Shadows of the Damned (2011) video game review
Developer: EA Games
Platform: PS3 & XBox 360
Format: Third Person Shooter
When Goichi (Suda51) Suda, one of the names behind Wii’s No More Heroes series teams up with Shinji Mikami, creator of Resident Evil, and they get Silent Hill music composer Akira Yamaoka on board too, you know you’re going to end up with something special. And Shadows of the Damned definitely, totally, absolutely doesn’t disappoint. This is the game I’ve been waiting for since Dante rode his motorcycle into hell at the close of Devil May Cry 2. It’s a fucked up, balls-to-the-wall no holds barred vision of a road trip through the underworld, you as the only shining light amongst the surrounding darkness that is hell itself.
But I get ahead of myself. The base plotline in Shadows is simplicity itself. You play Garcia ‘Fucking’ Hotspur, a proud Mexican who, along with your shape-changing demon buddy Johnson (more on that name later) hunt down any demon that tries to leave hell. But when Lord of the Damned Fleming takes your girlfriend Paula into the realm of darkness, Garcia and Johnson head into hell itself to take him down and get your true love back.
Shadows of the Damned‘s hell is an exercise in imagination, both in locations and the creatures that reside in it. And throughout, Garcia is haunted by visions of Paula dying in different ways, never quite able to save her before the next death sequence begins. Taunted by Fleming all the way as he sends his badass boss creatures after him, Garcia shoots and smashes his way through the story, a hilarious (and always VERY adult) quote from either himself or Johnson always ready to either lighten the mood or add some emotion (usually the former). Devil May Cry-alike the story may be, but this is a way more adult experience, that is plain from the sexual-innuendo filled beginning. A little juvenile? Maybe. But it’s all so over the top it’s fucking hilarious. This is billed as a grindhouse experience after all, so where would it be without its wild exploitation feel?
As previously mentioned, Fleming’s boss monsters are badass. Looking like something pulled from Clive Barker’s imagination, they all initially seem pretty tough, but once you figure out their weak spot they are pretty simple to kill. The challenge with them is figuring out how, so players that get frustrated with tests of reflexes and patience need not worry. Get stuck, mess around a little, try standing in darkness instead of light, pause the game and have a think. While I’m mentioning the darkness, the game is filled with puzzles based around where you are standing to solve them. Standing in darkness lets you see things that you cannot in light, including monsters’ weak spots, lock mechanisms for gates etc. You can’t spend too much time in the dark though as it drains your health pretty quickly, and some monsters scramble to switch out the lights as soon as you appear. There are other aspects to the dark, and other demons that use it, but you get the idea and I’ll leave the rest to discover.
Due to his ability to shape-shift (and his sharp tongue), Johnson is a useful ally. Ordinarily he looks like a hovering flaming skull, but it’s he who transforms into your motorcycle, torch and weapons. The weapons are upgraded by inserting crystals found after defeating bosses into Johnson and ammo is demon’s teeth and skulls. All are imaginatively named, for example the pistol form is called the Boner due to it shooting bones. Watch out for the ability to turn the Boner into a Big Boner, the gun necessary to take down the horde of giant creatures while wandering the rooftops of the strip club area, needing the phone call to the sex line in order to excite Johnson enough to become the Big Boner. Yes, this game is jam packed with dick jokes, and no line of script is deemed too cheesy to utter.
Other things to watch out for are the Evil Dead references when you find the cabin in the woods (demon trying to bust through the trapdoor and all) and the Ghostbusters references in the library section. Also, strangely but awesomely, the game switches to a side-scrolling retro shooter view for a couple of levels and a boss fight. Don’t worry if you suck at those, they are not too difficult, but they do add another layer of bizarre imagination to a game that is already bursting with it. Typical gameplay is done over the shoulder of Garcia, just like Resident Evil 4 and 5. Garcia can actually move (and dodge, and turn 180 degrees at the press of a button) while aiming though so it feels a lot more frantic and user friendly than the RE games. Different things happen depending on where you aim, shooting the legs for example has the creature still crawling around until you finish him off. And if you get a headshot with your first hit you are treated to a slow-motion head exploding single hit kill. Go for the headshot. Ammo gets a little short sometimes.
Shadows of the Damned is a must-buy. The story is average length for games these days, but the same way that movies get revisited, I can see people wanting to play this over again for the story. It’s open for a sequel so there may be more to come for Garcia and Johnson. Hope so. This one was a crazy ride from beginning to end and I definitely want more.
Review by Tony