Three well respected game designers: Goichi Suda (No More Heroes, Killer 7), Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 4) and Akira Yamoaka (Silent Hill) team up to create a game that is truly out of this world. Shadows of the Damned brings a refreshing twist on the general representation of Hell. Does a game with such an astounding pedigree get outweighed by it, or does it rise above the hype?
If you asked me right now, “Is Shadows of the Damned scary?”; I would say no, it isn’t. I wouldn’t really call it a survival-horror game as much as I would call it a survival-comedy. No one can slip a dick joke so seamlessly into a narrative like Suda. And he does it…about every five minutes… From a sidekick named Johnson to a weapon called “the Boner”, no innuendo is left unsoiled in this “Suda51 Trip”.
“Your bullets have no bite…no… Penetration…” says the lord of demons, Fleming, to our gruff and reckless demon hunter protagonist Garcia “Fucking” Hotspur. This is the first of what will be a trip full of tacky phallic related remarks. Garcia, with how empty-headed he is, and Johnson with his wisecracks, make an unlikely duo that I couldn’t help but love, despite how idiotic both of them are.
Suda is legendary for his style. Killer 7 and No More Heroes were both off the wall adventures that combined deeply absurd subject matter with a flawless style. Suda presents to us a representation of Hell unlike any other. Rather than the smoldering pit of jagged rocks and screaming walls of bodies of Dante’s Inferno, Shadows gives us one that is just off the wall. From walking through the linear environment that is reminiscent of a stylish but hellstruck european town, to shooting glowing goats with beams of light, to locks that are the faces of unbaptized babies, Shadows is certainly a visual experience worth viewing. All in all, this display is refreshing, but far from clean. Bodies are littered across the scene and hanging from above. These are usually completely nude females whose bodies have been heavily mutilated. I recall walking into a room where the only thing present was the body of a woman who was impaled from anus to mouth with a pole and her hands tied behind her back with a chain. Quite an interesting sight.
Considering Mikami was involved in this, it isn’t surprising that the gameplay style is reminiscent of the Resident Evil series. The over the shoulder aiming, the third person action, is all descriptive of this experience, and of similar Resident Evil games. More than not, Shadows of the Damned is Resident Evil: Suda Edition. The only difference is that you can move and dodge while aiming, which makes the game ridiculously easier. It seems to be a common complaint amongst many journalist that the game is disappointingly easy (however, I damn near had a heart attack during the chase scenes). Other than that, for a Suda game, Shadows is the most solid gameplay-wise, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. Aiming seems a bit drunk, and the camera can be wonky at times. These gameplay shortcomings, like past Suda games, don’t really take away from the experience itself. That should be why you play Suda games anyway, right?
Most of the gameplay consists of moving through super linear areas, executing demons, and solving key puzzles. These involve both light and darkness, the latter of which hurts you with prolonged exposure. As cliche as the light and dark scenario is, I liked it. The idea of turning off the lights and having to run to the next area to shoot a switch that only activated in the dark was intense and fun. What sets the gameplay apart from being drull, however are entertaining boss fights. Although these boss fights rarely amount to more than exposing a weak point on the boss in the dark and attacking it, the characters are so interesting and.. damn, it’s just a good time! Not much more I can say than that.
Weapons are upgradable, but they are about as useful Borderlands skills (for those of you who haven’t played Borderlands, it means useless). A headshot with the lowest level pistol will instantly kill any basic enemy. Garcia wields a pistol, a rapid fire gun and a shotgun. Each one upgrades into a ridiculous weapons that are a lot of fun to use. “The Dentist”, the highest level of machine gun, shoots homing missles at a very fast rate. There is something satisfying about firing into a giant group of enemies and having them all torn to shreds by shrapnel flying all over.
One complaint I must point out is that the game is far from polished. This is actually where I voice my anger. The game is prone to glitches. Let me point out that this didn’t ruin the experience for me, but it actually made me upset. I started the fifth act, I don’t remember the level exactly. The level loaded, and I noticed something was wrong when not only were there no enemies as I walked for a good 5 minutes, I could walk into walls. I progressed more into a small town, and I could walk through building walls. Eventually I got stuck, and had to reset from the last checkpoint, which was the beginning of the level. Once I reset I was immediately ambushed by enemies. It was a serious WTF moment. Probably one of the most noteworthy glitches I’ve ever experienced in a video game.
Visually, the game is underwhelming, and rather explicit. Earlier I detailed walking into a room to a very repulsive scene of mutilation, this is commonplace within Shadows of the Damned. For those of you familiar with No More Heroes, about as racy as Suda gets is to have Travis Touchdown jack off his katana to recharge it. In Shadows he throws every sense of decency out the window. This game features full on nudity, there are naked, mutilated bodies everywhere. At one point you even walk across the exposed breasts of a giant incarnation of your captured lover, as she dances provocatively. This is not a game to play in front of loved ones. Graphically, it seems dated. Textures seem oversharpened. It’s nothing terrible, but it deserves to be pointed out.
The sound is great and nerve-wracking, as to be expected of Yamoaka. However, it doesn’t really fit, I must say. See, as I mentioned earlier, despite being classified as a “survival-horror” game, Shadows of the Damned isn’t scary. The enemies aren’t intimidating, and the relentless comedy spoils what potential fear I could have (minus said chase scene). The steam punk environments, and Garcia’s constant spewing of obscenities calls for a rock soundtrack, not a horror one. The thing is though, it didn’t really matter, as I was too absorbed in the experience itself to even pay that much attention to the music.
If Suda can do one thing good, its turn what is essentially a mediocre game, into a great one. Well “Great”; I wouldn’t call Shadows of the Damned “great”, but it definitely is good, that was the Suda fanboy in me squeeing. With all of the major reviewers fighting over whether this game is good or not, I can tell you that it definitely is worth your time. You won’t walk out like you just played Mass Effect, but you will say “ha, damn, I’m glad I gave that a try”. Shadows is far from perfect, but I loved it, and it makes me love Suda even more. It doesn’t have the best gameplay, the best visuals, or the best story, but then again, that’s not why you play a Suda game anyway.