The game's devil really is in the details
This is the kind of game where the hype in the media is not enough to overtake the huge expectations from fans given the talent involved. Like a rock supergroup or the pairing of a successful actor and director, there's more than enough talent in Shadows of the Damned to think it'll be one of the best games of the year. Overseen by Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 4, Vanquish), Goichi Suda or Suda 51 (Killer 7, No More Heroes) with music by Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka, how can you not get excited? And even right out of the gate, the game delivers some great first impressions. A unique look, batshit crazy concepts and humor and a gameplay similar to the acclaimed RE4 and it's easy to think the game is another classic. But then you play it more and it comes across as slightly messy, it's trying way too hard to be funny and certain sequences or gameplay mechanics are so frustrating, you wondered who thought they'd be a good idea in the first place.
The game centers on Garcia Hotspur, a Mexican demon hunter who travels around with a transforming talking skull named Johnson and is in love with a hot blonde named Paula. But when the Lord of the Underworld, Fleming, kidnaps her and takes her to the Underworld, Garcia and Johnson go after him and face a bunch of nasty baddies, feed strawberries to demon baby doors and make a ton of dick jokes as you work your way through this 8 hour adventure.
There's nothing wrong with a linear adventure and I never understood why people have an issue with that. If there's a good story that somebody wants to tell, better to cut off the excess fat and allow you to just play and have the pacing work for you. And indeed the game has some great pacing. There's always something new ahead and from different enemy encounters to puzzles and even a weird turret sequence, the game does an admirable job of pushing you along. Until you get to this 2D shooting section which not only controls really slow and sluggishly but it goes on for too long and for me it killed the pacing whenever it came on. And yet there's like...3 sections of it at least.
Johnson in certain respects is the star of the show since not only did most of the laughs came from him but gameplay-wise, he's incredibly useful. Using a Tron-like effect to switch into different weapons, Johnson can be a Boner (pistol) Skullcussioner (Shotgun) or the Teether (machine gun). After certain bosses, you'll find an upgrade for each such as the Boner shooting explosive mines, the Shotgun allowing for a huge bomb or the Teether with lock-on capabilities. The gameplay itself is very much RE4 with similar camera angles, creepy and hostile environments and the occasional puzzle. Where Shadows of the Damned doesn't excel at here is the aiming which I never felt comfortable with and there was always a disconnect between where my bullets should go based on just how it looks versus where the actual reticule is going. This can be doubly frustrating when enemies crowd you or get you into a corner and the camera makes it really hard to see where you're actually going.
The bosses on the other hand are quite intense and similar to Metroid and Zelda bosses, require certain strategies on how to kill them. And yet it can also be a pain because some of them feel like they just take way too long. The final bosses in particular are guilty of this for me since I must've spent literally 20 minutes fighting one then ran right smack into 2 more that took roughly 10 minutes each. But they're incredibly intimidating and one boss, who constantly screams "fuuuuuuck yoooooou!" in a high-pitched voice always made me laugh.
The game utilizes a darkness mechanic almost similar to Metroid Prime 2 where the world will be covered in a kind of purple haze (sadly, no Hendrix) where you'll constantly take damage unless you make it to safe areas, shoot goat heads with a lightshot or turn off switches that power certain doors. These can be quite intense and thankfully since health drinks (or should I say, booze) tend to be in plentiful supply, they never come across as cheap or designed really poorly.
As far as the look of the game, it's very unique and although the humor can at times try very very hard to make one laugh, there is the occasional chuckle such as an Alanis Morrissette joke and the aforementioned foul-mouthed boss. From catacombs to villages and even a heavily-neon'd city, the game certainly has some cool locales though, since this is Unreal, expect a ton of graphic pop-in and it's funny loading into a game and the textures literally load all the way down a tunnel one by one. The music is absolutely stellar and Yamaoka brings his intense flavor once again that he often uses in Silent Hill. Even the voice acting is spot-on and although the concept of constantly re-seeing your loved one get killed over and over is something I would've liked more exploration of and the dialogue can get cheesy, there's no dead ends as far as voice acting is concerned.
The game took me 8 hours with 21 out of 80 upgrades on Normal but there's 2 things that may prevent you from completely buying the game: there is NO New Game+ option and difficulty achievements don't stack so you'd think beating it on Normal, the game would realize "well obviously you can tackle Easy then so have that achievement too"? No, you literally have to go through the game 3 times and nothing carries over between playthroughs and nothing changes either. As somebody who absolutely adored Killer 7 and quite enjoyed the No More Heroes games, Shadows of the Damned is a weird disappointment. While I love the fact the game is trying to be as out there as it can, there's too much issues with the little things that I can't really forgive.