☆☆☆ (out of five)
Shadows of the Damned, in which Garcia Hotspur ventures through Hell to save his girlfriend Paula from the demon lord Fleming with the aid of his trusty sidekick, the flaming, talking skull Johnson (capable of transforming into a torch, a motorbike and a variety of guns for Garcia to use), is a very disappointing third-person shooter.
Its primary problem is simple: Garcia is overpowered. His dodge roll is quick and spammable, and he's invincible for the duration of the move. He has at his disposal an unlimited supply of light shots which temporarily stun enemies, leaving them vulnerable to instantly killing headshots and contextual one-hit-kill melee attacks. His regular melee attack interrupts and knocks back enemies, and can be charged to become every bit as lethal as its contextual brethren. And these are just the powers you possess early on – over the course of the game you acquire things like target-seeking machinegun rounds and sticky bombs that can be remotely detonated, making you even more ridiculously powerful.
The enemies – almost exclusively featureless and very boring humanoids with glowing eyes – simply stand no chance against Garcia and his Johnson. The vast majority of them have no ranged attacks, and alternate between walking and running towards you while leaving themselves completely open to the killing tool of your choosing (think Ganados from Resident Evil 4, except slightly faster). Enemies that deviate from this norm are rare, and pose no real challenge when they appear – the dodge roll and the light shot enable you to dispatch of them with ease.
Sometimes you will find your path blocked by vine-like demon pubes, at which point you will have to engage in something resembling puzzle-solving by venturing into Darkness (a blue, demonic substance that drains your health if you remain in it too long, and grants enemies a protective veil that must be removed with a light shot or a melee attack) and shooting red containers that can only be harmed from within the devilish matter. Also breaking up the monotony of the regular combat are shooting gallery sequences and side-scrolling shoot ‘em up levels. These are, unfortunately, even more boring than the usual action – they’re both simpler and slower, and last way too long.
The worst parts of Shadows of the Damned, however, are neither the shooting galleries nor the shoot ‘em up stages, but the boss fights. The bosses look and sound absolutely insane (one, for example, rips out and eats his own heart, transforms into a man with a goat’s head and mounts a horse with a human’s face) and in that regard feel like a breath of fresh air compared to the bland creatures that populate most of the game, but fighting them is an absolutely agonizing experience. They’re just as easy to defeat as the rest of what the Netherworld has to offer, but unlike their lower-ranked associates they don’t have the courtesy to go down quickly. Instead they delay their inevitable demise for what feels like an eternity with slow, primitive attack patterns and copious amounts of health in what can only be interpreted as an attempt to bore Garcia to death.
The game is beautiful, at least. Shadows of the Damned’s Hell is dark, gloomy place where a mixture of muted green, yellow and red dominates, punctuated by the occasional blue, health-sapping darkness. The environments might not be the most creative – ignore the blood, the guts and the occasional bizarre detail, and you will find that with the exception of the final area, the Underworld in its entirety consists of rather unremarkable locations: a forest, a library, a sewer, a red-lights district et cetera – but thanks to great use of colour and absolutely stellar lighting, they are nonetheless remarkably pleasing to the eyes.
The combat looks great, too. Garcia’s animation is excellent, and slow motion effects and exploding heads that accompany the frequent one-hit-kills ensure that they feel fairly satisfying despite the lack of challenge. The melee attacks look particularly powerful – Hotspur will, amongst other things, knee enemies in the face, kick them in the balls and jump on them with such force that they shatter into tiny, demonic flesh chunks. Cool little details like a neon wire-frame effect that appears when Johnson switches between gun modes further enhance the visual experience, cementing the game's position as one of the very best-looking third-person shooters in the business.
The sound isn’t bad, either. Gunshots and melee attacks sound gratifying and the music, while nothing exceptional, complements the gloomy environments nicely. The voice acting is excellent, and the writing is generally of a high quality – there are a great many chuckles to be had at Hotspur and Johnson’s humorous banter (though some of the dick jokes do feel forced) and the game’s many references.
Shadows of the Damned is undeniably a letdown (especially given the involvement of Shinji Mikami, who not more than a year ago put out the most amazing third-person shooter) but despite its many issues, it’s actually decent fun. It offers cool sights and good laughs, and while the combat may be too easy it is for the most part fast, fluid and aesthetically gratifying enough to provide fairly agreeable entertainment.
☆☆☆ (out of five)