I'd like to think of myself as somewhat up to date with the goings on in video game land. I lived my life holding myself in high esteem, and with a sense of unflappable self confidence. That all changed when Shadows of the Damned just sort of came out without me knowing anything about it. Stuff like this isn't supposed to slip under my radar. Apart from a brief and obscure trailer from E3 I had seen nothing on this game. I knew it was those crazy boys over at Grasshopper working on it though and that it had some Japanese heavy hitters associated with it, so as soon as I realized I'd slept on it's release I double timed it to get a copy via GameFly. What I ended up playing was an experience like none other that I've experienced in quite a while.
Johnson and Garcia Hotspur: BFF
Right off the bat know that this is a game by the people who made Killer 7 and No More Heroes. i.e. it is NOT taking itself seriously. Sit down with this game turn off reasoning and enjoy the wild ride. Oh and what a ride. In a way that only the Japanese can seem to get away with you are the most blatantly Mexican demon hunter Garcia Hotspur. I'm assuming Hotspur is about as accurate of a Mexican name we could expect from Suda and crew. Anyways, as Garcia, you get home from the tattoo parlor one day and find your girlfriend Paula in the middle of a riveting auto asphyxiation session that heads south when she peels open like a banana and has a 9 foot tall demon named Fleming hop out. Still with me? We haven't even gotten to the opening credits yet.
Anyways for some reason (which you'll have to sleuth out), Fleming decides to take your girl to Demon world and kill her over and over for all eternity. Of course Garcia with his machismo and passion won't stand for this and jumps into hell to get his girl back. To help you along the way is your homeboy Johnson. Johnson is a euphemism for a penis, and also a floating skull of an ex demon who can turn into a gun, torch, or motorcycle and of course has a British accent. This game is bananas in an amazing way. So the stage is set! You traverse through the demon world looking to take back your beloved Paula.
Not sure the juice is worth the squeeze...
While the story is utterly ridiculous, the characters really make what could have been a somewhat generic game stand out. The chit chat between Johnson and Garcia is genuinely funny and there is not a dull moment, and by "dull" I mean "not talking about cocks". This game is a 7 hour tribute to man meat, and fantastic for it. By the end you'll enjoy the relationship between man and floating skull and just sort of chuckle and shake your head thinking "oh Hotspur, you asshole you."
One of the coolest things in the game are the story books that give a back story on bosses. The books are found in game, and when activated, initiate a voiced over story book mode where the characters read out loud these twisted tales with their tongues practically bursting out of their cheeks. From Johnson's proper English to HotSpurs illiteracy it is hard not to grin like a juvenile delinquent as the two of them make potty jokes out of tales of cannibalism.
The best way to think of Shadows of the Damned in terms of gameplay is Resident Evil 4 meets Godhand. Essentially an over the shoulder shooter a la Dead Space or RE4, SotD will be familiar to anyone accustomed to those types of games. What will give you pause though is that the control is not nearly as refined. The aiming and such feel rough, and many times you'll find it hard to line up a target that is slowly meandering at you simply because the controls are so touchy. It's not game breaking, but it does sort of stick out as an area that feels unpolished when compared to some other major players in the 3rd person over the shoulder genre.
Pretty standard stuff, til that horse shits out darkness matter.
So you'll be shooting demons with your Boner, Big Boner, or Hot Boner. Sounds like Junior High all over again. But wait! There's more! SotD has worked in some other non shooting core mechanics. There are "darkness" areas that will drain your health while you're in them as well as make enemies invincible. Some of these "dark" areas are permanently dark, while others can be brought to the light side through various player controlled methods. The game does a great job of setting up tense situations where you are managing fighting and trying to find out how to escape or eliminate the darkness. And we all know the only way to get rid of darkness is to shoot floating goat heads.
SotD doesn't break too much with the RE formula. There are a few weapon types that sort of auto evolve as you progress, there is also an upgrade system that acts almost exactly like the one found in RE4, complete with an even creepier, more pedophilier merchant named Christopher. The designers did an outstanding job of keeping the gameplay fresh at all times with very few areas that felt exactly the same. You will use all the tools at your disposal and the boss battles are fun and encourage some creative thinking. Speaking of varied gameplay, there are a couple levels that for no real reason (except that in Demon World there is no reason) turn into a weird construction papery type side scrolling shooter complete with boss battle.
It's not all perfect though, and there were a few nasty bugs that I ran into while just playing through the game. I walked out of world, or triggered things out of order causing the game to get confused and forcing me to restart a chapter. Basically I think they spent all the time normal games spend on QA testing, and devoted it to researching clever names for dongs. C'mon Grasshopper this is a full retail game, no time to be dicking around. Another sore spot is replayability. As far as I'm concerned there is none. I didn't see any type of "New Game +" or anything like that. The game is around 8 hours long, and once you're done, you're pretty much done. If anything a chapter select or continuous save file with upgraded weapons etc would have been nice.
Graphically SotD isn't terrible, but it's definitely not one of the best looking Unreal driven games. The characters and bosses have a unique look to them and there are a few areas that stand out, but overall it's a dark and dingy hellish world. Which is, I assume, what they were going for. The generic bad guys are just that, and they get reused quite a bit. Voice acting is fantastic in a hokey over the top vulgar type of way, and the music gets tense when shit starts getting serious.
Overall Shadows of the Damned is the type of game gamers always seem to want. An original IP with nothing in common with the big FPS trends of today that trades seriousness for debauchery and self parody. The fact that SotD seems to have basically been secretly released does not bode well for the game, as most will probably let this one pass by as they ramp up for the onslaught of holiday blockbusters that everyone seems to love to complain about, but buys anyways. If you are looking for a fun and solidly designed single player game that gives you 8 hours of comedy, gore, and boner alerts look no further than Shadows of the Damned. However, if you need more value from your $60 purchases, SotD will be there in the bargain bin waiting for you months from now, and will still be just as good.