Shadows of the Damned (SotD) is one of the most insane, ludicrous, and downright ridiculous games that’s ever been released. Which is why, for those very reasons, it’s one of the best new IPs to hit consoles in recent years. Don’t act surprised though – after all, its Executive Director is none other but legendary Japanese game developer, Suda51 – aka Goichi Suda. If the name doesn’t ring a demented bell, maybe series like No More Heroes and Killer7 will.

His games are known for their outrageous violence, quirky content and intriguing design. There really aren’t enough adjectives in the dictionary to successfully describe how left-field Suda51’s games are. Those who approach Shadows with past experience of Suda51’s games will feel right at home in its odd setting.

Burn The Witch!

If that wasn’t enough, SotD’s Creative Producer is Shinji Mikami; creator of Resident Evil. In fact, if you’re after a description of SotD in one line, its Resident Evil 4 meets Grindhouse. It’s off kilter, wonderfully self aware and genuinely funny throughout.

The Grindhouse reference? Well the game follows Mexican demon hunter Garcia Hotspur, a foulmouthed, bad-ass slayer of demons who finds himself chasing his stolen missus through the depths of hell. One minute he’s dispatching a demon in an alley, the next, his prized woman’s been carted away by uber-demon Flemming.

Naturally this gets slightly on your nerves and what follows is a third person shoot-em-up through a grim landscape of decay. Thankfully you’re not alone in this literal hellhole as accompanying you is your pet demon, Johnson.

He’s a similarly crass character who transforms Michael Bay-style into your weapons. When he’s not your handgun, The Boner, he’s floating next to you, providing humorous quips and childish dick jokes. It’s packed full of innuendo and the banter between Hotspur and Johnson never tires thanks to the game’s clever writing. It really is one of the game’s standout points and it makes us wonder why so many other games fail in their boring characterisation.

At other times Johnson’s happy to take the form of a motorcycle (which is sadly never rideable), your shotgun and your machinegun. He’s a Swiss Army Knife on steroids who’s capable of dishing out witty stand-up material.

The result of all of this is a game that’s hard to take seriously, but at the same time, one’s that focussed on making its representation of hell as disturbing as possible. The foul creatures threaten to gross out even the strongest of stomached gamers. It’s filled with Dante visions; babies (or are they dolls; it’s intentionally subjective) are pinned to trees, bodies hang like lights, severed limbs, oozing demons, piles of corpses – it’s like The Human Centipede met Madworld.

It’s got enough blood in it to plug the gap in the UK donor list. It feels like a Resident Evil game cranked up to eleven. That series was never one to skimp on the violence, but Shadows of the Damned is in a league of its own.

Then, just as you’re tiring of the death and destruction Shadows throws a curveball. You’ll suddenly come across a demon strip club. Then you’ll encounter Brothers Grimm style storybooks, complete with excellently voiced commentary from your dynamic duo. It’s a game that jumps from hyper-real violence to you following a deep-sea angler fish that illuminates a tunnel with odd French-Japanese rap. To be blunt, it’s batshit crazy.

Gears of Gore

At times it does toe the line between cheese and tongue-in-cheek Mexplotiation, but generally the atmosphere and characters achieve what the developers were after. Often it feels as though you’re playing as Danny Trejo from the film, Machete.

Big guns, lots of demons, plenty of wisecracks – that’s the menu of the day. Ambience and plot aside, Shadows of the Damned backs up its creativity with an assortment of play styles. It makes you jump between tricky puzzle solving and arena-based combat. It can be said that it sticks to a general formula – watch a cutscene, do some walking, destroy whatever’s in your way, solve a puzzle, kill a boss and repeat. That’s being harsh on it as it’s well paced and an extremely competently designed game.

It never gives across any sense of developer-fatigue and despite the odd down-moment; the game manages to keep itself on track from start to finish. This is achieved by introducing concepts gradually and scaling the enemy difficulty as you go. No sooner have you mastered an opponent type, that the game throws one at you with increased armour or a unique attack. The bosses? They’re just another matter.

Many of the beasts, including the bosses, have blood-stone weakspots. This means you’ll have to assess your enemies’ patterns, and then counter them with accurate gunplay. Thankfully as you progress you’ll get bigger versions of your weapons and you’re able to upgrade them with red gems that are hidden throughout the game. Keeping you on top form is alcohol, the game’s HP-Recoverer. If you find yourself running low on supplies, a helpful demon called Christopher is ready to gobble your white gems, the game’s currency, in return for ammo, booze and upgrades.

It’s all standard game stuff, but with that Suda-twist. The most interesting gameplay mechanic is the use of dark-and-light. Demons hate light (your Boner comes with a lightshot, a secondary mode for illuminating lamps and blowing up enemies) and you hate the dark. If you stay too long in the blackness, a meter begins to reduce. Following the depletion of that, your health begins to drain.

Quite often bosses require you utilise this concept to access their weakspots. It’s simple risk-versus-reward and there’s plenty of puzzle solving around the play of dark versus light. Thankfully it’s also never overused as a concept, which means when it does appear, it’s greeted with enjoyment.

The sad thing about Shadows of the Damned is keeping a lid on its many amazing moments. Sharing them would reduce the effect they have. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and some of the gameplay twists, especially in the fourth act, are so well designed and unexpected that it’d be cruel to ruin the surprise. Half the game’s fun is not knowing what’s coming next and to describe them would reduce this.

So what about its downpoints? Are there any? Well it’s certainly not the Unreal Engine – the set pieces, level design and detail on offer is of a very high standard. It’s certainly not BF3, but the perception of light and dark means the game is wonderfully lit. The sound design is even better. Its soundtrack is a mix of Japanese pop-punk, moody creepiness and screamo combat music. Sound effects are gross and have you squirming in your seats. It’s really hard to say anything bad about the design, even its loading screens are imaginative.

Lady Gargantuan

It could be said that the game’s a tad easy, even on the Legion difficulty that we played it at, and occasionally it does slow. A couple of frustrating bosses can cause mild-mannered players to swear, but these are all nitpicks.

Shadows of the Damned isn’t for the fainthearted, nor is it for those who are after serious titles. In fact, if you approach it with a survival horror mindset you’ll actually find yourself confused. Anyone else will love it. Its freshness shows just how stale a lot of the industry is and it’s what’s needed in an era of grey, modern shooters. Go buy it now.

Top Game Moment: The unexpected cut scene at the end of the credits…

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By steven101x1 (SI Member) on Jul 30, 2011
Was the top game moment a spoiler? lol