July 2, 2011
Players take on the role as the Mexican Demon Hunter Garcia Hotspur, who has become somewhat unpopular with the demons that he faces. In fact, after killing too many of the evil minions, the archdemon Fleming takes an interest in the hunter, or more precisely, his girlfriend Paula. After a brief confrontation, Paula is kidnapped and Garcia vows to rescue her from hell, but not before putting a bullet between Fleming's six eyes. With help from his friend Johnson, a floating skull who can transform into various objects such as guns and a motorcycle, Garcia sets off to take his revenge and reclaim his love. Now the story may be an old cliche when simplified to its basic 'save the girl' plot device, but the game throws enough obscurity at the player to keep things fresh.
At its core, Shadows of the Damned is simply a 3rd person shooter reminiscent to Resident Evil 4, laser sight and all. From the start, Johnson is able to transform into a pistol called "The Boner", but has the ability to swap later on to a machine gun called "The Teether" and the "Monocussioner", a shotgun/grenade launcher variant. It's important to note that Garcia's aiming and turning speeds can be altered in the options menu as the default settings are a little sluggish. Melee, of course, requires little skill in aiming and can be used effectively to knock back enemies that get a little too close. Unfortunately, this only tends to work with the basic zombie-like enemies, tougher opponents later on will just laugh and pound Garcia's face in. Another dangerous obstacle and puzzle device comes in the form of darkness, or rather a purple/blue fog that damages Garcia over time if he stays inside it for too long. To prevent this, Johnson can fire what he calls a "Light Shot" directly at a goat's head that will not only disperse the darkness, it will probably confuse the player too. Why a Goat's head?
Throughout the game, players will find various collectibles in crates, ammo boxes or just out in the open. White gems are most common and act as the game's currency, they can be used to buy life restoring drinks at vending machines or used to trade with the half demon Christopher for more valuable items. Red Gems are used to upgrade weapons by increasing their damage or reload times or, better yet, Garcia's health bar. And lastly, Blue Gems, these little beauties upgrade Johnson. Blue gems can also be found at set intervals throughout the story, these grant access to new variants of previous weapons, such as "The Dentist", which allows the machine gun to fire three times the amount of bullets which have the ability to home in on a target. The weapon progression and upgrading system means that killing enemies never really gets boring. The later enemy designs also warrant switching weapons for different situations, like the masked demons who are easily taken out once their mask has been removed thanks to the explosive Monocussioner.
What's hard not to notice in Shadows of the Damned is the interesting art design, not only in the world itself, but the characters and supposedly, the inanimate objects. Gates adorned with babies faces, a small floating eyeball demon that literally craps itself when it sees you, and a creature that Garcia could only describe as "Sushi with a dick". But all of these surprisingly tie into the dark and depressing setting that the game continually uses throughout. Whether in the Victorian-esque town at the start of the game, to the gothic castle at the end, with the swamp and labyrinth in-between, the game always looks set on the horror vibe, but never truly feels scary. Although the sound direction tries to make up for it with atmospheric sounds and ambient piano melodies. The crunchy guitars used during combat fortifies the idea that the game was never truly meant to scare the player, but at the very most, put them on edge.
As the game goes on and through Johnson's various upgrades and the player's own experience, Garcia can become a little too overpowered. Enemies become more of a nuisance than a challenge, but it does set up for some interesting turns later on. As well as becoming more focused on puzzles surrounding the darkness mechanic, the game actually changes both its style and gameplay in a few of the chapters. Johnson and Garcia are transported to a 2D plane of existence, although it's never truly explained, the new style is a welcome change to the gradually repetitive combat. In this mode the game becomes a side-scrolling shooter and uses the same mechanics from the main game, it even has 2D Goat heads. As well as evolving puzzles based on the game's central light shot mechanic, a few mini-games are thrown into the mix too including the "Big Boner" chapter. In this chapter, Johnson calls a sex line and recieves an upgrade, namely his barrel extends to the likes of a cannon with which Garcia defends himself from large enemies, all whilst shouting "Taste my Big Boner". Classy.
The game also boasts some interesting bosses, complete with backstories that are explained prior to each encounter through a children's storybook. The tales are often of tragedy but it is nice to know a little thought was put into the bosses rather than having a generic spider just for the sake of it. Unfortunately, bosses are nothing more than bullet sponges designed to rob players of their ammo, and are considerably easy to defeat due to the glowing weak spots. Interestingly enough, some of the bosses use the darkness mechanic to hide their weak spots, forcing Garcia to sacrifice some of his life, to sacrifice theirs. Last but not least, one of the worst mechanics seen in any game for a while, the chase scenes. These moments have Paula appear possessed and wanting to kill Garcia, unfortunately, his weapons are useless against her and it's an instant death when she gets close. The problem with these sections are that it usually takes a few attempts to know what to do to escape from her, by then Garcia has died a few times and players will be left frustrated than scared or 'thrilled'.
Upon completion, the game suffers from a lack of any real replayability. There are three different difficulty settings to play through but the experience isn't as exciting the second time around. Shadows of the Damned is both a game and an experience that can't be repeated for a second time. A few mini-games based off of the main game's few creative surprises would have been perfect as a bonus through completing the game. Sadly, as far as replayability is concerned, the game just simply isn't designed to be played again, not that it stops gamers from collecting those last few achievements and trophies though.
Shadows of the Damned is an oddity, it takes some good ideas from other titles and mixes them up with a grindhouse feel. Suda 51's involvement has meant that the game is both interesting from a story perspective, and somewhat crazy in design, in a good way. The best thing about Shadows of the Damned is how different it is from most other games, and the distinct humour found throughout. The worst thing about it are the instant death chase scenes, and the slight amount of grinding towards the end of the game. Conclusion? We need more games like this.
Shadows of the Damned was reviewed on the PS3. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.