Giant Bomb Review

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Shadows of the Damned Review

4
  • X360

Shadows of the Damned is a hell of a good time.

When it was announced that Japanese game development luminaries Shinji Mikami, Suda51, and Akira Yamaoka were teaming up for a secret project, hands began to wring in anticipatory glee at the possibilities of what this embarrassment of creative talent might concoct. After all, the last time Mikami and Suda51 got together, the product of that pairing was the cel-shaded oddity Killer7. Given the work each of them has done since that bizarre experiment, the addition of Yamaoka's aural sensibilities, and the trio's relatively newfound independent freedom, why wouldn't your mind start racing to try and think up what out-of-left-field first bounty this fantasy team-up would bring to bear?

The end result? Shadows of the Damned, a third-person action-horror game in the vein of... well, most other third-person action games.

Say hello to Garcia "Fucking" Hotspur. I'm not adding that for effect. He calls himself that a lot.

Okay, so maybe Shadows of the Damned isn't quite the out-of-left-field product of unchecked creativity some of us might have initially wanted from this particular supergroup. In fact, on the supergroup scale, it's more like that one Temple of the Dog album, a concept that might be completely within the usual wheelhouse of everyone involved, but is still a damn good example of what these guys have repeatedly proven themselves capable of. It's a game full of viscerally satisfying shooting, plenty of blood and guts, a totally off-kilter storyline, and some legitimately excellent audio running underneath the surface. It's a known quantity, but one that feels almost as high as the pedigree that spawned it.

Shadows of the Damned tells the tortured tale of Garcia Hotspur, a preternaturally badass demon hunter who finds himself running up against one severely pissed off pervert demon named Fleming, who hasn't taken too kindly to Garcia's chosen profession. Garcia returns home after a particularly rough night of demon-slaying to find his special lady dangling from a noose, and Fleming in possession of her soul. Fleming, cutting to the chase, makes repeated threats to defile Garcia's lady in ways that would make Duke Nukem's exploits seem puritanical by comparison. Thoroughly in love and totally irritated by this inconvenience, Garcia leaps into Hell to save his beloved, and perhaps murder a few "hell monkeys" in the process.

Before we go any further, a note of import: right from the get-go, you're probably going to hate Garcia a little bit. His personality seems equally lifted from John Constantine, El Mariachi, and Jack Burton, and he has all the cheesy one-liners and moments of broody extremeness such a description comes encumbered with. That hate won't last, fortunately.

It's just that Shadows of the Damned takes a little while to find its groove. Suda51's sense of humor is a... divisive thing. You're either on board with his anarchistic, abstract sensibilities, or you're all the way not. At first, it feels like the game is challenging you to keep playing, what with its opening salvo of lame dick jokes and spine-crinkling one-liners. But bit by bit, the story begins to boil, and actual charm begins to spill out. Not long after Garcia enters Hell, the game morphs into a kind of weird buddy comedy, with Garcia facing increasingly bizarre circumstances that Johnson, his British-accented, flaming skull of a sidekick (who also happens to take the form of Garcia's demon-slaying gun) is more than happy to try and explain in his cowardly genial way.

Johnson is like Portal 2's Wheatley, except a flaming skull instead of a robot. It's arguable which is cooler.

There's a peculiar chemistry to Garcia and Johnson that carries the game and its oddball story along. The actors voicing the pair certainly deserve a lot of the credit, but Suda, along with his script translator, each deserve quite a bit, too. For all the profanely adolescent humor the game contains, there's also a shocking amount of nuance to it. There's a pace and a flow to the story that, contrary to some of Suda's other works, doesn't feel like it's punching you in the face with nonstop, hyperactive nonsense. For every puerile piece of dick-related innuendo and weird bit of Internet culture nudge-and-winkery, there are as many moments of creative comedic storytelling that actually surprise you. For instance, try checking out one of the several storybooks randomly scattered throughout the game, and listen as Johnson and/or Garcia read aloud the demented back story of one of the game's many boss demons. These sequences stop the game dead in its tracks, and yet the writing and acting is so sharp that you won't even care.

Which isn't to say you won't care about the action; just that you might not care quite as much. As a shooter, Shadows of the Damned is largely serviceable, though it periodically flirts with brilliance. The game's third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective feels loosely assembled from Mikami's design work on Resident Evil 4, except with the added bonus of being able to move and shoot at the same time. Revolutionary, right?

The word for the combat is, "satisfying." The guns aren't overly thrilling, but the damage they cause is nice and disgusting. Blood, guts, and other, inexplicable grossness fly in great quantities, and the demons, while not the most creatively designed hellspawn you've ever seen, at least do you the service of suffering pleasurably. You've only a handful of gun types to play with, but as you progress, you'll gain access to a nutty array of Johnson upgrades that deal quite a bit of gruesome damage to the various demonic forces out to get you.

