Shadows of the Damned: catch up review

Shadows of the Damned was a Suda 51 project from the outset. The CEO of Grasshopper Manufacture, and the man behind Killer 7 and No More Heroes, Suda was eventually joined by Shinji Mikami – the creator of Resident Evil, Devil May Cry and more recently Vanquish – in the role of creative producer. The final, high-profile member to join the team was composer Akira Yamaoka, best known for his work on the Silent Hill series.

Despite its other noteworthy contributors, Shadows of the Damned is a Suda 51 game through and through, and your opinion of his previous work is likely to dictate whether or not you pick it up. However, it can be enjoyed by any gamer, irrelevant of their fondness for OTT violence, juvenile humour and gobshite protagonists.

We join Garcia Hotspur, our foul-mouthed, demon hunting lead in search of his girlfriend who has been kidnapped by the demon lord, Flemming. Garcia and his ex-demon side-kick Johnson – a skull that transforms into a variety of weapons – traverse the varied locales of the underworld in search of this blonde-bombshell. Despite being rather juvenile – Garcia’s arsenal includes the phallic Hot Boner and the imaginatively titled Big Boner – the journey is an entertaining and engaging one.

The underworld is a rich and varied setting; far more than the collection of lava and torture devices that has too often passed as a video game hell. It displays the sense of style that Grasshopper are well known for, and when the poor jokes have been long forgotten it will be the aesthetics of a unique rendition of hell that you’ll best recall. It starts off in a rather pedestrian Victorian looking town, but over the course of 8 hours you will be led through a collection of striking locales. From a dank village that wouldn’t look out of place in Resident Evil, to an evil bowling alley, there is so much to see.

The fruits of Suda 51’s twisted mind, these settings could have felt somewhat disparate without Yamaoka’s brilliant score bringing them all together. Covering a spectrum of genres, from Spanish guitar to a spot of metal, this eclectic set of tracks does wonders for the atmosphere. Time and time again your ears will prick-up as you are introduced to a new piece of music, completely unlike anything else heard elsewhere in the game, yet perfectly suited to the moment and setting from which it emerged.

The subtlety that is to be found in the score does not carry over to the combat, which is brash, bloody and at times infuriating. There are three firearms – a handgun, machine gun and shotgun – but they are far more weird and wonderful than they initially sound. Levelling up as you progress, they tear through the legions of the damned, shooting bones, teeth and skulls at their fleshy targets, as well as offering some explosive secondary modes.

Combat is partially concerned with the movement between light and shadow; the demons prefer the darkness whereas Garcia will quickly perish if he lingers for too long outside of the glare. Each gun offers a light mode, which can be used to momentarily stop marauding enemies in their tracks and ignite lanterns and goat-headed chandeliers, which dispel the darkness. Many of the boss encounters revolve around this manipulation of light and dark, offering some of the most exciting and challenging moments of the game. However, the less said about the time consuming, bullet-sponge final boss the better.

The third person controls do take a bit of getting use to and are entirely unpolished. You will be tearing your hair out as you sprint straight into walls and bounce into the clutches of an instant death enemy, and swearing more freely than Hotspur as yet another bullet sails through an enemy, undetected. Some sort of auto-aim would have been a god send, and you have to wonder why such a simple addition would be left out.

Unlike many of Shinji Mikami’s past games, Shadows of the Damned offers no new-game+ or bonus features to make you want to return after the first run-through. Non-stackable difficulty trophies/achievements are a shallow attempt to get you to return, perfectly demonstrating the laziness that hounds certain aspects of the game. This is in stark contrast to those elements that clearly interested its creators far more and were lavished with attention, such as the setting, music and outlandish characters.

Picking faults with Shadows of the Damned is like shooting fish in a barrel, but by doing so you would be ignoring its many qualities and the simple fact that it is a very entertaining game. It will keep you on your toes throughout, offering rich and varied gameplay, such as one section which ditches the third-person action for a side scrolling shooter, featuring simple but charming cut-out visuals.

As with any Suda 51 game, you have to be willing to take the rough with the smooth. If you are prepared to see past its various shortcomings, there is one hell of an adventure to be had, one that is as exciting as it is eccentric. Just remember to ask your Grandma to leave the room before you start playing.

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Written by Matt M

Matt has been a gamer ever since Father Christmas left him a Master System II in the early 90's. Santa was clearly a Sega fan, as a Mega Drive and Saturn would follow in later years. Matt has long since broken free from the shackles of console monotheism and enjoys playing a wide range of games, almost as much as he enjoys meticulously ordering them on his living room shelves.

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