What would you get if you combined some of the greatest gaming minds to ever come out of Japan? Goichi Suda of No More Heroes fame, Shinji Mikami who revolutionized action shooters with Resident Evil 4 and Akira Yamoaka who has created some of the most haunting soundtracks to date. You don’t get something lame like Captain Planet when combining these people’s visions. In fact, you get a one way trip to Hell and despite what the bible says, it’s a damn fun and unique place to be. Listen to this track while reading the review, or you’ll goto Hell!
The game puts you in the role of Demon Hunter, Garcia Hotspur. He’s a badass Mexican warrior, covered in tattoos and constantly spouting swear words at anyone who opposes him. I know what you’re thinking “So he’s like Duke then?”, the great thing about Garcia is he’s fighting for someone other then himself, so it doesn’t come off as a giant egotistical rage-fest. The someone that he’s fighting for, is none other then his girlfriend Paula, who is kidnapped by the demon lord “Fleming”(he’s basically Satan with 6 eyes and a trench-coat) Fleming explains that because of Hotspur’s constant killing of Demon’s, Paula will be brought to hell to suffer an infinite amount of deaths. Garcia being a demon hunter, naturally follows Fleming back to hell, and thus your “Road Movie” begins.
It’s here you’re introduced to your faithful sidekick, Johnson. He’s an ex-demon turned ornamental Skull, who serves as your guide throughout the Underworld. He’s comparable to that of Portal 2’s Wheatly, as both of them are British wise crackers used for comic relief, however Johnson also shape-shifts into the games arsenal of weapons. Your partner also being your gun is a neat dynamic, that’s often used in humorous ways. If the skull is turned on by an underworld whore, he’ll grow in size, ultimately becoming the “Big Boner” cannon. But what good would would guns be, without enemies to use them on? Thankfully, the Underworld is full of savage demons just waiting for a human to march in..
On your quest to save Paula, you’ll stumble into countless enemies, and as a Demon Hunter it’s your duty to essentially fuck them up. With Shinji Mikami taking care of the games mechanics, it feels very much like Resident Evil 4 & 5, with the modern addition of moving whilst aiming. It may sound like a small improvement over his past works, but in actual gameplay it’s amazing how much more playable a game becomes with the addition of movement. You’ll have access to different Johnson transformations to take down said demons, such as the revolver styled Hot Boner, or the shotgun styled Skullfest 9000. Each have the ability to completely shred a Demon’s insides all over the proverbial floor, and as you progress through the game, all weapons will be upgraded to further increase their capabilities. It’s not all shooting though, Johnson can also be used as a melee weapon, but in the grand-scheme of things, shooting enemies with the Shotgun proved to be a more effective close range approach.
Aside from killing demons, another neat gameplay mechanic is the constant threat of darkness. Demons thrive in the darkness, becoming invincible to all gunshots and attacks, so you’ll need to figure out how to dissipate the dark with a light-source. You’d better find one fast too, as your health drains away rather quickly when exposed to heavy amounts of Darkness. Yes, this is the exact opposite mechanic as the one present in The Darkness (The game, not the British glam rock band) Often you’ll see a Goat’s head, and if you hit it with Johnson’s light shot, it’ll completely drain the shadow away from the area. Yes, a Goat’s head. As Johnson so obviously explains “Goats are a light source, duh”. It won’t always be that simple though, as many of the Darkness incorporates some kind of puzzle. It can range from setting off Fireworks for a temporary burst of light, or finding the source of the Darkness and completely removing it. These crescendo’s feel rewarding when solved, and not downright frustrating like so many other puzzles in the genre.
Though the core mechanics are solid and tactile, it’d be another run of the mill shooter if it weren’t for the world around you. Shadows of the Damned presents a unique look at the Underworld, trading fiery pits for neon lit strip-clubs and luminescent gardens. It very much feels alive, as you’ll run into demons trying to scavenge free drinks out of the Absinthe machines, or stop to read various posters and books around the world. Visually the environments are stunning and varied. You’ll come across bright blue gardens (which are often hints on where to find Christopher the shopkeeper), bright overexposed bowling alleys and dark suspicious looking alleyways. The texture and lighting work really help to give Shadows of the Damned a distinguished look, rather than the drab and depressing themes that other horror games pursue. The only gripe I can throw towards Shadows of the Damned comes from the often expected issues of the Unreal Engine. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but there’s some severe texture pop-in problems, more-so than in other titles. Garcia will also sometimes stop responding to contextual action buttons, like climbing a ladder or jumping from a cliff. When you’re in the Shadows losing HP, this can be an unforgivable annoyance.
The music also helps Shadows of the Damned set itself apart in unique ways. I’m not personally familiar with Akira Yamoaka’s work, but it’s definitely a name held in high regard. After listening, I completely agree. Try to imagine slow jazzy keys, with muffled screams and ambient noise overlaid. That might not sound satisfying, but it’s certainly alluring in a weird, satisfactory way. The music will constantly change given the locale, which helps to keep the game feeling fresh. In a dark forebording swamp? You’ll hear drones and deep distorted bass, In a demon bowling alley? Expect high pitched, energizing keys and the obligatory random scream. It all just fits in perfectly.
Shadows of the Damned as a game itself isn’t nearly as hard to explain. You’ll find white jewels to buy various drinks that restore HP, find red gems that increase your capabilities and blue gems that ultimately unlock newer forms of weaponry. Other than a few features like the all consuming darkness, mechanically Shadows of the Damned just feels like a refined version of Resident Evil.
When you take in the completely beautiful world and the foreboding soundtrack, not to mention sprinkles of Suda’s unique humor and personality – Shadows of the Damned is one of the most enjoyable single-player rides in recent memory.
Oh yeah, there’s no multiplayer and to be quite honest, it doesn’t need it. The game feels vastly re-playable, as there’s often splintering paths, and the ability to upgrade different weapons for experimentation. If this sounds like your kind of game, I have no problem recommending that you buy it. However for those on the fence about the lack of multiplayer, or have no real attachment to the genre, please try it. Going to hell was definitely one of the most satisfying experiences I can think of.
Here’s The Rundown:
+ The Underworld is one of the most beautiful and unique places in gaming.
+ Gameplay is solid, everything has a tactile feel to it.
+ The musical score is one to remember, I’ve never heard haunting Jazz before.
– A few engine based annoyances such as mass texture pop-in
Shadows of the Damned was developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and published by Electronic Arts. It was released on June 21st, 2011 on PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 for $60. Electronic Arts Australia provided the copy for review purposes. Aaron liked it because Satan told him too.