By Graham Taylor
Cost: $9 and 10 hours
Shinji Mikami is known for defining an entire genre of survival horror. Goichi “Suda51” Suda is known for his quirky, comedic style. Put these two in charge of one game, and you get something magical. But we can just call it Shadows of the Damned.
Shadows of the Damnedexcels in combining the strengths of both men. It is a “punk rock psychological action thriller,” according to Mikami, that plays from an over the shoulder third-person shooter perspective. If you can’t tell from that description, it plays like Mikami’s Resident Evil 4but with Suda’s off-beat, over-the-top storytelling (see No More Heroes or pretty much any of his other works). The game never takes itself too seriously, filling itself to the brim with vulgar jokes and terrible puns. Shadows of the Damned focuses one-hundred percent of its efforts on fun, and it really shows.
The game follows Garcia Hotspur, a demon hunter whose girlfriend, Paula, was kidnaped/killed by Fleming, the Lord of Demons. Fleming offers to release her and restore her life if Garcia agrees to repent for his demon slaying. Garcia declines, and instead decides to take matters into his own hands and pursue the lord into the underworld, slaying armies of demons to get to him. By Garcia’s side is Johnson, a sharp-tongued demon gun/torch/motorcycle all-in-one multi-tool sidekick.
With that in mind, Johnson can turn into three different types of firearms to be used against enemies: a revolver, shotgun, and submachine gun. These sometimes get major upgrades after certain boss fights, getting more powerful as the game progresses. Johnson also functions as a torch for melee attacks and lighting surrounding areas.
Garcia’s main opposition are zombie-like demons that attack by simply running towards and hitting him, though there are some variations of them, such as armored demons. There are also a collection of mini-bosses and VIPs, the game’s big bosses that Garcia also must fight through. VIPs are especially fun, and anyone who’s played a Suda51 game before can attest to the fact that he can get rather creative with boss designs. These bad boys will range from a gluttonous musician to a demon whose only dialogue is profanity, and that’s just scratching the surface.
More dangerous than any enemy is the darkness mechanic, and this is where the game really shines.
When inside an area affected by darkness, Garcia’s vision will be limited, and he’ll take constant damage. Enemies inside the darkness become shrouded, becoming more powerful and immune to normal attacks, even after they leave the area. This adds depth to the combat, as well as allowing for some unique puzzle solving.
The underworld setting of the game is interesting as well. Starting in a 17thcentury Victorian-style city, Garcia will continue his adventure through sprawling castles, gloomy moors, and satanic cities, all rich in detail. The diversity is nice, and when mixed with the darkness, there are a lot of levels that you won’t soon be forgetting.
Sadly, Shadows of the Damned is not perfect and it does suffer from a few setbacks, mostly in the graphics department. The game itself looks ok, but it’s nothing to write home about. Everything looks fine from a distance, but get too close and it gets ugly. Certain areas will also have a noticeable effect on frame rate, though it never gets bad enough to affect gameplay.
Movement in the game can also be a bit stiff and limited, as Garcia’s only movements consist of either running for dodging, no sort of climbing or vaulting fixtures. Aiming also takes some getting used to, because no matter what sensitivity it is set at, it always feels off by just a bit. This can lead to some difficult situations early on in the game until you get the feel for it.
Despite these problems, Shadows of the Damnedis still an otherworldly ton of fun and deserves to be picked up. The banter between characters is humorous, and the story is campy but entertaining. Pair that with solid gameplay and a rocking soundtrack (from the composer of the Silent Hill series, Akira Yamoaka interestingly enough) and you’ve got yourself a -- dare I say it -- damned good game that will leave you smiling all the way through.