Shadows of the Damned review

By Garnett Lee, Jun 30, 2011 9:55am PDT

When Shadows of the Damned was first announced, gamers were thrilled at the thought of Suda51 and Shinji Mikami working together on a game. Those names may not immediately click outside Japan, but gamers are definitely familiar with their work, including No More Heroes and Resident Evil 4. With Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka providing the music, this is a creative dream team.

There's no question that their personalities come through the design. The game gives you control of a demon hunter named Garcia Hotspur. He fights his way through hell, mowing down demons with his trusty Johnson (get it?). A demon itself, Johnson assumes the form of a skull on a stick, and can transform into a demon-killing gun on demand. Garcia is after his girlfriend, Paula, kidnapped by the lord of the demons, Fleming, after getting fed up with Garcia’s antics. Of course, it's a trap.

It’s easy to picture Shadows of the Damned solely as a completely off-the-wall eccentric Japanese game—and that it is. But it's also an Unreal engine shooter, and that gives it just enough of a framework to stay comprehensible. The combination strikes a nice balance. No matter how crazy things get, I've got a gun in my hand. I know what to do: point it at the demons and pull the trigger.

Shadows of the Damned is relentless. Pacing throughout the game feels closer to survival horror than shooter, perhaps reflecting Mikami's touch. It's a tense ride, one I enjoyed more in shorter sittings, taking breaks simply to catch my breath and allow my neurons a moment to process the sensory overload and get ready for the next onslaught.

For cannon fodder, Fleming throws a seemingly endless supply of rank-and-file demons in Garcia's way. Zombie-like in their relentless attacks, they aren't too difficult to handle individually--but they're never alone. They attack in groups, with Yamaoka's driving soundtrack further encouraging adrenalin production. And that's just the basic room-to-room shooting part of the game.

Not too far in, Shadows of the Damned introduces a light-dark dynamic as a deadly wave of shadow washes over the land--accompanied by an ominous klaxon of course. Johnson explains that, much like humans love the sun, but burn if they stay in it too long, demons love the darkness, but can't handle too much of it either. It's not always there, but when it is, Garcia quickly loses health if caught in it.

You must do more than simply “get out of the dark.” The interplay between the relative safety of light versus the deadly darkness becomes one of the highlights of the game. At a moment's notice, darkness acts as a wildcard, raising the tension while still demanding I keep a cool head to get out of whatever bind I've gotten into. Sometimes that was as simple as illuminating a goat head candelabra. Other times, I only had temporary means of breaking its grip--and in some cases none at all. And just to test my mettle, I sometimes needed to get the darkness to come to reveal key parts of the environment or exploit an enemy's weakness.

Shadows of the Damned also gets part of its un-shooter like feel from its progression of boss fights. Another sign of its survival horror leanings, these bosses play up the story side of the game, giving the demon lords under Fleming a chance to show their personality. But as many games have shown, boss fights are tough to pull off in a shooter. The challenge comes from keeping the engagement entertaining, especially when the it ultimately boils down to finding the right spot to shoot.

The boss fights in Shadows of the Damned fail to escape the trap of becoming flashy shooting galleries, though they do manage a number of creative twists on the formula. Perhaps if there were fewer of them, the grating effect wouldn't be so pronounced. But as it stands, there's only so many ways to change up finding--and then shooting--a glowing red spot. The most telling part comes at the end when, after so many bosses, Fleming doesn't seem much more intimidating. But maybe that's not such a bad thing, as a frustrating boss fight would only have ended the game on a sour note.

And Shadows of the Damned is anything but sour. Raunchy, perverse, irreverent, over-the-top, and any number of similar adjectives come to mind. It adroitly walks the line of pop culture memes, sexual innuendo, and bloody demon-slaying violence without becoming either depraved or dark. And, the familiar wrapper of a shooter makes the game completely approachable as well. While it might not be for everyone, anyone who ever wondered about taking a Suda "trip" should book Shadows of the Damned as their summer vacation.

Click here to comment...

advertisement

Comments

See All Comments | 1 Thread | 10 Comments