Review: Shadows of the Damned
Hell has been depicted many times in various forms of entertainment. But what happens when Suda 51 (of Killer 7 and No More Heroes fame) and Shinji Mikami (the father of Resident Evil) get together to give us their twisted rendition of the underworld? The answer is Shadows of the Damned. Grasshopper Manufacture’s latest combines the gameplay of Resident Evil 4 with Suda 51’s brilliant craziness, all complemented by superb sound design from Akira Yamaoka, of Silent Hill fame. So, did this collaboration result in a success? Find out in our official review below.
Being a demon hunter isn’t easy, just look at the, literal, hell Garcia Hotspur has to go through in order to “save the girl” all while battling hordes of demonic monstrosities. The story in Shadows of the Damned isn’t going to win any awards but I found it to be rather entertaining and it kept me really eager to see what would happen next throughout the game’s approximate 8 hour conquest through Hell. I also found it to be a good spin on the whole, tried-and-true, concept of “saving the girl” which we’ve seen drive the plots of many a game.
Basically, you have hispanic demon hunter, Garcia “Fucking” Hotspur arriving at his loft to find his girlfriend, Paula, hanging from the ceiling. But wait, it gets worse: moments later we’re introduced to the Lord of the Dead and the top dog of the underworld, Fleming. After an exchange of words and insults (of which there are a lot!) Fleming takes Paula with him down to the depths of Hell. Garcia, obviously, isn’t going to let this slide so he quickly goes after him right through the same portal putting him on the road to Hell. And thus begins Suda 51’s latest mind-trip.
As I said, this isn’t a revolutionary narrative, but it is enough to keep your interest until the credits roll and even beyond. And while the plot may involve some very disturbing scenarios there is a very substantial dose of humor that gives this game a unique charm that will definitely appeal to those who enjoyed Suda 51’s No More Heroes series. A good chunk of said humor, which inolves everything from dick jokes to other sexual innuendos, comes from the interaction between Garcia and his demon-buddy, Johnson who always follows you in the form of a flaming skull (more on this later). Yes, Garcia walks around with his Johnson out in the open.
One character that comes to mind whenever Johnson speaks is Wheatley, the spherical robot from Portal 2. Both characters have a similar accent and they both serve to bring a good amount of humor into the mix. But, of course, it’s more “mature” in Shadows of the Damned. Way more mature. The game truly lives up to the M rating slapped on the cover. As aforementioned, you have loads of “phallic humor” in play here and while this all may have resulted in a disaster the writers actually managed to pull it off nicely. Other games try too hard to be funny but not Shadows of the Damned, it doesn’t have to try, it just naturally is. Of course, not everyone may enjoy this type of humor so that’s something else to consider.
Going back to good ol’ Johnson, he’s more than just your tag-along buddy through Hell. Which leads us to the game’s gameplay mechanics and overall feel. Johnson’s main feature is the ability to transform into one of three weapons, which will serve as your main arsenal throughout the game. Yes, there’s only three weapons, but there’s technically nine. Let me explain.
The three main weapons Garcia is able to use in the game are your typical trio of weapons: you have your shotgun, machine gun and your boner…Yeah, that’s the name of the handgun in the game. As you progress through the story you gain blue gems which serve as upgrades, granting your weapons (Johnson) new abilities and also changing up its appearance. So, once you’re at the Lord of the Dead’s front door at the end of the game, you’ll technically have already used nine weapons. And, of course, you can also upgrade things like ammo capacity, reload speed and damage for each weapon thanks to red gems which are scattered around the levels. Or you can opt to gather up white gems (the game’s currency) and exchange them with the game’s half-human, half-goat merchant, Christopher (who glows with enthusiasm) who’ll give you red gems in return, as well as other supplies (ammmo and health items).
