Review: Shadows of the Damned

Shadows of the Damned is a game that may turn people off of it, with its incredibly violent, incredibly loud, and incredibly unorthodox style, there are some people who won't be a fan. There's plenty of innuendo that isn't subtle in the slightest, while the dialogue is rude, crude and at times slightly grating in its masterfully incompetent execution. There is a fair bit of nudity and insane amounts of gore as you watch Paula die consistently. While it is a stylistic choice, rude and obnoxious is still rude and obnoxious. The gameplay is for the most part, pretty damn solid, with minor issues regarding aiming cropping up here and there. While not everyone is going to enjoy this title, I certainly had a tonne of fun with it.
Review: Shadows of the Damned
Date published: Jan 17, 2015
2 / 3 stars

Shadows of the Damned is a third-person shooter developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and published by Electronic Arts.  Few games hit you as hard as one written by Goji Suda (Suda 51), and when combined with the artistic direction of Shinji Mikami, it formulates one heck of a ride to hell and back.

The opening plot is fairly standard paranormal fare  
Girl is taken away from protagonist, protagonist follows in after to save his loved one

You play as the Demon hunter, Garcia F***ing Hotspur, a Mexican with a passion for the love of his life, Paula. he also enjoys "killing f***ing demons". He'll keep reminding you of this fact as well. One night, Garcia is out hunting demons He is just about to dispatch one, before the creature utters a question, asking him how his "dear sweet Paula" is. Garcia ends the beast life and races home, only to find the lord of the Underworld has possessed her to kill herself, allowing him to claim her soul. He open a portal to hell and Garcia jumps in straight after him.

Garcia's not alone though, as his handgun is soon revealed to be a former demon having once defied Fleming. Johnson as Garcia's weapon is called, is a disembodied flaming skull. He can become a motorcycle, a lantern and a rather powerful pistol.  Adding to his pistol form is the light shot and this is the crux of the game's mechanics.

The main character isn't particularly likable but Johnson more than makes up for it. The back and forth between them had me giggling fairly frequently. especially when the game fleshes out the world via storybooks about a boss you've either fought or are soon to fight. The witty banter is quite endearing, even while Garcia is throwing F-bombs everywhere.

Shadows of the Damned offers a fair variety of different gameplay mechanics

While Johnson can assume other weapon forms and abilities that you will unlock through the course of the game, his light shot stands out as the most interesting in his arsenal. While the light shot can be used to paralyze enemies momentarily before delivering a powerful melee blow, it is also crucial to solving the games many puzzles.

Throughout Shadows of the damned you will encounter mounted goat heads. These, as Johnson so matter-of-factly mentions push back the darkness and are paramount to your survival. You will constantly be thrown into situations that require puzzle solving via the light shot, pushing back the darkness. At times you are required to stay in the darkness in order to solve a puzzle. This brings with it its own perils - the darkness slowly eats away at your soul. If you stay within the darkness too long while solving a puzzle, you will begin to lose health.

Littered all across the underworld are vending machines that only sell alcohol. While alcohol can kill in the human world, it's well known for its healing properties in hell. You'll be able to collect white gems from the enemies you destroy along the way which will fuel your purchases of booze.

Red gems, an "illegal performance enhancer" are scattered throughout the various stages and will often be located off the beaten path. These are the game's upgrade system. You can increase ammunition capacity, light shot paralysis time, Garcia's health and many other aspects. You will also encounter a vendor at certain points of the game who will trade you items, including red gems for a modest price of white ones.

Gameplay is clunky but serviceable,
with a bit of a wonky difficulty curve

The gameplay itself is very much in the vein of Dead Space or the recent Resident Evil titles. Your only way to gauge your shot is via an infra-red laser pointer. This mechanic, having been utilised several times by Shinji Mikami throughout his career feels a little outdated.  At times you can miss your shot, especially at the start of the game. Due to the aiming systems learning curve you will often find yourself frustratedly missing a shot just before some demon makes you his lunch.

If demons get too close you can knock them back via the melee button, as well as certain counter moves that require split second timing.  Johnson in his capacity as a lantern helps here. You can charge up your melee to unleash a powerful hit that will instantly kill lesser demons. For the tougher demons you will need to rely on Johnson's many other abilities, gained via defeating one of the games many bosses at the end of an Act. This is where the game really shines. While some lesser enemies require quick thinking and outside-the-box strategies, the Bosses are a real treat. 

While the bosses are of the variety where they reveal their weaknesses via a huge obvious red spot, it's not always immediately obvious how to get them to reveal it. The game takes advantage of the light and shadow puzzle aspects to great effect during these, often requiring you to trigger the darkness to reveal said weak point or somehow hurt it. There is a lot of trial and error while fighting them, and apart from one of the far later bosses, none of them feel cheap. 

Art direction helps the game stand out considerably

Shinji Mikami's flavour is very noticeable in this game, as is Goji's. Where else can one go from a demons womb into a forest with flowers that all smile at you with the sun shining high in the sky? The setpieces are very diverse and the visuals are impressive. You will never find yourself longing for different scenery. This game is about as diverse as you can get. there's lots of stylistic violence and gore, especially when you're forced to watch Paula die over and over again.

There are some minor glitches with the game, such as being launch into the air occasionally while taking out a monster with melee, as well as bullets not always connecting with breakable objects, often frustrating you with a quote/unquote missed shot.

Unsurprisingly Akira Yamaoka's style of sound design compliments the game greatly. Some ares have subtle ambient music that lull you into a false sense of security before something screams at you and the music turns dark. Heavy guitar, rock metal, and all sorts of terrible howling are heard as you battle for your life with each diminishing demon life. Everyone sounds "right", in the sense that you never notice if something is out of place or doesn't fit. when it comes to sound design, if it doesn't stand out as bad I generally feel that a decent job has been done. While the howling of creatures and the games music may unnerve you, it feels right at home in a collaboration by two of game developments greatest Horror developers.

The Final Word: Recommended - Shadows of the Damned isn't a game for everyone. It's incredibly violent, loud and unorthodox. There's plentyof innuendo that isn't subtle in the slightest, while the dialogue is rude, crude and at times slightly grating in its masterfully incompetent execution. The gameplay is for the most part, pretty damn solid, with minor issues regarding aiming cropping up here and there. While no everyone is going to enjoy this title, I certainly had a tonne of fun with it.