When you combine the minds of Grasshopper Manufacture's Suda51 and legendary video game creator Shinji Mikami, you know you're in for a rather... different experience. And that's exactly what Shadows of the Damned provides - it's anything but ordinary. On face value, it may look like just another third-person shooter, but underneath the surface the experience is much deeper and constantly tells the story between light and dark.
In an attempt to save his true love, Garcia Hotspur ends up going into the bowels of Hell. But he's a demon hunter by day, so it's not too far out of his comfort zone. That doesn't stop it from being rather creepy though and it's only his trusty skull side-kick that helps to inject a bit of humour/grounding to the whole experience - as ironic as that might sound.
His roles go far beyond just general chit-chat though, as your talking head companion doubles up as a torch, to light the way, and also as your main weapon.
This is where Shadows of the Damned starts to come into its own, as the combat has certain elements of strategy. Due to the fact you're stuck in a less than savoury realm, standard enemies can't be hurt unless they're hit with a "light shot". Normal enemies never gain any darkness protection again, but stronger ones do, promoting a more constant struggle.
You have three projectile weapons that you can use, with the torch also doubling up as a melee weapon. He can transform into a "Boner", a standard pistol, the "Monocussioner", a shotgun, and the "Teether", a sub-machine gun of sorts. Each of the weapons has a colour associated with them, so changing weapons changes the colour of the torch - and the entire surrounding area. These weapons can also be significantly upgraded, so it's not as limiting as it might initially seem.
The battle between light and dark may not sound that original, but the way it's presented certainly changes that - especially in situations where you'll become flooded by darkness. Here, it's impossible to kill enemies unless you find a way to stem the flow - an action performed by shooting various triggers. This only clears certain areas though, and it promotes a sense of puzzle finding.
In many ways, it's easy to see why Shadows of the Damned would be compared to the stereotypical third-person shooter. As, after all, you have a gun and it's third-person. But it's not just a game where you aimlessly shoot tons of enemies until they drop dead - you have to employ strategy to dispatch your foes and it makes the experience more methodical. It's still fast paced, but not in the sense that you're running down enemies without even realising they were there. It's also different enough that you'll need to learn it - if you just pick up and play, it's rather disconcerting.
Despite the gameplay being original, and well tuned, there may be some reservations with how it actually plays. It feels a bit sticky, and it could certainly do with some work here. The animations weren't that smooth and the shooting mechanics felt a bit ridged. It's something that can be ironed out, but hopefully it's not the same in the final game. It might not seem like a big deal, but it did make the experience stand out less, especially considering we know what these guys are capable of.
When the game releases on the 21st of June for PS3 and Xbox 360, it should be a refreshing experience for people in the West. It's a game that boasts an interesting art style, with some rather wacky protagonists and thought-provoking gameplay. If they can sort out the niggling problems with how the game plays, it could be a solid addition to each console's library.