Shadows of the Damned can best be described, in regards to gameplay, as a spritual successor to Resident Evil 4. You have your, now standard, over-the-shoulder gunplay which also lets you move and shoot at the same time, perform a basic melee attack as well as evasive rolls and a context-sensitive counter-attack. I found it extremely satisfying shooting at hordes of demons especially when I pulled off headshots which, if done as your first shot at an enemy, results in a brief cinematic showing off your foe’s head explode in slow-motion. It never got old, but rest assured, headshots won’t be as easy to do once you get into the later parts of the game. Hell, some enemies even have protective masks on which prevents them from falling victim to your well-timed headshots.
Out of the three main weapons I felt most satisfied with the shotgun, especially when upgraded to its third form. Blasting demons in close range was something I did every chance I could, but it wasn’t a tactic I would use against some of the game’s bigger enemies. You have your typical demons that look like zombies but then you also have bigger foes which require specific tactics to kill, like enemies who need to be shot in their easy-to-spot weak-points to take down. Some of these enemies also take advantage of the darkness, oh, yes, the darkness.
Having shadows in its title, one would expect “darkness” to play a huge role in the game. And indeed it does. You’ll constantly be encountered with scenarios in which the level around you gets engulfed in complete darkness. When this happens, your health depletes and you’re left desperately running until you find a nearby goat-head which when shot at with your gun’s light-shot illuminates your surroundings. This light-shot serves as each weapon’s secondary fire, the ammo is unlimited for it but you won’t really be using it to kill foes (but you could use it to slow them down), instead, you’ll be using it to destroy the shield of darkness off of them (when necessary) in order to take them down afterwards with regular bullets. It adds a bit of strategy into the mix and I really enjoyed the tense moments brought about by this mechanic. And speaking of tense…
Throughout the game you have a handful of chase sequences which were moments that kept me at the edge of my seat. One of them pits you in a market-like arena in which you’re constantly being chased by the ever-so-friendly, George (pictured above). In other scenarios you’re being chased by a demon taking on the appearance of Paula, and these proved to be much more tense and downright frustrating at times. As opposed to George, which played more like a typical mini-boss encounter, Paula shows no mercy: you die once you’re caught by her, instantly. She gives you the kiss of death and you’re off to replay the sequence again. Shooting her with the aforementoned lightshot is key here and her slowing down just a bit is enough to give you time to escape.
These “chase-scenes” are just one of many parts of the game which provide a good amount of variety to what would otherwise be a flat-out third person shooter to those judging the game based off of screenshots. There’s environemental puzzles that rear their head in certain parts which aren’t too hard but they’re not that easy either. One of them actually makes you feel like you’ve been thrown into a game of life-sized Tetris. Then you have your expected “turret sequence” but in this case it isn’t a turret, it’s your big boner being used to kill incoming monstrosities. Then you have full-blown 2D sidescrolling levels which play like a vertical shoot-em-up and are extremely fun. There’s a few of these 2D segments and one of them actually sees you fighting one of the game’s main baddies. And speaking of the bosses…
The main bosses in Shadows of the Damned, while not many, all prove to be some of the best moments you’ll experience in the game with the exception of the battle with Fleming which truly dissappointed me with its, for lack of a better word, “un-epicness” when compared to the previous bosses. Let’s put it this way, you’ve already seen almost all of the bosses in the game by way of videos and screens, but don’t let that discourage you, these battles are truly breathtaking. More of them would’ve been nice, though. It’s also worth noting that these battles can truly test your grasp on the game’s mechanics. You can expect to die a few times against some of these big baddies so it would be wise to stock up on hot sauce and/or alcohol, which serve as the game’s health items. You know, because us hispanics love getting drunk and love hot sauce on everything!
Never has Hell looked this good, which seems kind of odd to say. The visuals in Shadows of the Damned paint the (under)world around you in vivid colors thanks to some very solid art design. The environments in the game are all varied enough as to not make you feel like you’re going through the same places. This is where the horror in the game comes in. Yeah, the demons you’ll be dealing with do look creepy(with their crazy designs) and are enough to send chills down your spine at times, especially when they’re savagely pursuing you, but it’s the atmosphere in the game that will definitely invoke dread. One of the levels will have you traverse through spooky woods that even have a few cabins to explore and it’s here where we get a nice nod to the Evil Dead films. In this level we also get to see babies hung from trees that, when you look at them closely, appear to be dancing. It’s little things like these implemented into the (under)world around you which really enhance the overall atmosphere and make things a bit more creepier.