Even the boss battles, often the Achilles heel of these sorts of action games, are an enticement. Though they rarely transcend the usual pattern-focused battle mechanics we've all played to death, they're nonetheless creatively designed, well-paced battles that only periodically frustrate. If you can't appreciate the act of fighting a man with the head of a goat riding a horse with the head of a man, I don't think Shadows of the Damned is the game for you.

You can't see it, but that guy has a harmonica permanently affixed to his face. It's like if Clive Barker wrote Deliverance.

For the most part, Shadows of the Damned is a game that qualifies as challenging, not frustrating. Occasional bouts with irritating arena battles featuring insane droves of enemies notwithstanding, the game's design mostly allows for a breezy, if not easy shooting experience, thanks in no small part to the mostly solid checkpoint system. The one wrinkle in the gameplay that occasionally vexes is the "darkness" mechanic. In the vein of Silent Hill, Hell will sometimes go massively, oppressively dark, turning everything to a chaotic bluish hue and actually inflicting damage on Garcia.

These sequences usually involve finding light sources to blast with your gun, or darkness-barfing zombie hands to destroy. It's rarely too difficult to find the right solution, though that does bring up the matter of the game's puzzles, or general lack thereof. Shadows of the Damned is a linear game. Linear is not inherently a damnable term, but here it very much is. This is not a game that requires much thought. When a door is locked, an icon on the door tells you what you need to do. Sometimes you blast it with light. Sometimes you kick it in. Sometimes you have to go find a strawberry for a demonic baby head that acts as a lock. If you do have to go do something like find a strawberry for a demonic baby head, that strawberry is usually pretty close to the demonic baby head, possibly in that one other accessible room right next to the demonic baby head.

In other words, there just isn't much need for brainpower in Shadows of the Damned. Mostly it's all run-and-gun demon-splattering, which for many will be just fine. What you might be less fine with is some of the game's rougher edges. Some of these are technical, including a few irritating glitches that forced me to restart a couple of checkpoints, and some long-ish loading times that periodically pop up and cause initial choppiness with cutscenes. Other issues are atmospheric in nature. While Hell should certainly be an ugly place, a lot of Shadows of the Damned's environments are drawn up in strangely bland fashion. Hell is basically a nondescript European city peppered with hollowed-out corpses and gooey human viscera. The latter gore actually looks pretty good, but much of the world detail is uncreative and overly dank. The notion of Hell as a rather dull community of demons wandering around torturing each other out of a lack of better options is kind of a funny one, but as a visual gag, it just serves to make the game's presentation less interesting.

The shooting can feel a little loose, but blowing up these demonic scumbags is rarely dull.

Still, there are some amusing artistic touches. The demon who acts as your weapon salesman, for instance, looks like a giant, hulking Wendigo with a fondness for flood lights, and also talks like Gomer Pyle. Again, a lot of what works in Shadows of the Damned comes from the audio, especially in the campy, bizarre voice acting. Yamaoka's music deserves special mention, too. He runs the gamut from the ethereal to the cacophonous here, mixing dirges of grindcore screeching with dread-filled strings, and finding the occasional opportunity to toss in some Spanish guitar solos for good measure. It's ludicrous stuff, but it perfectly suits its ludicrous game.

Some are guaranteed to hate Shadows of the Damned. It's unapologetically immature, boner-obsessed, and grotesquely violent. And yet, unlike other unapologetically immature, boner-obsessed, and grotesquely violent games of recent memory, there is no meanness of spirit to Shadows' intentions. Practically every gag in the game seems to come from a place of easygoing silliness, rather than a need for forced edginess. For a game about Hell and damnation, it's remarkably fluffy and light of spirit, to the point where you just can't help but laugh at the wanton stupidity of it all. That it sometimes stumbles in its execution is a testament to how entertaining its tale really is. Even at its worst moments, you'll be compelled to keep playing.

Unless, of course, you just really hate dick jokes.

Alex Navarro on Google+
149 Comments
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Posted by Zealousadonis

Stoked

Posted by ghostNPC

excellent

Posted by NeilRapalee

Looks promising

Posted by CharlesAlanRatliff

Good to see this game doing well. I was just reading how a lot of people thought this game wasn't getting any publicity, but I'm sure scores like this will help!

Posted by LackLuster

good review I'm excited to try this

Posted by RampageAssassin

Really looking forward to this. Could be sleeper hit of the year.

Posted by Yanngc33

aw yes, thought this was going to be shit but apparently not :) Yay!

Posted by Apollo87

Really good to see this score, I was pretty much on the fence with this one.

Posted by nickux

Yay Alex! So happy to see you enjoyed this one. I've had my pre-order copy ready for a few months now. It's a relief to see Suda & Co. getting some good reviews. Now, I'm a Suda fanboy (Yeah, I admit it!) so I felt like I would love this regardless but still it's nice to see the team did a good job. About to go pick up my copy after work. Great review!

Online
Posted by MisterMouse

That is awesome that this got a good review! Everyone seemed to be disregarding it... and for some reason I was pulling for it....

