Release Date: June 21, 2011
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Platform: PS3 / X360
Shadows of the Damned is the love child of three of gaming’s biggest heavyweights. The game combines the insane writing and style of Suda51 (Killer7, No More Heroes), the gameplay direction of Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil, God Hand), and the sound design of famed composer Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill). Focusing all these great talents is the director, Massimo Guarini, who appears to have had more influence on the final game than people will give him credit for so I feel its only right to include him. Overall, Shadows ends up being a wonderful blend of grind house movie, Resident Evil shooting mechanics, witty writing and punk rock; with just a few flaws holding it back.
The story in the Shadows of the Damned is not particularly original. Anyone that’s played Dante’s Inferno should be familiar with it. Garcia “F–king” Hotspur is a professional demon hunter who ends up pissing off the Lord of Demons himself, Flemming. So one night, while Garcia is blasting a minotaur with his Boner (his trusty pistol, more on that later), his beautifully messed up girlfriend Paula gets attacked and kidnapped, taken to the underworld. So it’s up to Garcia to man up, go to hell, save the girl and kick some demon ass. Like I said, its simple and its been done before, but where Shadows shines is in the way it injects the story and characters with the crazy style of Suda51. For example, Paula isn’t just sitting around waiting for Garcia to rescue her, she is consistently being murdered in front of his eyes in every way imaginable in order to break him. The story is also given a lot more originality thanks largely to the great characters and unique setting.
While Paula is an important part of the cast, Shadows of the Damned is really a two man show. Well, a one man one skull show to be more specific. Because accompanying Garcia is one of the funniest sidekicks I’ve seen in gaming in a long time, the lovable British skull Johnson. Besides the fact that his name is already a dick joke, he is constantly making quips on the way the underworld works. From talking about demon tanning salons to reciting fairy tales about the bosses you will encounter. His writing is top-notch and really gives the game a lot of soul. Johnson also transforms into your various weapons in the game, from the “Boner” to the “Skullfest 9000,” to the ever hilarious “Big Boner.” He is also a very helpful guide that explains a lot of the games mechanics. If you haven’t gotten it by now, this game is basically one giant dick joke, and I freaking loved it! Its like the writers took every single opportunity to insert as much sexual innuendo as possible into the game, and it just works.
This kind of humor, though, isn’t for everyone and if you find it annoying then you should be more cautious before spending your money. The game also delves into such family friendly topics as rape, cannibalism and it throws in a few gay jokes for good measure. Again, my kind of humor, but not for everyone.Moving on, Garcia is also a very likable lead character. Not only does he look like a total badass with his purple jacket and full body tattoos, his personality and voice acting really help sell him. Steven Blum, who you might recognize as the voice of famous anime characters like Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop and Mugen from Samurai Champloo, does an excellent job as Garcia and for the most part fits the role. His character might appear stereotypical with his bad English and Spanish swearing, but Garcia quickly grows on you and becomes just as memorable as any great video game character. In fact, he’s a lot more memorable than a certain green space marine that kids seem to love these days…
Another area that Shadows succeeds at is in its art direction. The underworld portrayed is thankfully not the same old boring fire and brimstone we’ve come to expect. Instead we’re given Suda51’s bizarre and wacky interpretation, a world full of creepy villages, absinthe vending machines and giant demon pachinko. It’s basically a world made up of every single vice and sin from our own. Its dark, yet extremely stylish and employs both warm and cool color palettes. Every area is unique and you never feel like you’re treading old ground. This also applies to the enemy designs which are unique to say to the least. For example, there is George, a demon completely made out of blood who has swallowed a harmonica; wacky enough for you? Or how about “Stinky Crow,” an insane bird man who screams obscenities as he tries to kick your ass? The game’s bosses are quite original to say the least.
In addition, the game is also extremely gory and has quite a bit of nudity; definitely not a game to give little Jimmy for Christmas. Graphically, the game is also no slouch. Running on Unreal Engine 3, the game has some nice effects (like the very Killer7′sh blood spurts) and environments. The character models are also pretty well done. However, the animations of Garcia and the other characters can be pretty stiff sometimes and detract a little from the cut scenes. Finally, the game does suffer from some noticeable screen tearing, but you eventually get used to it. Overall, though, the art direction and graphics are extremely original and create a very atmospheric and unique world.