And don’t worry, back-tracking is kept at a minimum and you won’t have to travel too far to find brains and strawberries (demons love strawberries!) that serve as keys to open up new places. It’s quite amusing how you actually unlock these doors as well: Garcia grabs the strwaberry or brain and smashes it into the door’s keypad which in this game is actually a baby’s head hungry for some food, and what more, he even yells out “eat shit!” when doing so. In other parts you’ll have to use the darkness to actually proceed seeing as how some passage ways, covered by what Garcia loves calling “demon pubes,” require shooting red orbs that are only accessible when shrouded in darkness. Other than that, you really won’t be staying in the same place for too long, but even if you did end up doing so because of a bigger emphasis on backtracking and whatnot, you’ll still enjoy the atmosphere thanks to Yamaoka’s brilliant score.
The music in this game is truly aurally pleasing and it’s something that will definitely appeal to those who love Yamaoka’s previous work on the Silent Hill series. I actually found myself just remaining stationary at times throughout the game, after I killed all nearby enemies, of course, just enoying the music. Even the music in the game can prove to be funny at times, you’ll see what I mean once you shoot a light-shot at the “sushi with a dick” you’ll encounter in several parts of the game. These little guys illuminate the area around them and you have to follow them through what would otherwise be pitch-dark areas, and to help get your mind off of the surrounding dangers, these creatures provide some of their own tunes. But the music in the game shines the most when it delivers a sense of horror that greatly complements your “road movie” in Hell.
Shadows of the Damned is one of those games that you’ll want to experience all over again after the credits roll, despite not having a new game plus feature which has lead to a good amount of players being disappointed. Personally, this omission doesn’t both me at all. I see it this way: part of the fun ,for me at least, is going through the game the way it’s meant to be played (gaining upgrades as you progress through the story) and doing so will not degrade the game’s overall challenge especially when going up against bosses. The challenge is part of the fun and speaking of which, surprisingly there isn’t all that much challenge in the game’s hard mode if you decide to tackle it to get all trophies/achievements or just for the fun of it. Though I did find it weird that achievements/trophies for clearing the game in certain difficulties didn’t stack, which means that, yes, you’re going to have to go through the game in easy mode.
There aren’t really any unlockables to speak of, which may also prove to be disappointing for some. So, in reality there really isn’t much incentive to actually go through the game again after your initial playthrough. But trust me, you’re still going to want to do it all over again anyway, the experience is just that good. It’s not that long, though, which proved to be a minor issue for me. I was expecting more than just 5 acts, especially since the first act is basically just composed of cut-scenes and a tutorial. Another, more prominent, issue I had was with the battle against Fleming. He was built up as one hell of an adversary but he doesn’t really amount to much once you actually face him.
Shadows of the Damned is truly one of the year’s best games and it’s a refreshing one as well, especially in a market where sequels and FPSs dominate sales. This could be the start of a new series and a sequel could fix/add things like including a new game plus (so people won’t complain!) and possibly provide a lengthier adventure. The game on its own, though, provides a superb stand-alone experience that definitely shouldn’t be missed. It truly feels like a spiritual successor to Resident Evil 4 in terms of gameplay and while its story includes some very disturbing scenarios (especially ones brought about by in-game books you find, narrated by Johnson and Garcia), it doesn’t take itself too seriously. You will laugh, many times, unless you’re not into these types of sexual jokes. All of this is wrapped around in an amazing atmosphere that makes Hell seem both eerie and “inviting” at the same time, with all its vibrant colors. And you can’t forget about Yamaoka’s excellent score. Quite simply: Shadows of the Damned deserves your attention and it proves to be a “road movie” worth revisiting time and time again.