INTRO: Do you remember Killer 7 from a few years ago? No? How about No More Heroes? Yeah, I'm hoping that if you have a Wii, you remember No More Heroes (and its fantastic sequel, for that matter). Well, Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture are back to bring us an experience which will take us straight to Hell.
This third person shooter has you in the role of Garcia Hotspur, a fellow who loves hunting some demons and is actually not a total badass. He had a nice gal named Paula to call his sweetheart, but she offed herself, effectively offering her soul up to a nasty dark lord named Fleming. Fleming's a bit of a jerk who simply wants retribution, since Garcia spends his days killing demons.
Did I forget to mention that your constant companion is a demon-head-on-a-stick sort of entity known as Johnson? Yeah, old Johnson is a big help, as he can change shape and shoot bone-like projectiles at foes.
What are we waiting for? Let's get to hell!
If you know anything about the developers of this game, you know that they're bizarre, to say the least. Know that the story is all over the place, and the game is really 'out there', even if a trip to hell might seem routine. Believe me when I tell you, this is a gore soaked and disturbing ride that you won't soon forget.
That's not to say that you'll be sitting there, shivering in the darkness. You may not forget this game very soon though. It's full of stupid humor that can really grate after awhile, and tons of wiener jokes and other innuendo (yes, there's a pistol called the boner). In order to get through some doorways, you have to trim through "demon pubes" (I can't make this stuff up) by cutting off their blood supply.
Anyway, this game's a battle between light and the darkness. If Hotspur is stuck in the darkness for too long, he'll start losing life. You have no way of avoiding the darkness at times though. As an alt-fire method, you can shoot goat heads and light sushi (don't ask) to help light up areas to avoid health loss. This isn't always easy, because you sometimes have to find the stupid goat by listening to it squeal in the darkness. Sometimes you can use the darkness to your benefit though, as you'll come to find out.
This is a part of the charm of the game, as Johnson and Garcia wade through they are discussing the bizarre gameplay context mechanics to great effect with humorous dialogue that's undoubtedly memorable. You'll also find some puzzles within the game, and they're integrated pretty well. They're almost always darkness-related, which adds a bit of a feverish pitch as you're losing your health while desperately trying to solve them.
Designed in part by Resident Evil 4's Shinji Mekami, this one controls in a familiar way, but isn't a copy of that classic game. You've got to blast your way through crowds and take down big bosses and after all these years, the system still works. Combining the traditional gunplay with the new dark/light mechanic really makes this game quite fun to play.
Anyway, you have three weapons at your disposal- a pistol, an automatic rifle and a shotgun. As I mentioned before, Johnson's a big help too, serving as a beacon for the story and as a weapon himself. As you progress through the game, you can upgrade your weapons, items or even Johnson with gems of three different colors. The white gems are more common, red gems are for upgrading weapons and less readily availale, and blue ones come from bosses and help to upgrade Johnson. You can get some pretty fun upgrades, and of course, you can spend your gems in vending machines. Yes, hell has vending machines.
Oh friends, I haven't even mentioned the boss battles. There are some big-*ss bosses in this game and they're all different, and can be a pain. They all have their own method of being killed- sometimes you have to shoot a certain area, sometimes you have to listen to clues. Either way, I thought the boss battles were fun (although some were frustrating) and the backstory cutscenes for each boss are just awesome.
On the negative side of this supernatural boogie, there are a few gripes. This is one of those games with 'invisible walls' that stop you from exploring certain areas as you progress, which can be a bit of a pain while you fight demons. Yes, the collision detection isn't great here and will lead you to certain frustration. The camera can be a bit of a pain in the butt too, feeling a little too close to Garcia which can limit the view you have of your foes.
Also, I wasn't huge on the inclusion of a few bizarre side-scrolling 2D stages that didn't totally fit in with the rest of the game. There were times that Hotspur's movements were a little choppy too, which could slow things down when you're trying to run through an area. If you don't like those sorts of chase sequences that lead to instant death, you're in for disappointment as they pop up a few times as well. In my opinion though folks, none of these flaws are game-breakers or controller-spikers. This is a good thing.
Although Shadows of the Damned isn't a visual powerhouse, it really makes up for it with a huge dose of style. This one goes way over the top, using the Unreal 3 engine to paint a bizarre picture of Hell that is reminiscent of old-time London during the Victorian era. The level design is pretty varied, although you may notice some screen tearing from time to time.
The character design is awesome, although animations can be a little stiff. The imagination really helps here and the game is at least fun to look at instead of being drab and repetitive.
Sound here is excellent, especially the dialogue between characters. As I mentioned before, the relationship between Garcia and Johnson can be downright hilarious and almost always informative. Yes, it can be over the top and silly, but the voice acting is infused with enough emotion so that it isn't completely ridiculous. Sound effects are varied and excellent too.
Audio design is great as well, with Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka turning in a great soundtrack. There's lots of different sorts of music that match the game well, and it never failed to impress me.
Shadows of the Damned is a bizarre, compelling, grotesque and offensive journey that is a true original. It's not perfectly put together, but
if you don't mind something different, it warrants your time. If you take your time with it, you can spend almost 15 hours with it. Unlike many other games, this one is an original and still fun to play. There's no doubt that this one should come out of the shadows (lulzorz) and into your home!
Final Score: 8/10