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Shadows of the Damned – A Unique Experience

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Suda51 is fucking crazy.  If you’ve played any one of his games, you know that he comes up with the most random but creative gameplay scenarios in video games today.  Unfortunately, those creative ideas usually come with a bit of iffy gameplay, proving that you can’t be a jack of all trades in the gaming industry.  When he announced Shadows of the Damned a few years ago and said that Shinji Mikami would be onboard as the gameplay producer, gamers everywhere rejoiced.  Standards were unbelievably high.  While the game maybe didn’t quite live up to its potential (what game does?), Shadows of the Damned is still an engaging shooter with an unmatched sense of humor.

In Shadows of the Damned, you take control of Garcia “Fucking” Hotspur, a demon hunter with more attitude than Buffy and Dante combined.  His girlfriend has been kidnapped by Fleming, Lord of the Demon World, and he will do whatever it takes to reclaim her.  Garcia gives chase and is soon joined by his ever-present companion, Johnson, second only to Wheatley as last year’s best British character.  Oh, and Johnson is a skull.  The game has you traveling through the demon world, with Johnson as your guide, on your way to Fleming’s castle to recover Garcia’s girl.  A simple and overused concept but done well enough here.

The biggest strength of Shadows of the Damned is really its humor.  It is unlike anything else on the market today and manages to make immature jokes about penises and feces charmingly funny.  At one moment you might be laughably confused at a strange fact about the demon world (for example, goat heads somehow produce light) and at others you get an Evil Dead parody.  The best examples of the game’s humor are these storybooks you find over the course of the game.  Each of them precedes a boss fight and basically tells you the horrifying ways the next boss ended up in Hell.  You don’t just read the storybooks – they are each narrated by either Garcia or Johnson.  It is slow and somewhat bumbling but the readings and funny asides that they add are amusing enough to be worth it.  It is the absurdity of this world – and the way the characters react to it – that makes this game anything but generic.

The gameplay itself mostly resembles Resident Evil 4’s style of shooting, although you can actually move and shoot in Shadows of the Damned.  It isn’t very effective but still a handy trick when trying to stay out of range of some nasty demons.  A combat roll that can be used at any time is also present and is extremely useful for dodging attacks.  Johnson, in addition to your companion, is also all of your weapons.  He morphs into a pistol, machine gun, and shotgun/rocket launcher with names like the Hot Boner and the Skullcussioner.  The guns have a satisfying kick that only gets better as you defeat bosses and recover blue gems, the keys changing your weapons into new forms with new abilities.

Unfortunately, the aiming system itself could have used a bit more work.  While the cursor doesn’t float around like in RE4, it never feels quite “on” either.  Shots sometimes don’t go where you think they will, even when the cursor is right on.  Getting headshots is supposed to be more challenging than body shots but when the aiming seems to be artificially made more inaccurate to do so it just doesn’t work.  The game is never too hard – ammo and health is plentiful – but the aiming just isn’t as precise as some of the best in the genre and it can cause frustration in heated encounters.

A simple upgrade system is in place to make the weapons grow over the course of the game.  White gems are the currency and you can spend them at drink dispensers (the health item of the game) and Christopher, a lovable half-demon who wants to bring Fleming down as much as you do.  You can exchange white gems with him for drinks, ammo, and red gems.  Red gems are the key to upgrading your weapons and can be spent at any time once you acquire them to increase things like your health pool or each weapon’s damage and ammo capacity.  These gems can also be found in the world and there are plenty of upgrades to keep you eager for more gems for the entirety of the game.

The quality of the music can’t be ignored.  Shadows of the Damned’s music evokes a style that is unlike anything you will probably ever hear in a video game.  It meshes an overall Spanish theme with horror themes to make something unlike anything I have ever heard.  The loading screen music is simple but I found myself humming it for days after I played the game (in my mind, the mark of a great soundtrack).

It's both really too bad and asking too much that Suda51 and Mikami didn’t make something unforgettable but Shadows of the Damned is still a good time.  Some issues with the aiming system and some egregiously bad load times between sections make the game less than perfect and can try your patience.  Even still, it is a singular experience that can’t be reasonably compared to anything else out there.  You may not want to play the game but you’d be doing yourself a favor if you at least watched someone else play it.


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