Shadows of the Damned is what happens when you team up three great gaming minds, those of Suda 51, Shinji Mikami, and Akira Yamaoka. The result is a game that’s one hell of a trip, but a fantastic one at that, as well as an entirely unique experience. The men behind Shadows of the Damned each have an impressive portfolio that they bring to the game, if you didn’t know already. Suda 51 is the man responsible for the cult classic games No More Heroes and Killer 7, and he is widely known for his strange, no not strange off the wall crazy design. His influence is perfectly evident in Shadows of the Damned. Shinji Mikami is one of the main men behind the Resident Evil series as well as the newly formed studio Platinum Games. His involvement in Shadows of the Damned certainly gives it weight to throw around. Finally, Akira Yamaoka is the one behind the soundtrack. His most famous work is composing the music for the Silent Hill series.
Shadows of the Damned focuses around a demon hunter named Garcia Hotspur. The action starts in quickly, with Garcia’s girlfriend Paula being taken to the underworld by the Demon Lord Fleming in retribution for the legion of demons Garcia has killed. Needless to say, Garcia jumps right into the underworld after them to save his beloved. His only companion on his quest is Johnson, the demon that turns into his gun. Johnson is a snarky, arrogant demon who has supposedly been exiled out of the underworld. In a way Johnson reminded me of a character from earlier this year, Wheatley from Portal and this isn’t a bad thing in any way. For the most part this is the entire cast of the game, with the addition of a few more minor characters.
The story obviously isn’t entirely original; save the girlfriend is an age-old favorite story in video games. The core story isn’t what makes the game memorable though, it’s the characters. Even though the game consists of four main characters and a handful of secondary ones, all of them turn out to be incredibly interesting. Garcia and Johnson make for a great pair, and their interactions and commentary turn out to be some of the best moments of the game. I especially enjoyed the conversation about why Strawberries are a favorite food of demons, and one thing is for sure, I won’t ever look at a strawberry the same way. Even bosses get quick histories told to you through storybooks that either Johnson or Garcia read. Like most of the game, the quirky and off the wall humor of Suda 51 is apparent and I found myself getting excited whenever I saw another one of those storybooks.
Shadows of the Damned is done in a style similar to a Tarantino or Rodriguez film, and it turns out that this style really works for Suda 51. It’s kind of like his own take on the style, and I really enjoyed it the whole way through. One thing to keep in mind though, is that this is a game that does not take itself seriously whatsoever and it isn’t scare to be as vulgar, sexual, and violent as it wants to be. F-bombs are all over the place, and I’ve never heard so many penis jokes in my entire life as I have in this game. Some people may be turned off by this fact, but oddly enough Shadows of the Damned is kind of endearing in its own twisted kind of way. It has more charm than you would think, due in large part to the great characters.
Seeing as Shinji Mikami is at the helm in terms of game play, you could expect Shadows of the Damned to play similar to Resident Evil, and it does just that. You control Garcia in a third person over-the-shoulder view, with a laser target to show where your gun is aiming. The controls are almost exactly like Resident Evil 4 and 5 except for one main difference, that you have the ability to move while you shoot. This adds a lot more maneuverability and makes the shooting feel even better, but it does make things slightly easier as well. Garcia has access to three types of guns through the game, the main pistol kind of gun, a machine gun, and a shotgun. Each type feels and looks distinctly different, but all of them work well. In addition to shooting you have a melee attack you can use with Johnson, as well as a dodge, sprint, and of course because of the Resident Evil like game play the ability to turn 180 degrees. You have specific types of ammo for each gun, and get upgrades for each gun as you beat bosses through the game. To recover your health in the game you have to drink alcohol, because apparently in the demon world it has the opposite effect on people. Combat is brutal and satisfying, just like any Resident Evil game, even if it does turn out to be a tad easy. You might actually want to consider setting the difficulty on hard the first time you play, because the game really is a breeze to get through.
For the most part Shadows of the Damned is a linear game. You pretty much are walking along straight corridors even if it doesn’t look like it, although there are red gems that you can find and collect to get upgrades along the way. This doesn’t really matter for a game like this though, Shadows of the Damned is linear and it’s a hell of a lot of fun that way.
Graphics wise, Shadows of the Damned is certainly unique. As it tries to make itself feel like a Tarantino film, everything in the game has a grainy, movie kind of look to it. On top of that everything including enemies, locations, and especially Garcia himself looks unique. I’ve certainly never encountered another character that wears a bright purple jacket with red pants before. The art style actually turned out to be something I really enjoyed and loading screens as well as a couple really random side scrolling shooter levels, turn out to be nice visual surprises. While it’s not going to win any awards for graphics, Shadows of the Damned is a pretty good looking game, and even better it runs smoothly the whole time with the frame rate hardly ever dropping.
As mentioned before, the soundtrack is done by Akira Yamaoka the mastermind behind the music of the Silent Hill series. While he doesn’t do as good a job as he did with that series, Shadows of the Damned has a fitting soundtrack. It tries to be dark and moody and even creepy at some times, while at others changing over to a more heavy metal kind of feel. While this is kind of strange, it works for the most part and the music helps to set the tone and feel nicely.
Voice acting is pretty outstanding for the game though. Both Garcia and Johnson do a fantastic job, and deliver their lines perfectly, even though they are supposed to be incredibly cheesy most of the time. The other voices are good enough but the two main characters are really done well.
Shadows of the Damned is a game that came out under the radar, to be a surprising success.It isn’t perfect and has its share of shortcomings, like taking around eight hours to complete; but it has all of the makings to become a cult classic, and is one of the more fun and unique experiences that has come out this year. While it may not stand up to the likes of Resident Evil 4, you’ve never played a game like Shadows of the Damned before. So you know what, you should give it a try.