Shadows of the Damned Review

Platform: PS3/360
Originally Reviewed: 2011

Woah. Where the hell did this come from?! Well, Hell actually, but nevertheless Suda 51 (No More Heroes), Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 4) and co have come up with a riotous, rip-roaring, utterly mental blast of a survival horror shooter.

There’s not been too much coverage of this title to go on and perhaps that makes it more enjoyable to play. The surprise hit so far in the typically dry summer period is certainly not perfect, but it’s unashamedly crass, horrifically violent and damn good fun.

Shadows of the Damned sees the player take control of the ridiculously named Garcia Fucking Hotspur, a demon hunter who busts into hell to save his girlfriend from the demon lord ‘Fleming’. He carries with him talking skull called Johnson (yeah, it’s a dick joke) that acts as his torch, gun, motorbike and ‘hilarious’ sidekick.

The game is a third person horror action shooter very much in the vein of Resident Evil 4, but you can take solace from the fact that, yes, you can move while shooting. Garcia can upgrade his, ahem, Johnson along three forms – pistol, shotgun and machine gun. So far, so typical, but the gun types can perform several functions and all of them pack one hell of a punch. Limbs will be severed, heads will be exploded and carnage will ensue.

The shooting follows a very similar style to Resi 4 with the over the shoulder shooting using the same laser sight-style aiming, but Shadows puts a twist on this formula with its darkness mechanic. Garcia’s energy is drained when he steps into darkness and must find various different ways to escape or switch the light on. Enemies, too, can be covered in darkness, Alan Wake style, and they need to have it removed using Garcia’s ‘light shot’ before they can be killed.

The shooting is a lot of fun, then, but there’s more to Shadows of the Damned than that. It’s pretty safe to say that Suda 51 is a complete nut job and his crazy style of game design is very much evident in this totally insane game. The latter stages of the game mix the formula up in a variety of different and equally enjoyable ways that helps spice the game up just before it starts to get stale.

Among the variations of these mini-game style shake-ups are a terrific platform twisting puzzle section and, even better, several side scrolling R-Type-esque shooting sections. These diversions from the standard gameplay rarely fail to miss the mark and all do an excellent job of keeping the game feeling fresh and leaving the player constantly guessing what this crazy game will throw at them next.

It’s not just the mini-games that enhance the fun of the game. There are tons of cool moments and little touches that anyone familiar with Suda 51 should be used to. Be it playing a giant game of Plinko with skull bombs or taking out enemies in the cottage from the Evil Dead movies; there’s plenty of pop culture references and downright lunacy to satisfy hardcore gamers and horror movie buffs alike.

As well as being totally brutal, Shadow of the Damned gains its 18 certificate through its incredibly foul language and numerous dick jokes. As such the humour is most likely to satisfy adolescents younger than 18 and most of the time it comes off as vulgar rather than clever. Johnson’s voice actor was clearly advised that, apparently, people saying ‘cool’ and ‘young’ things in a posh English accent is hilarious. It’s not.

The humour therefore isn’t for everyone, but even still you’d have to have a heart of stone not to chuckle every once in a while. It’s the stupidly over the top gameplay and subtle references that provide the most laughs.

Other minor criticisms that can be thrown at Shadows of the Damned are, firstly, that the game is quite linear. While this can sometimes be a problem, here the linearity doesn’t really hinder the game too much. The random craziness and mini games break up the potential monotony enough to carry the game forward.

The game also lacks polish in some areas, with some pop up and blurred edges, and the lip-syncing is absolutely atrocious, but there’s nothing really game-spoiling about any of these problems. It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek B-movie gaming, so it kind of gets away with it.

Shadows of the damned is a riot. It picks up from where Resident Evil 4 left off and feels more like the game that Resident Evil 5 should have been. It’s a balls-out all action blast with brilliantly crazy mini games and horror references that will definitely satisfy anyone with a video game bloodlust or a penchant for swear words. It’s not very long and doesn’t necessarily beg for a second playthrough, but it’s an experience that will grip you throughout and should prove to be one of the surprise hits of the year.

Alex Aldridge

8/10

GREAT

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