Shadows of the Damned Preview (Xbox360)

You know, I thought Dante's Inferno was a little weird. Not so much so that it's off-putting, but the amount of effort the studio put into the visuals through-out each layer of Hell, they come up with some pretty disturbing stuff. Clearly, I need to get out more. From the masterminds behind Killer7 and, Shadows of the Damned is a more cyber-punk version of hell that is just as strange, but equally as stylish and action-packed.

And for my next trick, I'll turn your testicles into eclairs...
You play as Garcia, a punk-rock'n'roll demon hunter who, we gather, is rather good at his job. I mean gets to ride a bitching motorcycle, only the really good ones get to do that. Your girlfriend (who to be honest is kind of out of your league), gets captured by the king of all demons - Fleming, and it's up to you to go to Hell to get her back. Accompanying you on this most noble quest is a talking demon skull by the name of Johnson, who doesn't really like how Flemming does things so agrees to help you out.

Now, sounds a bit Dante's Inferno so far, but that's where the comparison ends as Suda and Mikami's vision of Hell is like nothing you've ever seen. Demon pubes cover doorways that prevent you from opening. Wailing baby-Demon heads need to be fed brains, and freaky looking goth chicks summon monsters to try and beat the crap out of you, whilst other monsters pretend to be your girlfriend and then pull their skin apart to take their true form in a manner that suggests they're going "ta-da!". Yeah, it's a bit out there, but bearing in mind who's working on this, would you expect any less?

A key theme in your trip through the underworld is darkness. A bit like Alan Wake I guess, this purple haze can spread out from spawning 'hands' or simply exist in a certain area. Inside the darkness, enemies are more or less invulnerable, and you lose health as well, so it's up to you to either get out of the darkness or find a way to illuminating the area, which can be done by shooting moving ram heads with candles on them.

The action is very hands on. Johnson, as well as being your quippy side-kick and a talking wiki on Flemming's Hell, is also your weapon. His standard form is that of a staff that's on fire, acting as a lantern of sort, but he can also turn into a pistol, a machinegun and a shotgun, throwing in some third person shooter into the mix. You need to collect ammo for his various forms, and certain enemies will be more susceptible to one over another, but it's fun playing around with the different weapons. Gun's also have a 'light-shot' mode that's useful for dispelling darkness shrouds and other context sensitive objects.
Johnson and Garcia, partners in crime
This is definitely more of a shooter game than it is a mêlée game - you won't really use the staff that often, although it is rather satisfying to use. Unlike a lot of western third-person shooters coming out at the moment, there's no cover mechanic here, and there's a touch of Resident Evil 4 or 5 about the game. It's pacing isn't too quick, you're always along the lookout for bad guys... said bad guys want to eat you. Or Kill you, then eat you, depending on how generous they're feeling.

There is an air of barely contained silliness about the game - from some of the dialogue, to down-right bizarreness of hell... Suda and Mikami are striking a delicate balance between a serious action game, and a silly over-the-top exploration of what a punk-rock hell might be like. We've only seen a short gameplay demo at this point, but so far they seem to have struck that balance well. The real question will be how the game holds out after a prolonged period, whether there's anything 'else' to the game, and whether or not Grasshopper can keep you engaged. Shadows of the Damned is due out on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 on June 7th.

Most Anticipated Feature: This is one of the few game where we're actually not sure.