When news first came that Goichi Suda and Shinji Mikami were once again teaming up to create a new game, I, along with many others, were very excited. Suda (known also as Suda 51) is probably best known in the west for the No More Heroes series on the Wii, whilst Mikami helmed Resident Evil 4 and most recently, Vanquish.
Shadows of the Damned is a weird mesh of both developers’ philosophies; the third-person shooting and general game progression are very much reminiscent of Mikami’s Resident Evil 4, whereas the plot, characters and dialogue are all very much Suda stylings. However, while this sounds great on paper, it doesn’t entirely come together when playing through the game. Overall, the game isn’t as polished as you’d expect from a Shinji Mikami title, nor as flat-out insane as Suda 51’s other titles.
The story follows Garcia Hotspur, a mexican demon hunter, who ventures into the depths of hell to rescue his girlfriend from the King of Demons, Fleming. Accompanying him on his mission is Johnson, a flaming Skull that transforms into several guns, a torch and a motorbike.
Taking inspiration from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse double bill, Shadows of the Damned is suitably trashy, filled with over-the-top violence, gratuitous nudity and an abundance of dick jokes. If you thought Travis Touchdown’s beam sword was the most phallic weapon in a video game, wait until you see Garcia’s Big Boner. Although at times very juvenile, the game is very self-aware and is a lot funnier than it sounds, as Garcia and Johnson make for a very entertaining double act.
The game is very linear, for the most part you will be running in a straight line to the next area. Unfortunately, there is very little exploring to be done off the beaten path, and there is generally only a very brief window to explore other areas without being locked out. For instance, if you climb a ladder towards the end of the chapter, most of the time there’s no going back down to get something you may have missed. In some areas later in the game however, there is a little more of an open area to explore as you hunt for different keys such as Strawberries and Eyeballs to feed to baby-faced locks.
Controls work in a similar fashion to other third person shooters such as the most recent Resident Evil titles, yet with some odd button mapping choices for certain actions. For some reason, on the 360 version, RT will make Garcia run, yet there doesn’t seem to be any reason, as no matter how much the trigger is squeezed, he will only run at the same speed.
Taking on most enemies is very easy, thanks to the dodge command, which not only makes Garcia invulnerable for a window of time, but also stuns enemies for a short amount of time, if hit. Shooting a lightbeam on demons will also stun them for longer periods of time, allowing you to run up to them and execute a melee kill. Although the camera prevents you from seeing enemies creeping up on you from behind, before they attack a button prompt will appear on screen to knock them back.
Like Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, there is a light/dark world element that is a major factor within the game. At various intervals, darkness will spread and consume the area, at which point the player’s health will drain. You will then be given a limited amount of time to dispel the darkness by shooting light at Goat heads or setting off fireworks. The dark world doesn’t just drain health, it also makes regular demons invincible, and also uncovers locks that must be shot to destroy ‘Demon Pubes’ which block the player’s progression.
At frequent intervals there are boss battles, which for the most part consist of shooting a red glowing core that serves as the enemies weakpoint. The battles are uninspired and just take too long to finish. Quite early in the game there was a mini-boss of sorts, however, I had no clue if what I was doing was right as when I shot the core several times there didn’t seem to be any visual cue that the enemy was taking any damage. There are also recurring battles with ghostly demons known as ‘Sisters’ which all basically boil down to the same battle, repeated over and over again, and getting increasingly protracted as the game continues. Quite strangely, the best aspect of the boss battles are their backstories, found in large storybooks scattered throughout the campaign.
Later in the game, there are some unique levels such as the Shooting Gallery using the aforementioned Big Boner, and some old-school side-scrolling shooter levels, the latter of which well outstays it’s welcome by re-occurring another two times, culminating in a boss fight with a major villain. After completing the game though, there’s no real reason to go back and play again, as the game doesn’t feature a New Game+ mode to play through from the beginning with upgraded weapons.
Using the Unreal Engine 3, Shadows of the Damned technically looks very nice. The art direction is suitably dark without looking dull like many modern games, yet the game doesn’t have much variety in its settings. For the most part, animations are well done, although Garcia’s run looks a little awkward. The enemy designs are quite bland and fairly generic, which is quite disappointing considering the setting allows for much more unique enemy designs.
The music is handled by Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka, is very fitting to the Grindhouse-style theme that the game is aiming for. The voice acting is great as most characters are so over the top, with Greg Ellis’ work on Johnson being a highlight.
The game is certainly the closest to a mainstream title that Suda 51 has been involved in. Strangely, the most memorable aspects of the game actually are quite distant from the actual gameplay; the characters, the storybooks and the music are more memorable than any of the action set-pieces. Having said that, the game is worth at least one playthrough, especially if you enjoyed any of Suda 51’s previous titles.