Shadows of the Damned review
A Suda 51 acid trip
Developer: Grasshopper Interactive
Publisher: Electronic Arts
If you were to ask me what my favorite movie is, I'd often say Shaun Of The Dead. That movie combines zombies with humor, and said humor is *bleep*ing hilarious! So I'd say that it's about time we got a video game that successfully combines humor with horror. The result is Shadows Of The Damned, a game where you have to face down the undead while your companion/gun tells sex jokes. A little crass, but the timing is often impeccable, making each joke hilarious, and because of that, the game itself is actually quite enjoyable to play through.
Garcia Hotspur has to save his girlfriend from the lord of the underworld, Flemming. The cutscenes that take place serve as either a tour of the underworld, or a vehicle for sex jokes.... the dreaded sex jokes – or so I thought at first. After the likes of Bulletstorm and Ar Tonelico Qoga though, it's.. actually quite a surprise to hear jokes that have consideration for timing and set up. Because of that, Shadows Of The Damned's jokes are funny! That's excellent, because aside from a few books you'll find here and there, the story doesn't go too far beyond the damsel-in-distress scenario. You'll spend most of the game just chasing
If you've played Dead Space, you'll have a very good idea of how this will play. You'll find yourself running into various legions of the dead, and you must shoot them down. Now, unlike Dead Space, you don't really need to aim for different parts of each enemy types' bodies... nor do you even encounter many different types of enemies. Instead, you hold the aim button, move the pointer to their heads, and press the fire button. Oh sure, sometimes, you'll fight an enemy that wears a mask that you must shatter using the shotgun, and sometimes, enemies will be armored so you'll be required to use the pistol's secondary shot to break it apart. Very rarely, do you fight enemies that break this trend, such as enemies that can appear and disappear until you shoot a light shot at it... perhaps I've been spoiled by Dead Space and how you must sever their limbs instead of merely shooting them in the head, but it just seems kind of hollow...
...as does the weapon selection. You only have three, although they have secondary firing capabilities in an attempt to make up for it. At least here, it has that quality > quantity feeling, because it's not as if you really need much more than a pistol that can also fire mines, a machine gun that eventually gets a lock on feature and a shotgun which can also fire big, exploding skulls. It does an alright job of masking the fact that your arsenal isn't high in quantity... but then again, if we're picking one extreme, I'd take quality over quantity, and the weapons do their job finely, so there's no real need to be picky about it.
Unfortunately, the gameplay is far from perfect. The bosses start off reasonably well, but end up just being a pain in the ass. The idea is to shoot them in their weak spots – whether you're in extreme darkness or not depends on whether said weak spots are visible inside or outside. Their patterns are actually quite simple, which is fine for the earlier bosses, but not quite the last ones. To make up for it, the last batch of bosses require a million shots. Seriously, it gets boring because you'll constantly wonder if your last barrage of bullets will do the job, not what the boss will do next because, like with the enemies, you don't really have much to face. A few attacks here and there, and there you go... you could argue that Demon's Souls is like this, but I'd counter that by saying “at least they're fun”. Fighting the last two bosses on the hardest difficulty mode is hell on your patience as you'll have to shoot over 9000 bullets, and that's if your weapons are fully powered up...
Like many action games nowadays, Shadows Of The Damned has puzzles that are there for the sake of giving you something else to do. There's nothing wrong with that, provided that you can do a good job with it. Sadly, that isn't quite the case, as although they feel like they're a part of the game, they aren't quite fun, nor are they even noodlescratchers. From shooting cores in extreme darkness to retreiving baby demon food to pass gates (eyeballs, brains and strawberries), there's hardly anything difficult as the level designs are rather linear, plus it's easy to connect the dots if the solution isn't slapped right in front of you.
I'm sorry, but I really need to dedicate this paragraph to the shoot em up levels. They are amongst some of the worst you'll ever play, not because of any technical incompetence, but more because they're so dull and mediocre that it'll make you question why they were included. The idea is to shoot down whatever demons get in your way, but unlike the non-shoot em up segments, the only style is that of a pop up book – no blood, not feeling of ultraviolence; just mediocre shooting. It's hard to say anything more, other than it's another instance of variety for the sake of variety.
Hell, the graphics aren't that good. From a technical standpoint, you'll often find some areas with flat textures, or even just some that are lackluster, and that's when they load up... yep, it's one of those instances of the Unreal Engine and the PS3 not getting along as in a few instances, the textures will take a few seconds to load up. Not to mention, there will be a few instances of lag. If that's not enough, then take note that it takes about... 15-20 seconds, at least, to load up a level. What's the rush? Oh, I don't know, I just want to play the *bleep*ing game!?
The designs aren't quite that good, either, but at least there's nothing wrong with them. The legions of the underworld certainly look the part, as they're mostly just grunts, and the stronger demons, well, you can certainly tell that they're stronger. Whether it's the electrical cylinders or the pincers, or hell, THEIR SIZE, it's obvious that they're the strong ones, while the legions upon legions of generic skinless humans are lowly grunts. But in all honesty, nothing really stands out, maybe except the gratuitous amounts of blood you will see throughout – that, and the pop up book style used for the shoot em up segments and loading screens, even if everyone looks like they were programmed by the QWOP physics engine... plus, it just looks dull. It's not dark and foreboding, nor is it deceptively light and colorful; it's just there.
In terms of sound design, it's a mixed bag. On one end, the soundtrack is excellent. Every song manages to convey quite an eerie and often bizarre atmosphere. There is the occasional rock song to give the game life where the gameplay wouldn't, plus the occasional piano piece for emotional effect, but for the most part, it's just the sort of soundtrack you'd expect in a horror theme game – ambient sounds mishmashed together for atmospheric effect, which manages to work very well. The voice acting is far from good, but it manages to work in a way that makes the dialogue funny. Well, okay, when Garcia's voice actor attempts emotion, it ends up just coming across as shit (and it had actually hurt my ears at one stage), but when he's trying to be a badass Mexican, it sounds about right as far as a B-movie is concerned.
Shadows Of The Damned is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. The graphics aren't really up to par, nor is any gameplay element outside of the combat up to snuff, and the cutscenes practically rely on the jokes to make up for a lack of progression. Having said that, the combat is flashy and fun, and the jokes are funny, making the entire experience rather enjoyable. It gets it where it counts; enjoyability, and even though the puzzles are horrible and the three shoot em up levels are just dull, the combat is flashy enough to keep your attention. I would not recommend this over Resident Evil 4 or either of the Dead Space games, but I would certainly recommend this to anybody looking for a fun, albeit flawed game.
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