Also available on: PlayStation 3
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Action Adventure
Shadows Of The Damned features a development team sporting the likes of Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, Silent Hill sound director Akira Yamaoka, and Suda 51 - famous for the likes of Killer7 and No More Heroes. With such an impressive pedigree, therefore, we had high hopes for Grasshopper's latest underworld action title.
At first glance, Shadows Of The Damned utilises these talents perfectly. Sultry Spanish guitar numbers are juxtaposed with blaring horns and clattering percussion to great effect; the action is solid with a satisfying shooting mechanic reminiscent of latter Resident Evil games; plus it features all of the humour and self-aware movie and video game references that we've come to expect from a Suda 51 title. Unfortunately, however, despite providing an entertaining enough eight hours of demon-slaying, Shadows Of The Damned doesn't quite match up to its influences, providing few scares and fewer laughs.
The plot is like a combination of Devil May Cry and Dante's Inferno. The brilliantly named and foul-mouthed Garcia Hotspur is a demon hunter whose girlfriend Paula has been dragged to the depths of hell by Fleming, Lord Of The Demons. Accompanied by his sidekick, a floating, wisecracking skull named Johnson - who doubles up as weapons and a motorbike (during a cutscene only) - Garcia kicks down the gates of hell and starts laying waste to its inhabitants.
The narrative is actually very good. Throughout the game we are treated to snippets of Garcia's past and his relationship with Paula during conversations with Johnson. The game's bosses and their back stories are chronicled in illustrated storybooks, while cutscenes pop up at regular intervals to fill in the blanks.
Shadows Of The Damned's imagery and visuals are also impressive. The early stages feature cobbled streets and gothic architecture, before giving way to lakes, woods, creepy cabins, graveyards and neon-bathed red-light districts. Goat heads light the way, dismembered and animated dolls hang from trees, and severed limbs and heads line the streets and decorate paths. Despite a few frame-rate issues cropping up in cutscenes and the odd twitchy shadow effect, Grasshopper - with the aid of the Unreal engine - has created a wonderful modern depiction of hell.
The game's combat is another high point and the gunplay is very similar to that found in Resident Evil 4 and Killer7. When taking aim, the camera zooms in over Garcia's shoulder, bringing up a different coloured laser sight, depending on the weapon. Squeezing the trigger results in a satisfying bang and, more often than not, a stylish spray of claret shooting across the screen thanks to the loss of an enemy's limb. Enemies can also be stunned with the light shot, which can be followed by a brutal execution or a melee attack.
Each weapon feels extremely satisfying and meaty, and whether shooting bones, teeth or skulls, players can be confident that their chosen weapon will pack a punch. As the game goes on, the enemies become tougher and it's up to the player to find their weak spot, usually signified by a big red jewel on the body. The bosses are also suitably impressive. Some fill the screen, devastating the environment with wayward stomps and crashes; others, armed with cleavers, chase Garcia through market stores filled with explosives; and some use trickery and deceit to gain the upper hand.
Unfortunately, Shadows Of The Damned isn't without its flaws. The game features a light and dark puzzle element, which sees Garcia take damage when the environment is enveloped in shadow. This is a fine idea by itself, albeit not a terribly original one, but navigating and surviving these sections is rarely more difficult than finding a goat head to light the way, or shooting a switch to open a door. There's probably only one mildly taxing puzzle in the whole game, which comes later on in the form of a room resembling a giant Rubick's Cube.
In addition to this, despite a few laugh out loud moments, the sheer number of sexual innuendos and d**k jokes detract from any of the game's potentially scary moments. It's difficult to be truly terrified in the confines of a darkened library, for example, when the lead character is equipped with a weapon called the 'Hot Boner'. Maybe that's the point, but too often it feels like the game is trying too hard to be immature and vulgar. Also, Johnson, the game's tour guide and Garcia's companion, isn't as funny or as antagonistic as he could be, although maybe that's because we're unfairly comparing him to the excellent Grimoire Weiss from last year's Nier.
The somewhat restrictive over-the-shoulder camera viewpoint can also prove problematic when attempting to deal with multiple enemies in an enclosed environment. Garcia is able to dodge and bash his way out of trouble, but doesn't have the agility and mobility necessary to deal with hordes of demons all at once, leading to one or two frustrating set-pieces. Garcia's lack of mobility is particularly evident during one of the game's few irritating chase sequences, in which one wrong move results in his instant death.
Garcia's limited range of movements is exacerbated by the over-sized, off-putting blood stains that cover too large a portion of the screen when his energy bar is running low - a small gripe, granted, but an annoyance none the less. In the game's defence, however, there are plenty of restorative bottles of absinthe and tequila knocking about, as well as shops manned by the lovable hillbilly hell beast Christopher.
Shadows Of The Damned also suffers from a severe lack of replayability. There are no extras for those who best the relatively short eight-hour campaign, and not even an option to play specific chapters, or play through on a harder difficulty with upgrades still intact. Plus, for Achievement hunters out there, players are forced to complete the game on easier difficulties if they want to max out their points, despite having already finished it on a harder setting.
On the plus side, many of Suda 51's trademarks are there to be found, including movie and cultural references - there's one particularly fantastic example about halfway through the game. There are also some pleasant nods to other video games and genres. Unfortunately, without wishing to spoil too much, one of the game's more anticipated boss battles takes place in the form of a 2D shooter, which would be OK if it were actually a decent 2D shooter.
Shadows Of The Damned is an enjoyable, albeit short-lived, romp through the underworld, with some fantastically satisfying combat and action sequences, as well as some impressive visuals and imagery. However, perhaps intentionally, it's hard to define what Grasshopper is trying to achieve with the game. The sheer number of sex jokes, swear words and innuendos grate after a while and make it hard to categorise the game and emotionally invest in the experience. The severe lack of extras and relatively short campaign don't help matters either, making it one to rent instead of buy.
Ultimately, Shadows Of The Damned is not as scary as the likes of Silent Hill or Resident Evil, not as funny as No More Heroes and not as original as Killer7, leaving it stuck in video game limbo.
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