When the super duo of Shinji Mikami and Suda51 hooked up back in 2005, gamers were given Killer 7, an absurd, cel-shaded, on-rails gaming experience that had style in spades. So, when you heard this team was making another game about a demon hunter in Hell and the composer of this game would be Akira Yamoaka, how could you not be interested?
Shadows of the Damned ends up an experience you might not have expected, but not necessarily in the best way. This is a third person action game in the vein of most third person action games following Resident Evil 4, namely over-the-shoulder shooting in mostly linear environments. On the flip side you’ll have never experienced a hell quite like this. In this hell, when the darkness is trying to suffocate you, the only course of action is shooting a goat head. In this hell, your talking gun has a sex hotline that turns him into The Big Boner.
Shadows of the Damned isn’t going to be some revolutionary experience, but the journey it puts you through is an adventure worth taking. It’s a game that doesn’t take itself overly serious as you play as Garcia Fucking Hotspur, a top-notch demon hunter. His desire to essentially kick every demon’s ass is what eventually pisses off one of Hell’s more perverted demons: Flemming. Flemming kidnaps Garcia’s woman, sends her directly to hell for eternal torture and threatens to defile her while he’s at it.
This opening sets the tone for what kind of humor drives Shadows of the Damned. This game is obsessed with throwing out innuendos, making dick jokes, being vulgar, and, of course, violent. It works because it isn’t done in a way that would make you think the experience tries too hard to be edgy. It’ll certainly be divisive, but it feels more silly and endearing. Garcia is a one-liner spewing and bravado-driven man whose only real desire to keep his girlfriend Paula is to have sex with her. His companion Johnson, who can turn into a torch, what appears to be a motorcycle and weapons for demon slaying, is basically Garcia’s equal in that department.
The comically perverted tone of the game is done in a way that keeps you interested until the end because Garcia and Johnson have some nice chemistry which is why the jokes work. This also makes reading through the story books that give the backstory on the boss demons a satisfying pit stop in between the action. The campy voice acting, and odd creatures such as the game’s salesman, who sounds absurdly Southern really sells this vision of hell. Yamoaka’s sound work is a nice mix of cheese, punk, and a Spanish guitar solo to boot gives the game a soundtrack that is nothing short of excellent. It all adds up to a fun adventure worth finishing and part of that is because the standard action is serviceable.
Shadows of the Damned plays like most modern third person action games in the sense that you’ll spend most of your time shooting your enemies from an over-the-shoulder perspective. The weapons at your disposal consist of a pistol (named “The Boner” no less), a shotgun and a submachine gun. Your guns also have a light shot which is necessary for ridding some enemies of the darkness that protects them from any damage. It’s disappointing to only have three weapon options, especially since they aren’t exactly the cleverest of weapons either. However, the damage they cause is thoroughly gratifying as it only takes a few shots usually to send blood and guts flying everywhere. This level of grotesque action that makes shooting even the more standard enemies fun all the way through.
The game progression constantly moves you forward with minor stops in between. In these stretches you may need to find an item that opens the door, requiring you to do some backtracking here and there. When the game is hitting on all cylinders, it’s a blast to play through because its best moments usually have you being bombarded with the different types of enemies, and using your full arsenal becomes paramount in those situations. Also the ability to upgrade these weapons into stronger versions gives the player a sense of progression. You will be a far more powerful person by the end of the experience.
What doesn’t work very well is usually any time the game tries to mix it up. While the moment-to-moment action is good, it’s the attempts at having big moments that fall flat. Boss fights are predictable and formulaic in nature, being pattern driven fights that require you to hit an obvious glowing weak spot. While the fights can be well paced and against rather absurd creatures, they ultimately lack the thrill of a truly great boss fight.
Other scenarios such as the darkness mechanic don’t help matters either. Hell will sometimes be completely covered in a darkish blue hue of darkness that’s poisonous to Garcia. To fix this, the player will have to find goat heads or in some cases demonic hands that are the source for the darkness. Rarely are these hidden far out of sight and finding them tends to be more of a chore than a moment that raises the intensity.
There are also major change of pace scenarios that overstay their welcome. One scenario in the game transforms your pistol in The Big Boner and is basically a shooting gallery as you shoot this gun at oncoming demons. After every shot Garcia says “taste my big boner”, which is admittedly funny the first few times but after you’ve shot twenty demons, it’s rather tiring. A few side scrolling chapters in the game are easily the weakest moments in the game. Basically, any time the game is trying to be more varied, it falls flat on its face, which is unfortunate.
When it’s just run-and-gun splattering of the demonic “hell monkeys” Garcia hates so much, it can be entertaining. It’s neither bright nor a particularly challenging experience but it’s one that satisfies one’s urge to just let loose and mow down some demons. The fact that it couldn’t maintain something with a sense of variety or bookend it with some stronger gameplay moments is disappointing. The lack of a New Game Plus mode also kills any re-playability the experience might have. Yet the adventure is funny and crazy enough to want to see through till the very end.
Shadows of the Damned doesn’t reinvigorate the genre with new game design ideas. It doesn’t even take existing ideas and execute them at a high level, one where each moment is a carefully executed sequence of action gaming bliss. No, these are fundamentally good mechanics surrounded by average action game design but the silly adaptation of hell, genuinely funny innuendos and excellent audio work make it an experience worth finishing. Shadows of the Damned is a game you’ll have fun with, even if it inevitably leaves you thinking it could have been so much more.
- Funny jokes
- Action is solid
- Hell is bizarre
- Upgrading weapons make you feel more powerful as you progress
- No new game plus
- Not enough weapon variety
- Boss fights are far too formulaic in nature
- Change of pace scenarios usually aren’t well done