Hell can be a pretty harsh place. Demons, monsters and other creatures of the night infest the horrible place and have every intention of tearing you to shreds. Luckily, In Shadows of the Damned, you’re no ordinary person. You’re Garcia Hotspur, and Garcia knows his way around a demon or two.
Garcia, a demon hunter, travels to Hell in order to rescue his girlfriend, Paula, from the everlasting torment of constantly dying in horrible ways and coming back to life only to be killed again by an evil tyrant and lord of the underworld, Fleming. Garcia, along with his trusty ex-demon companion, Johnson, who doubles as Garcia’s gun, braves the depths of Hell, killing all sorts of evils and cracking jokes.
The game is a 3rd person shooter, reminiscent of Resident Evil 4 and 5. Garcia must use the power of light and the bones of fallen demons as ammunition to defeat his enemies. There is a quick 180Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Âº turn that becomes imperative later on in the game. Garcia can use Johnson as a torch, to quickly knock back enemies, as well as a means to remove darkness from them. Darkness plays a major part in Shadows. When darkness covers the entire room, Garcia’s life will drain. He has a meter for resistance, but once that depletes, he will slowly die. Luckily, Garcia has a light shot that he can use to hit goat lamps (yes, goat lamps) that will fill the room with light. When an enemy is covered in darkness, they cannot be damaged by Garcia’s attacks. So, using a light shot or hitting them with Johnson’s torch will remove the darkness and, in turn, allow them to be shot down. Those are the game’s main mechanics in a nutshell.
Garcia will gain red gems through exploration or by purchasing them from a friendly demon named Christopher. Red gems are used to upgrade your weapons and health. There are also blue gems that you will get after defeating certain bosses. These will give you a new gun or dramatically change the guns you own. There’s a handgun, machine gun, and shotgun to upgrade individually. The hyped up versions are used for later puzzles and enemies. For instance, your handgun will get an upgrade that allows Garcia to charge up a shot that turns into a sticky bomb. You’ll eventually come across weak walls that require sticky bombs.
The game uses the darkness mechanic to expand the game play by using puzzles and enemy encounters that require some type of manipulation of light and darkness. Some switches for doors can only be activated when Garcia is in darkness. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself in an area that is always in darkness and enemies surround you. You’ll have to use firework stations located around the area to light up the room for a few seconds to kill enemies, and refill your darkness resistance. It’s a fine, yet frantic, balance that will always keep the player on their toes.
One thing that has been absent in games, as of late, is epic boss fights. There are a ton of these in Shadows. You can really feel Shinji Mikami’s touch in the game play and encounters in the game. Each boss has a “trick” to killing them that usually revolves around light and darkness manipulation. No two boss fights are the same. Some have you in a big arena trying to shoot the infamous “red spots” on the boss’ body. Others have you being chased down carnival corridors and having to use explosive light barrels to stun the boss. The boss fights are a refreshing change in the game play. Some full chapters consist of only a boss fight.
The story, written and directed by Goichi Suda (Suda51), is just as insane as his other games. There’s a ton of tongue-in-cheek comedy, and the interactions between Garcia and Johnson are actually funny. Of course, the first thing you will notice is the constant dick jokes about Johnson and Garcia’s guns. Yes, his handgun is called The Boner and later on, after being upgraded, The Hot Boner. The thing is, the game is so dark and physiologically disturbing, that the jokes actually lighten the tone. It feels like two guys thrown into a horrible situation, trying to make the best of it by cracking jokes. It feels genuine. Suda also takes a few cues from other pop culture references in the same horror/dark comedy genre. The Evil Dead level gave me a bit of a chuckle.
Another small thing I must mention is the soundtrack and overall sound design. The original soundtrack was composed by Silent Hill composer, Akira Yamaoka. You can really hear it in the songs. The sound design itself is actually really amazing. During a big fight with 10 demons surrounding you, while Paula is tortured in the background, really gives off that frantic feel as the darkness beings creeping up on you.
Of course, the game is not without its faults. The aiming takes a little getting used to. It feels like its slightly off center most of the time and you end up missing your target, but by the end of the game you get used to it and it becomes second nature to you. There are parts of the game where you’re being chased by a demon-possessed Paula. If she catches up to you, you die automatically. Those parts became annoying over time. Especially when trying to solve a puzzle or grab a key while she’s running for you. The game would have been perfect for a new game plus feature.
I finished the game without fully upgrading all my weapons. It would have been nice to run through the game again with the hyped up weapons and just plow through the enemies. Unfortunately, the game does not feature a new game plus. Finally, the one part I really didn’t care for was the side scrolling parts of the game. Garcia turns into a story book character for a few acts of the game and the game plays out like a side scrolling shoot ’em up. Garcia controls sluggishly, and the fact that you can’t shoot behind Garcia drove me up a wall. Luckily, there are only about three parts of the game that have you doing this, so it isn’t a large part of the game.
Shadows of the Damned is a really great game. The game play is really enjoyable and you’re always doing something different. Suda’s crazy story actually works, and the jokes are downright funny at times. The voice acting and sound design overall is fantastic. Shadows is one of the first games I have played in a long time that was just pure fun. It really means something when I sit down to play a game and beat it in three sittings. This is truly a must have game for action fans. I can’t recommend it enough.
Review copy provided by publisher.