Reviewed: July 2, 2011
Released: June 21, 2011
I haven’t had this much fun playing with my Johnson in years. Okay, I just had to get in my own dick joke before starting this review, but rest assured, there are plenty more waiting for you when play Shadows of the Damned, one of the most creative survival-horror action games I’ve played since Resident Evil 5. Most of its bizarreness comes from sheer ingenuity and creativity, both in story and character design, as well as gameplay. What may look like a generic “hero goes to hell to save his girlfriend” shooter spends most of the first hour setting up the rules for this universe, then the next 10-12 hours enforcing those rules.|
Rules like; darkness can kill you but consuming human hearts will keep you alive, at least until you can find and light a goat candelabra to restore some light, or how about tequila and several other alcoholic beverages will heal you when consumed in mass quantities, or that dead babies go to hell to serve as doorknockers that only open if you feed them strawberries, brains, or other assorted and hard-to-find organs. Of course the best concept and most-likely candidate to win the Best Sidekick of the Year award is Garcia “Fucking” Hotspur’s Johnson, an amazing multipurpose tool that can change shapes into a variety of powerful (and upgradable) firearms, a torch, or even a kickass motorcycle. But Johnson (voiced by Greg Ellis) is at his best when he just floats by Garcia’s side offering up witty one-liners and insider info on the workings of Hell and the City of the Damned. They have an ongoing banter throughout the entire game that is unmatched by any other gaming duo I can remember.
So basically Garcia is a demon hunter; a pretty good one at that, and the game opens with him slaying his latest beast who threatens him and his girlfriend Paula. Rushing home, Garcia finds his girlfriend quite dead, hung by the neck in an apparent suicide, but before he has time to mourn a grotesque demon splits her wide open as he emerges from her corpse while other demons materialize from the walls and floor and even outside the windows. Cue tutorial, which teaches you the basics of combat but in no way prepares you for your upcoming trip to the underworld.
After a rocking intro credit sequence you enter the sinister gates of Hell and embark on a mind-blowing adventure. At first glance, Hell looks like any 18th century city with cobblestone streets, outdoor markets, two-story houses…hell, they even have a pub. But all too soon some spiritual imposter posing as Paula starts leading you on a chase into dangerous territory. Demons start appearing in droves, and you can bet your ethnic ass some major boss fights are waiting at the end of each chapter.
The presentation is killer with the main game being divided into five chapters, each with several stages. As you advance your progress is noted by a construction-paper puppet that walks across a colorful diorama depicting the 3D world you are about to explore. Things get really unique when, in chapter four, you actually play several levels and even a major boss fight in this 2D side-scrolling paper world. Think Paper Mario with blood, demons, and dick jokes where, when you take damage, you are slowly stripped of your clothes and then your flesh until only your skeleton stands between you and the reload last checkpoint button.
The originality of this game is beyond mere words. Even the screenshots don’t do it justice. You just have to experience Shadows to possibly comprehend how awesome it is. Special moments like a cabin scene totally lifted from the Evil Dead movie, or these multi-page storybooks that are narrated for you by Johnson, or better yet, Garcia (voiced by Steve Blum), who stumbles through the English language are priceless.
Worthy of special note is the soundtrack that can only be described as “epic”, both in the more subtle emotional themes and the in-your-face grindhouse punk. This amazing music, created by Akira Yamoaka, is complemented further by some of the most originally twisted and perfectly placed sound effects of recent memory. When was the last time you knew it was safe to attack the boss when you heard his horse fart? The voice acting is pure perfection from our two leading stars, the distraught Paula, the various demons including their Lord, Freeman, and even some wacked out hillbilly demon merchant who will eat your white gems and belch up ammo and booze.
Controls and combat can be a bit problematic, at least during the first few hours of the game. Once you upgrade your guns, especially your Boner to either the Hot Boner or the Big Boner (I’m serious…stop laughing) or gain access to a machine gun or grenade launcher the game gets a bit easier to play, but no less challenging to win. Upgrades are handled by collecting gems. White gems are currency used in vending machines or with a travelling merchant. Red gems are used to power-up your weapons, your torch, and even your own health bar, and Blue gems, the rarest of all, enable Johnson to assume new and deadlier forms of weapons.
Movement and combat are a bit wonky. Think Resident Evil. You have no target lock so it can be quite easy to miss the faster moving enemies. Fortunately you have a Light Shot that can stun enemies momentarily providing a stationary target. There are all sorts of tactics to master and each demon seems to have one weapon that works best against it. They even manage to throw in a few puzzles that require the manipulation of light and darkness or perhaps collecting a special item to get through a door.
Boss fights are incredibly fun, totally original, and challenging just to figure out their weakness, let alone exploit it to their ultimate demise. You’ll learn that the Grim Reaper is actually three sisters and you’ll be fighting them all soon enough. Ironically, the one boss I dreaded, some opera singer who danced around teasing me through the entire game, proved to be the most anti-climactic of all.
The camera was okay for the most part considering there is not target lock and a lot of strafing is required. I grew to hate the numerous chase sequences where my psycho-bitch dead girlfriend was chasing me through levels and I kept getting stuck on stupid random objects. I love kissing dead chicks in flimsy Chick-toria Secret lingerie as much as the next demon hunter but not when it’s fatal and forces me to reload the game. It’s even more frustrating when you are forced to do battle with 3-4 demons AND avoid any lip contact with your girlfriend.
Shadows of the Damned pokes fun at more than a few movies and even some games. You’ll come across a big guy who is obviously lifted from Gears of War, and there are at least three scenes (complete with classic sound effects) lifted frame for frame from Sam Rami’s Evil Dead movie. Is that grandma peeking up from the cellar? The non-stop banter of our heroes combined with endless dick jokes, amazing action and awesome set pieces makes this one game you really can’t pass up. When was the last time you upgraded your boner into a big boner by listening to a phone sex hotline? Don’t answer that. When was the last time you were asked to “shoot your hot boner on the crack”? Hmmm…don’t answer that either.
Frustrating at times, but totally original and completely hilarious throughout, Shadows of the Damned is one of the cleverest, naughtiest, most brilliantly constructed games I’ve played this year. If you are a fan of Suda 51 or looking for the next Resident Evil with a comedic edge then look no further than Garcia Hotspur and his Johnson (aka Boner, Hot Boner, Big Boner). Okay…one last dick joke. Sue me.