Posted by ReyGitano

Sounds interesting, I'll have to check this one out. Keep up the good work Alex.

Posted by 234r2we232

Gah. This game sounds really interesting, but that EA logo can make anything unappealing :/

Posted by benjaebe

@RampageAssassin said:

Really looking forward to this. Could be sleeper hit of the year.

I definitely agree. Reviews have been surprisingly great for a game that had seemingly little to no hype.

Posted by mfpantst

I'm always down for a little temple of the dog reference.  Nice.

Posted by damswedon

I like dick jokes.

Edited by ZeroCrescent

Pssst, Alex... Garcia's gun is bigger. *tee hee* 
Good to hear that this game turned out well.

Edited by PhatSeeJay

Wow.. didn't even know this game was coming out so soon. Maybe I should take a look at it.

Posted by AuthenticM

Duke Nukem was striving to be this game.

Posted by FrakesFace

Alex, no! I didn't think you'd go for the "it's a pun-good time" title!

Posted by MancombSeepgood

Suda 51 = instant want from me, can't wait to get my hands on this.

Posted by Enigma777

Damn, with all these great reviews it looks like I'm going to have to pick this up.

Posted by ConstantRa1n

Quick Look?

Posted by edgefusion

You said "viscerally" -10 points from Gryffindor. 
 
This game looks GREAT, I'm stoked for the EU release. It's nice to see a main character that's more Dante and less bald space marine.

Edited by Sunspots

Props to Alex for the Temple of The Dog reference, I feel that it was an apt comparison. Also, Temple of The Dog is AWESOME. 

Posted by HellBrendy

Wow! I wqas really expecting a 2 star-game. Really stoked now.

Posted by Marz

Been watching gameplay videos, this game seems redonkulous.  Some of the stuff it has grosses me out kinda, but at the same time it's full of humor....  but the humor is self aware, unlike Duke Nukem which makes it ok :)

Posted by 1p

Oh man, i am relieved to find out that this game doesn't suck. Totally gonna buy it.

Posted by reson8er

Have my pre-ordered copy in hand, can't wait to get home and fire up the PS3

Posted by MEATBALL

Great review, and completely devoid of any lazy/clumsy Tarantino comparisons. Can't wait to give the game a whirl.

Posted by AlwaysBeClothing

I am very impressed you were able to restrain yourself to only using boner in the last paragraph. A tip of the hat to you, good sir.

Posted by NTM

I gotta take a dump.

Posted by Sweaterfish

I've bee following this for a while, but I still believe it a rental.

Edited by Undeadpool

Johnson is another word for the male reproductive organ.

Posted by xombi242

I hope this isn't going to be another sleeper hit like Enslaved. Grasshopper needs this to go well. The pedigree behind this game can't possibly be ignored.

Posted by Zippedbinders

I'm a little surprised Ryan wasn't reviewing it, but considering the sources of Suda's inspiration for this game (Road movies, Bronson, etc) Alex is a perfect fit to review this kind of game. Great review, can't wait to play it. 

Posted by RampageAssassin
@benjaebe: That's the problem. EA haven't advertised it at all like Activision didn't with Singularity.
Posted by RandomInternetUser

I definitely want this now, I just wish it was for PC.

Posted by DukesT3

the main dude is hispanic so I find that very cool on top of it actually looks like a fun game I want to pick up. 

Edited by Ramone

O.K Alex I've been bottling this up for a fucking long time but I'm going to fucking explode if I don't say anything. STOP FUCKING SAYING PRETERNATURAL BADASS. It was sort of clever the first two times but then you just kept saying it again and again on Behind Screened the Door or the Happy Hour or in a Quick Look and now it is written for all to see. This is it. The end. No more. Just stop saying it.

Anyway good review.

To be perfectly honest this is just a thinly veiled excuse for someone to create a 'Preternatural Badass' compilation video.

Posted by ZeroCast

Didn't read the review but since Giant Bomb started posting videos about it, I started to care , but from the looks of it, I probably won't get this game.

Posted by Ooame

I was hoping for something abit more crazy from them. But i'll get this eventually probably when the price goes down abit.

Posted by ImperiousRix

SHIT.  Another game that seemingly came out of nowhere that I really want to play.  This is the worst summer to be broke ever! 
Also, in the words of Mr. Caffeine, "I'm not afraid of a few dick jokes."

Posted by RYNO9881

Great review. Too many games to play.

Edited by Seppli

Review has me sold. Making 'Shadow's of the Damned' top on my extensive bargain bin games list.

Posted by SaturdayNightSpecials

Intriguing.

I'll have to rent this and Alice.

Posted by VashTS
@ConstantRa1n said:
Quick Look?
Edited by buzz_killington

I have a BIG BONER for this game. Haaaa? Anyone?

Posted by DiGiTaL_SiN

Can you turn on Japanese VO?

Posted by TehJedicake

Did not expect that.

Posted by Vexxan

I liked the look of this game, might pick it up if it's on sale sometime.

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