Shadows Of The Damned
“Just warn me if I have to f**k a horse to open a door.” This sentence, spilled from the unrelentingly foul, Mexican-accented mouth of demon hunter Garcia Hotspur, pretty much sum up Shadows Of The Damned: mental, interesting, disgusting, definitely fun at first but will probably grow to be a little bit tired with repetition.
Until that repetition sets in, though, Shadows is an enjoyable slice of tasteless third-person shooting. For many players, it will also be their first taste of the demented genius that is Japanese developer Goichi Suda.
The head of Grasshopper Manufacture, he’s the force behind gems such as GameCube adventure Killer7 and the Wii’s No More Heroes, and Shadows in no less interesting, in setting at least, than those two titles.
The Teether is a brutal weapon. Did we mention it fires teeth as ammo?
Pulling on the diamond-studded purple jacket of Garcia, who has seen his beloved girlfriend Paula killed and taken to hell by the lord of the underworld, Fleming, you’ll follow her there in a bid to rescue your true love. Backed up by a talking demon head named Johnson – the first of many, many knob gags – who handily turns into Garcia’s weapons, Shadows will immediately be familiar to anyone who has played Resident Evil 4 or 5.
This is no surprise: Resi creator Shinji Mikami is on board, justifiably launching expectations into the stratosphere at the thought of two gaming heavyweights collaborating on a big-budget action title.
The level design certainly delivers upon the standard you’d expect from those two names. Grasshopper’s version of Hell is a far cry from simple horror; granted, there’s a lot of grotesquery in the surroundings – despicable scenes of mutilation and wanton destruction of the human form are par for the course and are backed by cloying, otherworldly set design.
There are even mad side-scrolling shooter levels.
But there’s also a jet- black line of humour running through the duration, perfectly complementing Garcia’s one-note action hero machismo. If it’s not Johnson mouthing off and bantering with Garcia about underworld politics, then it’s the two of them reading darkly funny storybooks to each other – worth it alone to hear Garcia’s borderline illiteracy – or firing guns called ‘The Big Boner’ while visiting underworld strip clubs.
The gameplay too, has an interesting hook. As the title suggests, both your enemies and the environments are often bathed in an ethereal blackness, which when summoned by your enemies expands to envelop your surroundings, extinguishing all light in the process.
This mechanism gives your foe its greatest strength: Garcia can do no damage when hellspawn are coated in the darkness, and it simultaneously damages him to boot, consistently sucking his life until he collapses and dies or he finds a way to turn the lights back on. This is usually done via Johnson’s gun form, which can fire light bullets into goats’ heads to dissipate the darkness.
This shroud also forms the game’s main puzzle mechanic. For instance, some doors can only be opened by shooting a pulsating red orb that can be found close to them, but, crucially, these can only be seen in their true form from within the darkness, encouraging a nice risk/reward mechanic. Likewise, some enemy types will conspire with the aforementioned goats’ heads, extinguishing them in order to distract you while other forces converge on your positions, adding a nice dynamic to the combat.
Electrified enemies take a lot of punishment before they keel over.
So it’s a shame that Shadows runs out of steam long before its eight-hour runtime is up. The opposite of the intense and consistently changing artwork that forms the backdrop of the levels you’re in, combat becomes stale after only a few hours thanks to the design of the levels being so dreadfully predictable.
Most of the time combat will play out like this: walk into room, see locked door, pick up key, get jumped by enemies, realise you can’t get out until you kill everything, shotgun these guys, machine gun some others, fire your Hot Boner’s explosive charge at others. Fun for a while, but rinse and repeat for hours on end and you’ll get the feeling that you’ve simply seen and done it all before, especially since the enemies, while distinct, never really require too much strategy to defeat.
The shooting is strong, but with only three weapons it’s not long until you’re merely blasting enemies by rote, regurgitating tactics instead of developing them on the fly on the off chance that the next arena will give you room to stretch your skills.
The guns are imaginative, but there are only three variants.
Shadows has some lovely ideas and systems but repeats them with such regularity that they become tired before they really should, a fact perfectly highlighted by the side-scrolling shooter stages, which are funny in a twee ‘ho ho, aren’t we clever’ style. Sadly, said slow, dull and boring gameplay rears its ugly head three times, more than outstaying its welcome.
Shadows Of The Damned is a game that falls between two stools like Garcia after a few too many absinthes: stylish and interesting yet also repetitive and samey. It’s a shame, because with a bit of variety this could have been a classic.
As it is, it’s a solid, intriguing and gleefully irreverent shooter that could have been so much more. And you never have to f**k a horse, although we’ll leave it up to you to decide whether that’s a good or bad thing.