Shadows of the Damned is the collaborative third person shooter from the minds of Goichi Suda (Suda51 – No More Heroes) and Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil). It’s understandable why people are getting excited, which is only further fuelled by the games strong art design and heavy sexually suggestive humour, a killer combination in the games industry.
Stepping into the leather boots and strapping purple jacket of hot headed Mexican demon hunter, Garcia Fucking Hotspur, you jump right into the thick of it, at the foot of a wounded demon. After some brief trash talk, a common occurrence with our mouthy Mexican friend, the demon lets slip that you’re love interest, simply known as Paula, is in danger. This sets the ground for the games first act (also acting as the tutorial), which has you racing home to find the love of your life in the hands of the demon lord Flemming, a three faced six eyed giant. Divulging his plans to bed and slaughter Paula, over, and over, and over in the pits of hell this is where the game’s brief tutorial ends and things really kick off, as you enter hell for both revenge and love.
You’re equipped with nothing more than a skull throughout the game, although thankfully as an ex-demon the talking skull, known only as Johnson, can transform into a range of more fitting tools for the tasks ahead. Johnson can quickly change between a Boner (pistol), Teether (sub machine gun) and a Skullcussioner (shotgun), along with his default state of a handy torch that’s used throughout for puzzle solving and as a substitute for a baseball bat. Each of the three weapon variants can be upgraded upon obtaining blue crystals, obtained from defeated bosses. Upgraded weapons are ridiculously over the top versions of their original counter parts, such as The Denist, the final version of the Teether, able to lock onto targets and fire an insane amount of bullets (in this case, demon teeth) or the Big Boner, a large and long cannon that Garcia holds at his hip to fire, whilst shouting such lines as ‘taste my big boner!’.
Outside of full blown weapon upgrades you can tweak their performance by the use of red crystals that are hidden throughout the game. These can be used to increase the damage, reload rate and capacity of each weapon along with your max health, torch charge time (readying it for a swing). Lastly there are white crystals that you get from killing enemies that can be exchanged at vending machines or fed to a half-demon half-human named Christopher for ammo, alcohol or red crystals. Outside of these three crystals you’ll also be chasing after ammo and alcohol. Bullets can be sparse, leaving you defending yourself against an army of enemies with a stick (not ideal, given that some of the enemies cannot be defeated with said stick). Alcohol on the other hand functions as the opposite in the world of the dead, healing instead of killing, so now absinth sooths instead of burns. Whilst health and ammo sparseness isn’t as much of a concern as with Mikami’s Resident Evil series it’s still something you’ll need to be aware of at all times, making that extra effort to go for headshots and maximising damage by using exploding shots on grouped enemies.
The combat system, being from a third person perspective, can take a little while to get used to as aiming is judged by a line of sight coming from the gun. Enemies, being undead and all, rarely walk in a straight line so getting a clean shot requires patience and often results in lobbing off an arm or leg instead. To help with this you have the light shot, an alternate fire with each weapon that fires a beam of light that’ll stun the target momentarily, giving you time to aim for the head. This shot is used heavily throughout the game in various ways with the different enemies, particularly the boss fights. Boss fights unfortunately are rather tame. Whilst they may be epic in scale and design more often than not they come down to ‘reveal the red thing, and shoot it’. It’s entertaining enough but after a while begins to drag as each new boss encounter only gets easier to figure out and defeat.
Enemy AI leaves a lot to be desired, it’s either very scripted easy to predetermine or in the case of the common enemies it’s moronic at best, often walking into your arms whilst you hold your torch in the air ready for a rounder. This is somewhat remedied in the later portions of the game by throwing a handful of different common enemies at you at once, from spiked demons that need dodging to armoured demons that need their bodies exposing – all in a closed space.
Outside of combat the light shot makes even more of a presence. Demons aren’t too fond of light, so you’ll find yourself continually being submerged by darkness, which can only be broken by, oddly enough, goat shaped lanterns. Remaining in the dark for too long will start to damage Garcia so trying to find the goat head (or various other forms of light, such as temporary light by firework launchers) is a matter of urgency. This often isn’t helped by the game throwing a ton of enemies at you, all of which are immune to damage in the darkness and which will even have a coat of darkness that needs removing with a light shot upon returning to light.
Whilst Shadows of the Damned makes for a solid shooter experience, the area that’s going to get the most attention is the game’s often crude and whacky wit, design and dialogue. You might be in hell but this isn’t the hell that you’re used to. This is a hell in which doorknockers come in the form of screaming babies faces that need feeding. A colourful hell with a sex district, filled with 50ft women in lingerie dancing, moaning, caressing and sucking fingers. It’s even a place where bridges are made of breasts (yes, we’re still in hell). Suda51 is known for his odd, and typically sex heavy, games design but Shadow of the Damned trumps the rest with the likes of its Johnson skull that turns into a Boner pistol, which can be upgraded to a ‘Big Boner’ cannon by ringing a sex line on a nearby payphone.
It’s all rather a bit immature and overly forced, but outside of the few misguided parents purchasing for their children it’s apparent, unconcerned and clear for all to see. It’s innocent in its delivery, apart from the sex district which lays it on a bit thick, and feels genuine and fitting for the characters and world you are situated in. A game which manages to give you a gun upgrade for your boner that lets you ‘fire your sticky load’ at an enemy, without it feeling completely ridiculous. If you can’t stand frequent penile jokes and crude humour though you’d be best staying as far away from Shadows of the Damned as it’s as core to the game as demons and guns. In between all of this madness the game manages to maintain a sensible and engaging story, and even develop characters that you can engage with, which is remarkable given the silliness of it all. As shallow as Paula is, typically scantily clad and void of dialogue, you still want to save her from Garcia’s resolve alone.
The level design can be extremely whacky, varied, original and inspired, but this isn’t the case throughout as a lot of the locations through the game can become quite repetitive, with over use of the same assets that isn’t helped by the dark and dank style. This is spiced up at various points through the story, particularly so with the adult district and the final few hours with one particularly memorable location having you rotating the world environments to create a path ahead. Variety and spice isn’t always welcome mind, as one of the game’s later chapters has several levels in which you oddly become 2D, slowly flying through side scrolling shooter levels. The sudden change of genre really isn’t welcome as these portions of the game are weak in comparison to the core counterparts.
The game’s mixing of ordinary items with unordinary situations comes together well to form a world that is familiar and surreal at the same time. This unique art direction is backed by an impressive engine throwing in thick bloom and lighting effects, particularly seen when the game’s dark world takes over and covers the world in a dark hue. There’s always something to catch your attention, and not just when Paula comes on screen in her g-string and stockings (hey, it’s hot in hell!). Equally fitting are the game’s fantastic backing tracks that are composed by Akira Yamaoka of Silent Hill fame, fitting perfectly into the gothic theme with thick metal rifts, which is a welcomed return since his departure from Konami.
Shadows of the Damned doesn’t quite hit the heights of either Suda51 or Mikami’s history, but as long as you’re willing to accept the sometimes vulgar humour there’s an experience well worth its weight, and comes to a clever climax finale around the 10-12hour mark that leaves me hoping there’s enough demand to warrant a sequel. It’s welcomed creativity injects fun into a genre and industry overwhelmed by drab greys and stale scripts. And hey, it’s not every day that you get to heat up your boner and fire your sticky load whilst playing a video game.