Shadows of the Damned is juvenile, sexist, and bloody. Does it give a shit? Judging by the sequence where the lead character holds a three yard long hand cannon called the “Big Boner” on his crotch to blow away demon spawn, hell no! Created from a partnership between Suda51 (No More Heroes, Killer7), Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 4, Vanquish), and directed by Massimo Guarini, Shadows of the Damned is a make-no-apologies horror/comedy video game. What else would you have expected when these guys got together?
You could say Shadows of the Damned’s crassness is a scream for attention. By being crazy for the hell of it, it’s giving a big middle finger to the mass of overly serious video games. Bayonetta tried this, but failed because it wanted to present a grand mythology in a universe that couldn’t support a deeper narrative. It was pretentious in its foolishness, which repelled me from it the more I played it. Shadows of the Damned could have suffered from the same thing, but I believe the creators knew that you couldn’t break even when balancing meaningfulness and gonzo aesthetics, especially in a video game. You’re either all in or not. Smartly, Shadows of the Damned went all in.
Shadows tells a story you’ve seen before, executed in an enjoyable way. Garcia Hotspur is a Hispanic demon hunter who is bedding the beautiful Paula. After Fleming (the King of all Demons) kidnaps Paula to be his mistress in the underworld, Garcia mounts-up to rescue her. Garcia is accompanied by Johnson, a flaming skull who can transform into weapons and spews wisecracks in a British accent. Together they curb-stomp hordes of grotesque demons while enduring Paula getting killed repeatedly in brutal ways. Oh, and they occasionally read a folktale. Like I said, the game is crazy, but it’s not boring. The banter between the charismatic Garcia and Johnson is hilarious and Garcia’s devotion to his insane girlfriend gives him an enduring quality. The creatures are creative, the guns are absurdly cool, and the game doesn’t have a slow moment. Shadows keeps things fun and never tries to be more then what it is, which is a paranormal grindhouse movie disposed into a video game console.
Shadows plays a lot like Resident Evil 4, but more fast and loose. Your guns are big with plenty of ammo and you can do a roll maneuver that can get you out of the way of most oncoming danger. Because it takes place in the underworld, the game throws in a few special stipulations. When you’re in an area covered in darkness, your health will drain and enemies can’t be killed. You have to use an alternate fire option called a “Light Shot” to shoot goat heads that will dispel the darkness. Some door switches are light sensitive and can only be opened under certain conditions, and some boss weak points only appear while in darkness. These elements keep the game fresh as each boss battle or puzzle doesn’t repeat itself. Shadows even lets you play in a shooting gallery, go bowling (with skulls), and a side-scrolling shooter done in paper cut-outs.
I was really surprised by how much I liked Shadows of the Damned. I felt that the last boss fights were monotonous, but that’s the only major negative I can think of in what I consider to be breezily ridiculous experience.
Developed by: Grasshopper Manufacture
For: PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360