Jul 072011
 

Giochi Suda, also known as Suda51, has brought some strange offerings to the world of gaming in his days as leader of development group Grasshopper Manufacture. There were titles like Killer 7, which followed the tale of a wheelchair bound assassin who could shapeshift into physical manifestations of his multiple personalities. There’s also the more notable No More Heroes series which tells the tale of an assassin wielding a light saber-esque weapon. Recently, Suda51 and his team have created a game called Shadows of the Damned about a demon hunter named Garcia Hotspur who traipses through the bowls of hell to save his girlfriend Paula from the Demon King’s evil clutches. Like most of Suda51’s titles, Shadows of the Damned has buckets and buckets of gore, violence, and fantastically juvenile humor.

Presentation
Visually, Shadows of the Damned is consistently a treat. It looks like a highly polished b-movie, or a Grindhouse movie with a huge budget. Colors are slightly washed out, and there is a persistent vignette on the screen to contribute to this effect. Grasshopper Manufacture went with a unique look for Hell — instead of pools of fire and brimstone, Garcia must traverse environments comprised of cobblestone streets and abandoned-looking buildings with boarded up windows. The overall effect is one that aligns well with the game’s sense of humor, but somehow manages to also create a desolate feeling, like you are the only one left in the world who isn’t a blood-thirsty demon. It is also very artful, yet the game is visually more approachable than Suda51’s other titles.

The soundtrack in Shadows of the Damned is a marvel in and of itself. Silent Hill creator and composer Akira Yamaoka joined forces with Suda51 to bring players an fabulously eclectic score, along with some of the most nerve wracking ambient sound effects ever heard in a game. The actual music is a surprising blend of genres that come together beautifully to create just the right mood at the right time. Players will hear everything ranging from jazz, to rock, to trip-hop ambient techno with opera vocals. All the while, random crunches, squishes, scrapes, and growls will leave even the most seasoned of players wondering, “WHAT THE HELL IS MAKING THAT SOUND?!”. Often you will never identify the sound until it is too late and the source of the noise is latched onto Garcia’s face, diligently chewing away.

 

These bastards were almost as tough as bosses!

Another thing worth noting is that this game is downright hilarious, thanks to the constant barrage of dick jokes that pour out of basically anything with a voice. It’s pretty safe to say that the creative team behind Shadows of the Damned did not meet a dick joke they didn’t like. At first it seemed forced, but after about thirty minutes of playing you’ll give up and won’t be able to stop yourself from laughing. Even inanimate objects receive the penis treatment. Save points are known as “One-Eyed William”, Garcia’s pistol is initially called Boner, and later Hot Boner after an upgrade. The potty humor doesn’t end there, but we don’t want to spoil all the fun.

Gameplay
Thanks to a partnership with Resident Evil development team member Shinji Mikami, Shadows of the Damned features some of the best third person over-the-shoulder gun play we’ve seen to-date in the game industry. A simple squeeze of the left trigger readies Garcia’s “Johnson”, which is a flaming floating, talking skull that can shapeshift into various items (usually guns) to help Garcia in his vendetta against the forces of darkness. Selecting one of your three guns — pistol, machine gun, or shotgun — just involves a press of an arrow on the D-Pad. Each of the three guns also can fire what’s called a “Light Shot” which not only temporarily freezes most demons in their path, but also can be used to ignite the Goat Lamps you’ll need to stave off the deadly Darkness in certain areas. If this sounds a lot like the controls for Resident Evil 4/5, that’s because it is, but with the crucial difference of being able to move when your gun is drawn! What a novel concept!

Though the controls and core gameplay mechanics are reminiscent of recent Resident Evil games, one thing that sets Shadows of the Damned apart from the crowd is its intensely varied level design. Suda51 keeps the game feeling fresh by not limiting you to playing a standard over-the-shoulder shooter, but you’ll also play a 2D flying shooter, a bowling mini-game, a demonic version of Plinko, and a couple other types of levels that come together to form a delightful stew of gaming goodness.

As was just mentioned, there is a deadly substance known simply as Darkness. It is an inky cloud that invades areas and slowly kills Garcia, while making simultaneously making any demons it touches impervious to Johnson’s standard ammo rounds. You must drive away the Darkness by illuminating a Goat Lamp with your Light Shot, then use another Light Shot or melee attack with Johnson to clear the Darkness off of any demons before you can shoot them. It is a game mechanic that was annoying at first but quickly became manageable and was even put to very clever uses in puzzles. For example, certain doors can only be opened by shooting switches that are only visible to Garcia while he is in the Darkness.

There are tons of boss fights in Shadows of the Damned, with each one unbelievably outdoing the one before it in terms of scale and outright gruesomeness. Most of them will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, like the horse mounted demon who later eats his own heart, then eats his horse to grow to a towering minotaur type creature hell-bent on crushing you into a gooey pulp with his giant feet. In most of these fights your success will be based upon your ability to locate their weak point and stay alive long enough to blast it with your weapon of choice. However, occasionally the game mixes things up and throws some environmental puzzle action at you alongside the shooting action. This is a fantastic concept in theory, but lack of direction from Johnson or any other sort of clues about how to handle the boss make some of these fights seem needlessly long and difficult.

 

Bowling with corpses!

So many critics are claiming that Japanese game design is antiquated, but games like Shadows of the Damned serve as a glimmer of hope at the end of a dark, blood-drenched cobblestoned alley. Campy, tongue-in-cheek humor combined with great controls, clever design, and slick visuals make gives this game the rare distinction of being the total package. At about ten to fifteen hours, the adventure of Garcia and his Johnson is pretty short, but you’ll be very glad you journeyed through the circles of hell with them. After playing this game and others from Suda51’s crew, it’s hard to fathom what insane creation they’ll spring on us next, but we’ll be waiting anxiously to find out.

Shadows of the Damned

ProsCons
Cool visual design, superb controls, with oodles and oodles of fowl jokes will please just about anyone.The game is pretty short for the high price point, and there is little to no direction in boss fights.
VerdictUnless you hate blood, immature, yet clever, humor, and good games then there's no reason for you to not play this!
Rating
90%

This hilarious video is what awaits you if you watch through the very long credits of the game. Be warned, some would consider it a spoiler:


  One Response to “Shadows of the Damned | Review (Xbox 360)”

  1. Sound like a great game. Great review man.

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