One of Suda 51's latest titles to grace the gaming world (with a helping hand from Shinji Mikami) is a horror-shooter set in the underworld, which follows demon hunter Garcia Hotspur and his attempt to free his girlfriend from the clutches of the demon overlord Fleming, who enjoys nothing more than feasting on a tasty human sandwich and who has stolen Paula from Garcia for his own pleasure. Garcia and his trusty sidekick Johnson (who mostly takes the form of a torch or the "Boner" pistol) dive into the portal to the netherworld in order to save Paula with a world full of darkness and demons standing in their way.
It's not really that bad, but in order to appreciate Shadows of the Damned most players will have to have a certain light-hearted sense of humour in order to take on board some of the puns and jokes that make up the majority of the dialogue, but that's not to say that this is a game for light-hearted people. The humour of the game mostly comes from the almost unstoppable slew of cock jokes, ranging from the titles of the weapons that Johnson turns in to, such as the Boner,which converts into the Hot Boner, and then the... um, Big Boner (which comes with a free exclusive "TASTE MY BIG BONER" motto for Garcia, among other... features, including the extra 10 inches or so that the gun gains when it launches from Garcia's waist [honestly if you think you have a perverted mind this game will either confirm it or make your head explode]), all the way to the innuendo-filled conversations between Garcia and the demon emperor. These jokes and puns appear right from the beginning of the game and the pure volume of them in such short time can become a little tiresome - and fairly fast - but it doesn't last long (*ba-dum-tish*) and they are more spaced out once you reach the second-third of the game or so. The other types of jokes and humour in Shadows of the Damned come from your general interaction with the world and with other characters, including some of the stories which you will be able to read through in the large books you'll find every now and again in quiet areas (which aren't solely there as jokes but which also connect to the main story of Shadows of the Damned). Then there's the perversion of the game which has already been alluded to and the general strangeness of it. The box art tagline calling this game a 'trip' is right. Demons crawling out of your girlfriends insides, freaks with meat cleavers that steal goat heads and hide them from you (perhaps they're Welsh, but then again you wouldn't find the head again if that was the case), walking through the sinister darkness on top of a giant version of your girlfriend's naked body... you'd struggle to understand how Suda and Mikami are able to write stuff like this and so consistently.
Let's be honest: Shadows of the Damned isn't a game that has its focus on its story. Garcia and Paula aren't characters which you'll fall in love with, and Garcia and Fleming's dialogue about who has the biggest weiner isn't really going to be something you're waiting for more of. The story isn't all bad although the majority of it is simple and predictable, but the psychological thriller aspect of it is what keeps the player interested and what keeps the world that little bit more unpredictable than it first seems.
What the game does focus on, however, is combat and action, and it's a lot of fun. Shadows of the Damned doesn't do anything drastically different from what you will find in other horror games or other third-person shooters but what it does it does well, and while it is a fairly short game, the fact that there are very few cutscenes overall means that you'll spend the vast majority of your time in the game kicking some demon ass with your boner... I mean Johnson... I mean, guns. You have access to three weapons in Shadows of the Damned, your pistol (the "boner"), your shotgun (the "monocussioner") and what would be best referred to as a sub-machine like gun, the "teether", and as you progress through the game and take out the bosses which stand in your way, you'll find blue gems which allow you to upgrade these weapons to bigger and better versions. There isn't a massive range of enemy types admittedly: most enemies are all of a similar type but may have some small differences to others, such as some having protective helmets, some having protective armour, or some enemies being crawlers which try and suck you into the darkness in different ways. But despite this Shadows of the Damned does pretty well to keep things entertaining and to keep gameplay relatively fresh. Yet the best part about it all is that the gameplay and combat is pretty fun and remains so for pretty much the whole game. Dismembering demons is always enjoyable (especially when you pop the head off a demon with the first attempted shot of your boner) and the additional gameplay features which change things slightly means that there's rarely a sense of tediousness when playing through each act. You will come across areas of darkness which will harm you if you remain in it for too long (unless you make sure you have a healthy and consistent dose of human hearts which allows you to remain in the darkness for longer without taking damage) and which can be banished if you manage to light up the goat heads which feature in most areas. If any enemy that was in its normal form enters the darkness it will become covered in the darkness and before you can do any damage to it you must remove the darkness from its body with the light-shot (a very similar idea to that of the combat system in Alan Wake for anyone familiar with the title). These are fairly small and simple additional features but with the right mix (which the game manages to hit every now and again, although perhaps not enough times to really make each act feel different to the rest) it keeps things interesting.
This is a fun game to play through but perhaps - especially since the features are already set into the game to enable it - more puzzles would have helped make the game a bit longer and add some more diversity to the gameplay of Shadows of the Damned. Instead, Grasshopper Manufacture decided to just stick in some extremely loose and light puzzling aspects into gameplay (which aren't really puzzles, but just things that extend the gameplay in certain sections a little) and then, mysteriously, decided to bring in some actual puzzle-based gameplay towards the end of the game. Another slight issue with the game is that it can be a little bit too easy at times. Ammo is always readily available as is alcohol (which is used to heal yourself in the demon world), and when you do come across enemies there is rarely a time when you'll feel as if you're being overpowered by the sheer number of them, because - again, apart from the end of the game - you always have enough time (and few enough enemies) to stop and pick your shots as you like. Not that I want a massive demon orgy every time I open a door which has to be broken up by me cracking my boner randomly off of everyone around me, but there just isn't enough of a challenge in the game at times. There are different sections of some of the later acts which allow you to play out a side-scrolling adventure as Garcia, and while these are a nice change of pace to the game, you do get the feeling after the third or fourth similar section that they were kind of chucked in there to make an easier transition between sections rather than having much of a value as they are on their own merit. Enemies in them are pretty much only there as something to make sections feel a little less empty (since they do nothing but stand there or jump vertically across the screen) and there's just no real variety to it. Perhaps it's better the way it is, perhaps it would have been better to have had more puzzles, to have heaps of extra enemies and a much higher level of difficulty, and to have much more detailed side-scrolling gameplay, but to play through Shadows of the Damned as it is (a game focused on fairly straightforward, linear and regular combat) it's still a lot of fun and is genuinely enjoyable. But for people more acquainted with this genre than someone like myself is, I can imagine more varied and challenging gameplay wouldn't have gone unappreciated.
You can say what you want about the cheesy dialogue and the sometimes-awful puns but if you can take it all on board and appreciate the humour that the game does have to offer (when it's not blatantly trying way too hard to use innuendo after innuendo on every possible occasion) you will have a lot of fun with Shadows of the Damned. There are a lot of things that could have been done better and which could have made Shadows of the Damned stand out more than it has done since its release and it is a little disappointing to look and see all the foundations for such possible improvements already existing in the game but just not being utilised well enough. It's a pretty short journey mind you at only about 8 hours long, but it's a really enjoyable, funny and frankly weird 8 hours that are still well worth spending with this game. And if you don't agree with me, you can taste my big boner.