Shadows of the Damned, however, would be incomplete without the amazing sound design and score of famed composer Akira Yamaoka. Having never played any of the Silent Hill games (I’m still too scared!) this is my first time listening to his talents, and I must say I’m very impressed. His score completely sets the tone of the entire game right from the title screen. The game starts off with a badass heavy metal composition that really gets you pumped for the adventure that awaits you. Then the score will go slow and dark, and switches to what sounds to me like Japanese folk music. Then you get into battle and you are bombarded with heavy drums and screaming that really increases the tension. This alternating between fast and heavy and slow and mysterious helps keep the game’s pace going very well. Yamaoka really did an excellent job here.
Finally, we get the meat and potatoes of the game. The gameplay here is not new to those who have played games like Resident Evil 4, in fact it’s almost exactly the same with a few key changes. For one, you can actually move while you shoot (I know, crazy huh?). There’s also a dodge maneuver which comes in quite handy in sticky situations. You aim with a laser sight and can do a quick 180 degree turn, basic stuff. You can also stun enemies and go in for brutal execution kills which are extremely satisfying and never get old. Overall, the combat is stylish, fun and over the top. The controls work just fine 99% of the time as well, although they won’t really feel right until you have played the game quite a bit and have gotten use to them. During especially hectic parts though, the controls sometimes do get unwieldy. This happens more often when an area has been covered in darkness and you are slowly losing health, surrounded by invincible enemies and have to shoot a light source in order to make it disappear.
Which leads me to the one thing which I never got used to, and to me is one of the biggest flaws in the game: the aiming. I don’t know what it is, but it feels like the game never gives you any leeway at all when it comes to precise shooting. If you are off by a hair, you will miss over and over again. And the fact that enemies require that you shoot specific weak points on their bodies doesn’t help.
The weak points are large yet hard to hit which makes absolutely no sense, but once you play the game enough you will know exactly what I’m talking about. You are even given a weapon later in the game that auto-aims, which to me seems like a concession from the developers that the aiming mechanics did not turn out as well as they had hoped. I think a little bit of auto aim or bigger hitboxes would of probably solved this. This became especially annoying during boss battles and on higher difficulties.
Which leads me to my other major problem, the difficulty is all over the place. Easy is way too easy and Hard isn’t hard, it’s just cheap. The enemies and bosses aren’t any smarter, they’re just given so much damn health that it gets on your nerves. These bosses are the biggest bullet sponges I’ve ever seen. I kid you not, the “Stinky Crow” boss must of taken at least 20 minutes of straight shooting to defeat on hard, and the final boss on hard pissed me off so much that I almost broke my controller (pro-tip: he’s glitched, google it).
I skipped normal difficulty because I kept reading it wasn’t hard enough, but hard wasn’t the answer either. I guess in the end, normal is your only choice if you want to have some sense of balance. I really wish they had tweaked this because playing on the other difficulties is the only other thing to do once you’re done. I’m serious, there’s no unlockables (besides an even more annoying difficulty!), no new game plus+, no alternate costumes, nothing besides achievements to unlock. Which by the way, aren’t too difficult and are actually pretty fun to get. Well besides the one for beating the game on hard, that one sucked big boners.
Shadows of the Damned is one of those games that you really enjoy for the most part, but its flaws unfortunately do hold it back. Sometimes, when a game does everything else so well, it’s the little things that you notice that really get on your nerves and detract from the overall experience. That’s what ends up happening here, but even with that said the game is definitely worth playing. It’s flawed, yet awesome at the same time and it’s definitely a game that every everyone deserves to play at least once. If only to go on one of the most unique adventures in recent years.
- Amazing art direction
- Great writing and voice acting
- Excellent score
- Stylish combat
- Aiming issues
- Difficulty is inconsistent and lazy
- No new game + and very little replay value